Chrysler’s Jefferson North Assembly Plant in Detroit isn’t the sort of place where one would think party animals hang out. But the camera doesn’t lie. Acting on a tip, WJBK-TV/Fox 2 News in Detroit aired a story this morning showing roughly 15 plant employees, over the course of several consecutive days, chugging beer and smoking marijuana in a park near the company parking lot. Several workers were caught in the act of trekking to a nearby convenience store to buy beer during their lunch hour. What makes this revelation especially embarrassing is that this is the same plant that President Barack Obama visited in July to give a pep talk on the importance of U.S. auto manufacturing. It makes one wonder if such behavior had contributed to the economic woes that led to Chrysler’s bankruptcy and subsequent bailout in 2009.
Chrysler, along with General Motors, has benefited from government largesse that began during the last months of the Bush administration and accelerated during the first months of the Obama administration. Receiving a combined $81 billion from the Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) to stay afloat – Chrysler’s ultimate share was $14.3 billion – the two companies are prime exhibits of the Washington bailout culture. Chrysler, strongarmed by the federal government, is now 55 percent-owned by the United Auto Workers (UAW). Obama, committed to a newfound political ally as well as to the health of the auto industry, visited the North Jefferson plant on July 30, where he justified taxpayer-financed emergency aid this way:
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.
Apparently, some employees have an unusual definition of “teamwork.” Fox 2 News cameramen caught several workers in the act of congregating in a park near the company parking lot boozing and toking up. When approached during their candid-camera moment by reporter Rob Wolchek, they scurried back to their vehicles or hid their faces. The drivers of the vehicles, passengers in tow, hauled off quickly.
Management is less than happy about this footage. Scott Garberding, Chrysler’s senior vice president for manufacturing, offered this rebuke:
I’m very, very disturbed about what I just saw in the video and I want to make 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 indentified a few of the people involved in this incident. Each of them has been suspended indefinitely, without pay, pending further investigation. We’ll continue to pursue this in fact, until we’re done.
What’s difficult about this is these few people, who exhibited bad behavior, have painted a bad picture of what’s an outstanding assembly plant, filled with outstanding committed Chrysler employees at Jefferson North. I want to make it clear that we’re proud of our plant, we’re very proud of the people at Jefferson North.
The United Auto Workers also expressed its concerns via the following prepared statement:
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 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.
While the statements by management and union are encouraging, the report suggests an old adage: Where’s there’s smoke, there’s fire. Common sense says that if the Fox 2 news team acted on an anonymous tip, this sort of behavior at Chrysler had been going on for a while. One hopes the alcohol and marijuana consumption haven’t affected the quality of the Jeep Grand Cherokee and Commander vehicles rolling off the Jefferson North assembly line. Workers and management at all auto manufacturers, in fact, should take this story as a reality check.
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