NUMMI Employee Says Plant Hides Defects
Ironically enough, while on the topic of not counting defects (the TSA), this disturbing story was in the Detroit News today. A 23-year employee, a quality inspector, has filed a lawsuit claiming that the company mistreated her when she reported defects.
“According to legal documents obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, defects that were intentionally passed over included broken seat belts, faulty headlights, inadequate braking, mirrors falling off, engine oil leaks and steering wheel alignment problems — all in an effort to decrease the number of defects. It is not clear whether any defects resulted in accidents.
When Cameron, a trained expert at spotting defects, complained, her bosses struck back, demoting her twice, accusing her of being crazy and violent, forcing her to submit to mental fitness tests, according to the documents. “
I certainly hope none of that is true. As the article points out, that isn't supposed to be Toyota behavior. It doesn't illustrate the ideals of quality and teamwork, nor does it seem to represent empowered employees who are able to stop the line.
I don't know what is going on inside NUMMI, by any stretch. My earlier posts about a plant tour I was on two years ago sometimes bring random and angry comments from people claiming to be NUMMI employees. The quality reputation of NUMMI is good, as judged by outsiders, not just from internal quality reports. Is the story overblown here or is NUMMI “the best of a bad bunch,” where things like this are just commonplace for the industry? I certainly have my own first hand experience at an auto parts plant where top managers bent the rules on quality to keep the line running, although I never heard of falsification of quality records.
Is Toyota perfect? No, they are a company full of people, and we are fallible, we make mistakes. That's not an excuse for any of the alleged behavior, if it is true. If stories like this are true, that's bad, for the people involved, and for anyone trying to use Toyota as an inspiration for trying to do things differently, in terms of quality and employee relations. Are people at Toyota capable of those things? Probably. Is it widespread throughout the company? I hope not. Does stuff like that happen at “mass production” companies? I'm certain of it. But we hold Toyota to a higher standard — they have asked to be, right?
While NUMMI is “jointly managed” by GM and Toyota, I consider it a Toyota plant under the Toyota Production System. It's jointly owned, but the burden needs to be on Toyota, I'd say.
Cameron began retaining her original pencil written reports (to document the changes) and turning-in photocopies
The blog has reader comments, including this story (from another auto factory) about fudging the quality numbers.
The SF Gate has a story on this, as wel