Workers from a Detroit Chrysler plant visited by President Obama two months ago were busted today for drinking and smoking pot on their lunch break. Although they're now suspended, a former employee tells us it won't change a thing.
The Jefferson North Assembly Plant is Chrysler's flagship manufacturing facility. The plant, home to production of the all-new 2011 Jeep Grand Cherokee, was visited by President Obama in July — just five days before an investigation by Fox 2 Detroit began that unveiled auto worker's engaging in the blue collar equivalent of the three martini lunch. When President Obama visited this plant that's supposed to represent the "new" Chrysler, he told America
"I believed that if each of us were willing to work and sacrifice in the short term — workers, management, creditors, shareholders, retirees, communities — it could mark a new beginning for a great American industry. And if we could summon that sense of teamwork and common purpose, we could once again see the best cars in the world designed, engineered, forged, and built right here in Detroit, right here in the Midwest, right here in the United States of America."
Unfortunately, a few of their employees look to still be stuck in old school stereotypes about organized labor.
The investigative report found a dozen employees were taking the 30-minute shift break they have at 11:00 am to drive to a public park and pound 40-oz beers, smoke weed, or do both at the same time. They then get in their cars, drive back to the plant presumably under the influence, and continue manufacturing cars.
Chrysler's Senior VP of Manufacturing, Scott Garberding, told Fox 2 saying they've suspended workers without pay pending the outcome of an investigation:
I want to make it clear that we at Chrysler take it very seriously. For us this behavior is totally unacceptable and will be dealt with swiftly. In fact, we've already identified a few of the people involved in this incident. Each of them has been suspended indefinitely, without pay, pending further investigation.
Unfortunately, this may not do much to change the culture of auto workers, says one longtime auto worker who spoke to us about the video.
"The problem is not really the drinking per se. The problem is when it happens the UAW turns a blind eye," says the Detroit resident who used to work in automobile manufacturing but wished to not be identified because of his close family ties to the United Auto Workers and friends still in the industry.
"My first week on the job I was teaching some classes at this plant, and the breaktime bell goes off to wake up the guys so they can take a break," he explains. "The trailer [I was in] was parked up right next to the plant window and I see this head go by, and it was this guy snorting coke back there. That was my first experience."
Like many Detroit residents, his two uncles and father were all UAW members and auto workers. But whereas is dad and older uncle were well respected, his younger uncle would constantly show up to work intoxicated or not show up at all. Because of the respect other workers had for his dad and uncle he was never seriously punished.
"Once my uncle passed away, my youngest uncle said 'I better retire' because he knew his older brother wouldn't be there to stick up for him."
"I remember seeing people get fired and would be shocked, and be like 'Oh my God' and some of the people who have been there longer are like 'don't worry, they'll be back,'" He told us. "Usually it was a few day suspension to put on a dog and pony show. They just turn a blind eye after a while."
The UAW, to its credit, issued a statement disapproving of the activity. Unfortunately, it also didn't offer to do anything about it or seem in any way regretful for the worker behavior:
The UAW strongly opposes the use of controlled substances or alcohol use on the job. This type of behavior jeopardizes the health and safety of all employees. We also recognize that, unfortunately, these behaviors exist in our society.
The UAW and the Chrysler Corporation work together to keep our workplaces drug and alcohol free, and to encourage employees with substance abuse problems to get the treatment they need. The employees involved in this situation do not represent the vast majority of workers at Chrysler who do a great job making high quality vehicles in some of the most productive manufacturing facilities in the United States.
Sure, yeah, it does represent a danger to the other workers, but what about the people driving Jeeps built by drunk/high workers?
Like a lot of people in the industry, the former employee who spoke to us said he supports the UAW and the Big 3 but recognizes there's a major problem.
"I love the auto inudstry, i love everything about it... I grew up eating/sleeping breathing cars. I really just would like to see things change."
Just as the three-martini lunch is sadly no longer accepted in white collar America, so too, the pot-and-beer lunch is no longer accepted for blue collar America.