Detroit Brings Back the Third Shift
June 15, 2012 11:58 am
The American auto market seems to be bouncing back. Growing demand and pressure from Obama’s auto task force have factories open 24-hours a day and new workers being brought on to fill graveyard shifts.
As NPR’s Tracy Samilton reports: “At Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, employees work 10-hour shifts four days a week. The so-called A crew gets days, while the B crew gets afternoons. But the C crew shift rotates its start time every week. On Fridays and Saturdays, workers start at 6:00 a.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, they start at 4:30 p.m.”
Ford announced plans to add a third shift comprised of 250 workers at their Cleveland plant and also plans to add a third shift at their newly renovated Louisville plant. Ford is not alone in bringing on more workers to work through the night — Nick Bunkley of Crain’s Detroit Business states: “GM — prodded by the Obama administration’s auto task force, which viewed overnight downtime as a lost opportunity for profits — was the first automaker to begin using three shifts widely as the industry recovered from the recession. Ford Motor Co., Chrysler Group LLC, Nissan Motor Co. and Kia Motors Corp. have followed suit… By the start of next year, 22 of the 83 assembly plants in North America will operate with three shifts of workers, and nearly half of all vehicles built here will come from a three-shift plant.”
While new jobs are great news for the sputtering Michigan economy, the companies are actually saving on personnel costs due to the recently instated two-tier wage system. Rather than pay workers overtime to meet increasing demand, Ford, Chrysler and GM are bringing in third shift workers on a dramatically lower pay scale. Bunkley explains the two-tier disparity: “New so-called tier-two hires start at about $15 an hour, a little more than half the $28 rate for veteran employees, who also receive more benefits.” The two-tier contract has elicited grumbling from the United Autoworkers rank-and-file.
The three shift system also brings worker health and productivity concerns. In the NPR report, Ronald Chevrin, head of the University of Michigan Sleep Disorder Center hints at long-term effects of disrupted circadian rhythms. GM Company Manufacturing Manager Larry Zahner speaks of a failed two-year experiment with a three shift system at the company’s Trenton, MI plant. “During that time, we had an enormous uptick [of employees out on medical leave and family medical leave],” Zahner explains. “People were missing work and/or coming in extremely late because they couldn’t catch up on their sleep.”
Increased demand for fuel-efficient vehicles, post-bailout demands of the Obama administration, and a desire to keep personnel costs down are shifting auto plant to a 24-hour, six day a week schedule. At the plants, modern, durable machinery can run continuously without breaking down – it remains to be seen if workers can do the same.