Chrysler workers will vote on changes to alternative shifts

The line employees at Chrysler Group’s engine plant in Trenton, Mich., will vote this Sunday to modify what has been a controversial and dangerous experiment in expanding productivity.

It’s called “3/2/120,” and as it had been implemented, it had employees working three 10-hour days on, and then two days off – with everyone taking off Sunday, unless there was mandatory overtime -- before rotating shifts from days to evenings to nights in successive weeks. Workers under the system still put in 40 hours per week, or 120 hours over a three-week period, plus any overtime that was required.

For Chrysler, the schedule allowed Trenton -- and later the Global Engine Manufacturing Alliance plant in nearby Dundee, Mich. -- to work an extra 49 days per year at straight time by working on Saturdays. That provided a significant cost savings at a plant that has struggled to keep up with demand for Chrysler’s award-winning 3.6-liter Pentastar V-6 engine that is made there.

But employees at Trenton said the constantly rotating shifts tore them apart, limiting their abilities to rest or sleep with any regularity and negatively impacting their family lives.

The vote on Sunday will allow members of UAW Local 372 to keep the precepts of the schedule but abandon the rotating shift component. The three crews will be split into six, and will work four days on and two days off, still across a rotating six-day workweek. Plants will continue to be closed on Sunday, unless overtime is scheduled. Workers on days will stay on days, and those assigned to the night shift will remain there. Union officials expect the change to pass. A Chrysler spokesman said the change that is being voted upon won’t represent any additional costs for the automaker.

The rotating-shifts component of Chrysler’s 3/2/120 system always seemed uncharacteristically brutal on its face. Even though it arguably lowered costs, it also seemed to violently clash with the tenants of Chrysler Group’s World Class Manufacturing system, which in part identifies employee injuries and fatigue as wasteful things to be avoided.

I don’t pretend to know what work is like for the average production worker in an automotive plant, but I can deduce that the 3/2/120 system, as configured, made their work and home lives unnecessarily more difficult.

And I don’t think it’s unreasonable for anyone to ask -- even in an era of high unemployment -- that they be allowed to work to live, instead of live to work.

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