The UAW leader for the U.S., Ron Gettelfinger was featured in today’s Wall Street Journal. He pretty much spoke the company line on the usual excuses for why the Detroit Three aren’t as competitive as Toyota.
“In a defiant television interview to be aired this weekend, he blames currency imbalances and unfair foreign-trade practices for U.S. auto makers’ competitive problems, and calls on the federal government to fix them.”
It amazes me anytime an article comparing the “Detroit Three” and Toyota does NOT mention the Toyota Production System and the lean practices. You can argue that there ARE unfair trade practices (or unfairness that the Detroit Three have to pay for healthcare), but shouldn’t the companies and UAW also focus on things they have control over, such as quality and efficiency improvements through lean? Or, as it was with Delphi, would lean success (at least gaged by Shingo Prizes) not be enough?
What would you ask Ron or the UAW, in the context of Lean, if you had the chance?
- What role does lean (or the lack of lean management) play in the gap between Detroit Three and Toyota? How does “factory lean” versus “lean enterprise” (including product development) impact Detroit Three competitiveness?
- Isn’t the best way to prevent wage erosion to improve productivity and utilize workers’ ideas and ingenuity? Is Detroit Three management moving away from the old, disrespectful “check your brain at the door” approach to managing production workers? Are UAW employees prepared to cooperate as “thinkers” if management would let them?
- Is the UAW no longer afraid of the word “lean?” Can the UAW work together with the company on lean methods, to help improve competitiveness? You can call it “global manufacturing” or “competitive manufacturing” instead of “lean manufacturing,” if you have to.
Lest anybody misinterpret my point here, I have NEVER blamed UAW employees for the problems that GM and the others face. I worked with many good, well-intended UAW employees during my time at GM in the 1990’s. It was bad management practices that got in the way of their success. I learned quickly that it wasn’t “lazy union workers” that held the company back.
I just think it’s fair to ask the UAW to publicly endorse lean methods as one way of solving at least part of that competitiveness gap. Sure, ask the government for help, but make sure that isn’t the only strategy.
What are your thoughts on this, Detroit folks and auto industry folks?
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