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First, the quality subcommittee (one of over 20 subcommittees in the negotiations) utilized an interest-based, problem-solving approach to bargaining and generated an innovative agreement to have hourly workers designated as Quality Operating System Coordinators (QOSCs) in key areas of all the plants, taking responsibility for driving standardized work processes and joining with team leaders to generate continuous improvement suggestions from work teams.
This harnessing of front-line knowledge in the early 2000s was pivotal to Ford’s progress from near last in quality to best-in-class by 2010.
Reflecting on the two years of training for this first cohort of trainees, she said: No longer were we management and employee, we were team members pursuing the same goal. Some didn’t believe a person without a statistics background could pass. People have skills that managers don’t know anything about.
This experience doesn’t eliminate the notion of salaried versus hourly, but for me personally it demonstrated how much more we as an organization can achieve when titles, classifications, and separation aren’t the central focus. People are loyal to the company—there has to be respect and loyalty because we are all giving our best and it doesn’t matter where you are in the structure. One should never be comfortable making an assumption about another person’s skill set or talents simply by their classification, association with a group, or a particular organization and/or appearance.
The UAW again raised the idea of hourly black belts, and this time Ford leadership agreed to support an initial cohort of 35 hourly workers entering training to earn a lean/Six Sigma black belt.
Armentha Young is a UAW member in the Dearborn Truck Plant and a QOSC who was part of the first graduating class of black belts in 2010. I thought, “You’ve got to be kidding me.” They were, like, “Oh my god, she passed and did it on the first time.” The comment is a little insulting—there are plenty of people who could do this.
(Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Brooks, and Mulloy 2015, 147)Company successes are not just due to the minds of the people at the top who are being paid all the money, but the minds of people at the bottom. (Cutcher-Gershenfeld, Brooks, and Mulloy 2015, 53) As is evident from this last quote, despite considerable progress in valuing the distributed knowledge of the full workforce, there were still deeply embedded assumptions that had not fully changed.
Consider that a typical car will have as many as 10,000 components with an assembly process involving the coordinated efforts of over 4,000 workers.
Most of the 2003 negotiations involved traditional bargaining, continuing a longstanding practice of trading incremental gains in wages and benefits for labor peace and union/worker participation in joint programs on safety, quality, work-life balance, and other matters.
The two transformational signals were largely invisible to policymakers and the general public.
Ford’s vice president of quality at the time could not conceive how an hourly worker could lead a change initiative on this scale, which would have entailed directing the work of the associated engineers and managers. Fast forward to 2008, when the results of front-line engagement were increasingly evident.
Even with 50,000 workers taking severance packages to depart from the company during the downturn, quality made year-over-year improvements.