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Who Do You Trust?

April 17, 2010

My last post started with–“To George Santayana’s quote ‘those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it’, we need to add ‘those that cannot remember the past will have a skewed perspective’.  This applies especially now as the NUMMI plant in Fremont, Ca comes to an end.”  Which applies to this post as well.

In the March 31, 2010 Mercury News there was an opinion piece on the editorial page by Art Pulaski and Rev. Bruce Reyes-Chow entitled “Toyota’s Gag Rule A Bitter Pill For Workers To Swallow”.  Basically, the article bashes Toyota for closing NUMMI, for trying to hinder employee’s free speech, and raises the question of how anyone can trust a “heartless foreign company that trampled on American rights and values?”.

Once again we turn to history to gain a better perspective.  When GM originally closed the plant in 1982 where was the respect or concern for the “American worker”?  In a Time Magazine article (12/26/88) we find the following quote- “At the time General Motors closed its plant in Fremont, Calif., in 1982, the factory had one of the worst labor-relations records in the country. “We were fighting with GM all the time,’ says United Auto Workers committeeman Ed Valdez. ‘The product was going down the line with no one paying any attention to it. ‘Ship it! Ship it!’ they said.’ Today, working for New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc., a joint venture formed by GM and Toyota in 1983, the same workers are producing almost defect-free Chevrolets and Toyotas with a higher efficiency rating than any GM plant.”

As for the gag order, this is not that uncommon in a labor dispute.  They have been used from nurse’s strikes to sports strikes to post office strikes.  Toyota said that it was the unions idea, the article says that is ludicrous, who to believe?  In another Mercury News story we find this quotation, ” ‘NUMMI did not issue a gag order,” NUMMI spokesman Lance Tomasu said. “The UAW committed of its own accord not to further denigrate NUMMI or Toyota as a term of the shutdown agreement. In fact, the union negotiated and proposed specific language for that provision of the agreement.” If you have ever dealt with union management over a labor issue, which I have (but that is another story), the answer may not be so cut and dried.

So we come down to the issue of who do you trust?  Ironically, when Toyota merged with GM to form NUMMi, Kan Higashi, the then president of NUMMI said “the main reason American industry has lost competitiveness is because of distrust”.  Toyota not only saved the Fremont plant, in showing GM how to build quality vehicles, they essentially saved GM.  Today Toyota’s investment in the U.S. has exceeded $17 billion, more than half of their vehicles (Lexus, Toyota, Scion) are built in the U.S., and Toyota employs over 200,000 people in North America.  The sales figures for March 2010 show an increase of 41% over March 2009 of Toyota vehicles. The American public is obviously still trusting them.

Yes, it is sad that NUMMI is closing. Yes, Toyota could have kept it open.  Are they the “heartless foreign company” the article made them out to be?  Let’s see, when GM left they just walked away, when Toyota left the average severance package was $54,000, so who is the heartless one?

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