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The list of demands from the new chairman of the Shop Committee could have resulted from the uncertainty that existed with the recent announcements of plant closings by GM. Since the mid-1980s, six GM stamping plants had been closed, and Parma’s employment level had fallen. These plant closings and pressure from GM were the result of GM losing 10 percentage points of market share in under 10 years and corresponding deterioration in GM’s bottom line. By the fall of 1990, GM was losing more than $1100 for every vehi-
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cle it produced in North America, in part because of GM’s high fixed costs. With over $700 million in sales, Parma is an important plant to GM, but there is no guarantee that it will not be closed if demand for GM’s products does not improve. Wall Street is criticizing GM for not being more aggressive in closing plants to remove excess capacity. The corporation is pressuring all of its facilities to reduce expenditures significantly and to eliminate all overtime. Parma has made substantial progress in maintaining revenues amidst declining demand, but it still needs to make significant improvements in productivity. For example, it has still to better utilize the transfer presses that stamp automative doors and hoods. These presses were installed during the $600 million modernization in 1983, and in 1990 their uptime stood at 31 percent.
Parma also needs to improve its quality and customer satisfaction. In 1989, Parma began supplying the metal frame for the minivan produced at GM’s Tarrytown, New York, facility. Arthur Norelli, general supervisor of Dimensional Control, remembers that in his first encounters with Parma, “I found them initially, very defensive, almost adversarial. They were always right until we proved them wrong. If we had a part that wouldn’t go together properly, they would say ‘Well, you’re not putting it together right.’ ” Another customer, a transmission plant within GM’s Powertrain Group, has concerns about Parma’s ability to produce quality parts in a timely fashion. As recently as 1988, Parma was Powertrain’s worst supplier for transmission components. Bill Hurles, a materials manager within the Powertrain Group, remembered Parma back then as “very dependable and very antagonistic.”
In addition to pressures to improve costs, quality, and productivity, there are additional pressures on management from the union to bring stamping work in-house that has previously been outsourced. As Parma loses its prop shaft production to another GM facility, the union wants to bring back the production of sheet metal blankings, the first step in the stamping process. Blankings have been outsourced to a supplier, Medina Blanking, Inc., which produces an excellent quality product and has virtually become another department in Parma because of its highly responsive and capable delivery.
As GM closes plants and continues to downsize, Parma’s salaried employees, too, are being affected significantly by efforts to reduce salaried employment and eliminate management layers throughout the organization. With fewer salaried employees, workloads are increasing even as promotional opportunities, compensation, and benefits stagnate. As is the case at most GM facilities, Parma’s salaried employees are not unionized. As part of its efforts to cut costs, GM has eliminated the salaried year-end bonus, has sharply reduced merit raises, and is considering other benefit reductions. Profit sharing for both hourly and salaried employees has evaporated as losses in GM’s North American operations have mounted to several billion dollars annually.
After 10 years of being a top manager at Parma and assuming responsibility for all of Parma’s operations, Bob Lintz continues to fashion a top management team based on trust and openness. He also wants his managers to be committed to eliminating hostilities that linger between the stamping and components operations within the plant, as well as between hourly and salaried
employees. He is also looking for people who will support his informal and highly participative management style and who will work to increase the level of involvement among Parma’s hourly employees. Although the TCIG has formally disbanded, its efforts are still ongoing. The weekly floor board meetings, where union officials and superintendents discuss plant floor issues, are still active and productive. The biweekly joint meeting of Bob and his staff, along with the Shop Committee chairman, the president of Local 1005, and the Shop Committee, are ongoing as well. These groups are representative of the Team Concept still at work at Parma.
Even though Bob’s management team supports his desire to increase the level of involvement among Parma’s hourly employees, Dean Baker commented, “Sometimes I get frustrated, though, because I wish he’d have a little bit more confidence in the management organization.”
Parma’s lead training coordinator, Pat Camarati, is concerned that many of Parma’s managers and supervisors see the ongoing Team Concept training as more of a disruption than a necessity. Shop Committee member Ray Kopchak believes that, although they have made great strides, the biggest mistake the union and management can still make is to assume that their relationship can continue to improve without hard work. Seven years after beginning a new collaborative approach, he still feels that the easiest thing to do is “to go back to the old traditional way. But I don’t want to do that, it’s not necessary. We’ve proven that management and the union can work together.”