I once had a bumper sticker on my car in college that said…
I am presently listening to This American Life about a car project called NUMMI that Toyota and GM collaborated on. Yes, collaborated. GM closed a plant in Fremont, California in 1982. Two years later GM and Toyota reopened the factory as a joint venture to manufacture vehicles to be sold under both brands.
Toyota decided they needed a plant in the US so they could save money from the import restrictions implemented by congress. The American who Toyota had working for them decided that he had to rehire the union workers from the Fremont plant who were laid off. This was seen as a risk because at the time of its closure, the Fremont employees were “considered the worst workforce in the automobile industry in the United States”, according to the United Auto Workers. They were inefficient and the plant was becoming pretty corrupt from all angles. Many people were apprehensive of this joint venture, but they needed their jobs back. Egos were tried. But in the end it proved to be one of the very things that has possibly saved GM in the years since.
Toyota brought some of these US auto workers to Japan for training. Many of these people had never left the country and were suddenly in the midst of making history. The Japanese auto industry was teaching the US its trade secrets. The #1 difference between the two was that Japan held QUALITY over QUANTITY while the US held QUANTITY over QUALITY (dating back to the Ford model). Another difference was teamwork, looking at the relationship between management and worker. In the US there was a tremendous divide between the two loaded with resentment on both ends. In Japan there was almost an open door policy. If there were issues the workers had they could bring them up with their managers and see results. The workers were encourage and rewarded $100-$200 if they found a way to change their system to be more efficient and save the company money.
The US union workers had lost their jobs but were presented with new jobs doing exactly what they were doing before on the terms that they change the way they worked. Not only were they motivated to learn these new ways, they realized how this not only could change their work environment but other aspects of their life as well. They suddenly felt valued as a worker, they were happy to go to work and be a part of the team. They came back to the US and were able to turn the old factory into a more lucrative and well oiled machine. They were forced to work outside of their own box, to rethink they way they saw their work and learn an invaluable life lesson.
Since they had created such a change, NUMMI was asked to help transform other GM plants but were met with protest and great resentment from their fellow union workers. Basically, all the people brought up in the union who have been working for their seniority rights for decades had to forget what they knew. They had to change the way they saw their job description. The back lash was incredible.
The NUMMI project signified great change for GM however the plant was closed in 2010 and was purchased by Telsa Motors. The great part about this is “‘..This factory will be creating jobs and building clean energy automobiles that can travel 300 miles per charge without a drop of gasoline.’ states CA Senator Dianne Feinstein.
The Tesla Factory is the only auto assembly plant in California and is the first facility dedicated exclusively to the mass production of electric vehicles.” I am glad to see that this change sparked more positive change.
I started to think about how sometimes I freeze up when change comes knocking at my door. If I have to change the way something is produced, the way I market my company, the way I feel about my competitors, or the location of my business from a retail space to a studio and back again over the course of two years. It is very hard for a person to change the way he or she sees his or her place in the world. But one of the best lessons I came to comprehend as a teenager in college was “The only constant is change.”
Not only do we need to change our work methods to keep up with technology or new world views, but we ourselves change everyday. We all grow one day older, wiser. It is inescapable and the only way to overcome the fear of change is to ride the wave of change. Become an innovator, a pioneer.
When I think about the legislation to deny unions’ collective bargaining rights in the state of Wisconsin and how many union workers across the country are up in arms, I think “good, they should be.” Sometimes we become stagnant and complacent in our lives. Of course I do not believe unions should be stripped of these precious rights people fought their lives to earn, but I do wonder what sort of back lash will come if the law is passed. I wonder what more will come and what the change will bring…