In a stroke of public relations ingenuity, General Motors and the UAW on Tuesday threw a handful of Detroit-area journalists onto the mock assembly line used for training hourly workers. The result? A renewed appreciation for manual labor.
The best summation of how well the 15 ersatz shoprats did at their goal of assembling 18 plywood "vehicles" with zero defects is that more than one reporter was driven to recall the "I Love Lucy" candy factory skit. Joann Muller of Forbes was upfront about the challenge:
Safety was also lacking: the journalists recorded 22 safety "incidents" in 20 minutes - including a worker who was hit four times by a car coming down the line. At the end of our first 20-minute shift, we produced only 13 cars (instead of 18, our target), with a total of 25 defects, which meant we would have to return Saturday for unscheduled overtime to fix the faulty cars and meet our production goals.
As WWJ-AM's ace auto reporter Jeffery Gilbert said: "You come away understanding that this is skilled labor." Which is exactly the message GM and the UAW want to send before what may be some bruising contract negotiations and the reality that when GM's Lake Orion, Mich., plant reopens next year, most of the workers will get $14 a hour for work that many college-educated people couldn't do.