FORD HAS A BETTER IDEA:
SHRINKS INSTEAD OF BENNETT'S BOYS
By Gregg Shotwell
UAW Local 2151
In the hard knock days in the '20s and '30s, Henry Ford used Harry Bennett and his gang of thugs to exert control and inflict intimidation on the workers. Under the influence of William Clay Ford, the company has become more sophisticated. Today Ford uses the Central Diagnostic and Referral Agency as its preferred means of repression. Union members who are vocal about their rights, who demand the company follow the contract and the union represent them are put out on a psyche-medical by Labor Relations fiat. I couldn't believe it, but within a week I heard from three different members in three different Ford plants. Their stories are eerily the same.
The pattern reveals a policy of harassment. All three members were put on medical by Labor Relations without a doctor's permission and ordered to undergo a psychological evaluation by a company appointed psychiatrist before they could return. All three were considered dissidents by union and management. Two had expressed their intentions to run for elective union positions. In each case union officials supported, assisted, and/or instigated the action. None of the people I spoke to had acted violently or made threats. Here's how it works.
Ford has a joint committee called Behavioral Emergency and Critical Incident Debriefing [BE/CISD] which includes the union-appointed Employee Support Services Person better known in some companies as EAP. The purpose of the committee is to debrief the victims of traumatic events like a power plant explosion where the grievances filed against the fatal boiler disappear in the blast and six workers die from what some may call negligent homicide. The committee is also empowered to handle behavioral emergencies, as when someone acts violently or makes threats. In a diabolical twist of jointness [i.e., company/union cooperation] Ford and the UAW are using the program to silence dissent. Apparently if you don't believe in the Ford Production System and the mandates of their appointed union officials, you must be crazy.
I have chosen not to reveal the victims' names in this article as litigation may be pending. Nor do I wish to instigate further harassment of these individuals nor exacerbate their troubles. The purpose of this article is to examine the pattern of harassment, alert other union members, and network with other victims who more than likely are feeling isolated and powerless against the Ford/UAW partnership.
The first person I spoke to is a woman and former committee person with a reputation for fighting back. She doesn't believe in rolling over and neither the company nor union officials like it. She's assertive, indomitable, and says, "I talk to men the same way they talk to me." I talked with her on the phone for more than sixty minutes in two separate conversations and I never heard her cuss. But I also had the impression she could go toe to toe and nose to nose with any union tough or company thug. She's been out of work more than six months for refusing to knuckle under to their psychological intimidation. The time off hasn't softened her up one bit. She's a line worker to the core and she'll be walking a hard line until the Final Whistle blows her time card sky high. The director of TEAM Inc., contracted by the Central Diagnostic & Referral Agency, tried to finagle her into submitting to the psyche evaluation. She asked why he was willing to compromise the integrity of the Employee Support Services Program by allowing management to use it as a disciplinary tool. She shamed him into writing a note to Labor Relations recommending she be allowed to return to work. Labor Relations ignored the recommendation and put her out of the plant. The official local union has done nothing to support her. Indeed they recommend she follow orders and submit. She stands alone yet feels her principles and her dignity are inviolable.
The second UAW member I spoke with is a middle age black male with over 25 years seniority. I interviewed him in person for a good hour. He was easy going, even tempered, and once again didn't use a cuss word or even refer to his persecutors in derogatory terms. He was calm, articulate, and evidently well educated in unionism. He intended to run for union office. The day after he expressed disagreement with the Local Union president at a union meeting he was called into Labor Relations. Naturally he asked for his union rep to be present. With the consent of the union he was put on medical by Labor Relations pending a psychological evaluation. He complied. The psychiatrist found nothing wrong, but he still wasn't allowed to return to work until the NLRB got involved. From the NLRB official he learned that his union rep had written a statement asserting that the defendant suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from his experience in Vietnam. He never went to Vietnam. He graduated from high school in 1974. It was three months before he was able to return to work. Then the company restricted his access to most areas of the plant and he was unable to counter the smear campaign staged against him.
The third person I talked with was a middle age white male and a skilled tradesman with more than 15 years seniority. Once again, I found he was not the type to resort to abusive language. He too had made known his intention to run for union office. Apparently the only thing he was guilty of was "I spoke my mind and disturbed the powers that be." After repeated incidents of harassment he wrote a letter to Labor Relations expressing his complaint. "I didn't name names. I simply described the situation." The next day he was called into Labor Relations and the BE/CISD committee told him that because threats had been made against him they were going to put him out of the plant pending a psychological evaluation. And Alice thought the Queen of Hearts was nuts.
He went to three company appointed psychiatrists and one independent psychiatrist and none of them found anything wrong. Despite positive medical recommendations he was not allowed to return to work until he hired an attorney. He was out of work for three months. His chance of winning a union election had been effectively sabotaged.
This harassment policy doesn't simply repress dissent, it also discredits the Employee Support Services Program (ESSP). Just as some joint Health & Safety committees discourage employees from reporting injuries or writing grievances, Ford's abuse of the joint BE/CISD committee contaminates the credibility of the ESSP and discourages people from getting the help they may need. It's joint cost containment at the expense of union members' health. Ford, with the assistance of union lackeys, has turned the ESSP into a ruthless instrument of psychological persecution.
If you or anyone you know has been victimized in a similar fashion, please write to The Voice. A class action lawsuit against Ford and their union buffoons may be in order. But more importantly, a revolt is in order. The insidious use of the medical profession as a means of control and intimidation is anti-union, anti-human, and morally repulsive. What next? Electro Convulsive Shock for dissidents? A thug is a thug is a thug, and the henchman can't hide behind the kinder, gentler face of the glossy and glamorous William Clay Ford.
In the 'thirties and 'forties workers organized to evict Ford's goons with a collective force that demanded dignity in the workplace for every individual. Today, we need to expose Ford's new method of control and intimidation for what it is: psychological rape. We need to resist each and every assault on our freedom and dignity. We need to instigate a groundswell of activity that will overwhelm the complicity of weak union officials. We need to educate our brothers and sisters on their rights and we need to defend those rights tooth and nail. An injury to one is an injury to all is not a slogan, it's a battle cry.
From New Democracy Newsletter, March-June 2001.