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NINETY EIGHT REGENCY

Worker: 'Toyota Way' Ignored at Factory

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Worker: 'Toyota Way' Ignored at Factory

By YURI KAGEYAMA 11.27.07, 12:43 AM ET

associated press

TOKYO -

The California auto worker who is suing Toyota and others in a whistleblower lawsuit said Tuesday she was merely carrying out the quality-conscious "Toyota way" in spotting defects when managers cracked down on her efforts and demoted her.

Katy Cameron, 54, employed for 23 years at New United Motor Manufacturing Inc., a joint venture between Toyota Motor Corp. (nyse: TM - news - people ) and General Motors Corp. (nyse: GM - news - people ) in Fremont, California, is suing the companies in a lawsuit, filed Nov. 6 in Alameda County Superior Court.

The lawsuit accuses management at NUMMI of routinely deleting or downgrading defects that Cameron found as a certified auditor - including broken seat belts, faulty headlights, inadequate braking and steering wheel alignment problems - and demands US$45 million in damages for retaliation against a whistleblower and intentional infliction of emotional distress.

"I believed in the Toyota way. I really did. I just wanted to know why they turned their head on me," Cameron said from California in a telephone interview with The Associated Press. "Why did they look the other way when I cried out for help?"

Cameron said she was trained in Toyota's corporate philosophy, which emphasizes the importance of the workers on the assembly line not only in making manufacturing more efficient but also pointing out defects and other problems. She was so good she trained other auditors, she says.

But about five years ago, the management at NUMMI seemed to shift its emphasis to quantity over quality, eager to reduce defect numbers, which determined their bonus pay, said Cameron.

And Toyota's vaunted quality-check system seemed to get neglected, she said.

Cameron said she went to court only after she tried to alert higher-ups to what she saw as serious wrongdoing, including her bosses, as well as the top executive at NUMMI, handing him a letter and other reports in writing in 2006.

She also sent reports in writing to Toyota executives, including one to President Katsuaki Watanabe but has received no response so far, she said.

The companies are declining comment on the lawsuit, saying the case is pending. But NUMMI spokesman Lance Tomasu said in a statement last week that quality is a priority and said the claims will be investigated thoroughly.

Toyota Executive Vice President Kazuo Okamoto, who oversees technology, acknowledged he was aware of the lawsuit but said Monday he did not know details.

Edited by NINETY EIGHT REGENCY
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$45 million? you have got to be kidding me.

Don't forget that GM is to blame here seeing its a joint venture afterall

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She may have a case, but asking for $45 million for merely getting demoted / fired isn't going to win her much sympathy.

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Oh damn GM is involved too!! GM should have ended this NUMMI crap with Toyota a long time ago. When will it end?

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Umm, the Vibe, IIRC, is consistently a top performer for GM, unfortunately.

The $45 million may be a part of the damages accrued to the public at large as a result of the negligence. Whistleblower lawsuits have a funny way of rewarding complaining parties by dividing up the damages between the injured and the whistleblower themselves. I haven't had a chance to read about the details of the lawsuit, but that is the general rule when these things come up....

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Nothing to do with GM or Toyota, of course you guys are quick to jump the gun, and blame Toyota and portray GM as a victim. The management should get fired, and replaced.

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Nothing to do with GM or Toyota, of course you guys are quick to jump the gun, and blame Toyota and portray GM as a victim. The management should get fired, and replaced.

I generally agree, but it's interesting that the focus of the article itself seems to be on Toyota related management, as well as the "Toyota Way" philosophy. I'm not familiar enough to know, but is Toyota management more strongly represented at NUMMI?

On a semi-seperate note, I've been saying for a while that it seems clear that Toyota isn't following their own philosophies, and that they've been pushing quantity over quality. In this particular case, you can see that numerical goals were incorrectly used. Using low defect numbers as a goal, especially with bonuses, motivated reducing the number, not improving the process, and that's exactly what happened. Numerical goals often have very ugly side effects.

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On a semi-seperate note, I've been saying for a while that it seems clear that Toyota isn't following their own philosophies, and that they've been pushing quantity over quality. In this particular case, you can see that numerical goals were incorrectly used. Using low defect numbers as a goal, especially with bonuses, motivated reducing the number, not improving the process, and that's exactly what happened. Numerical goals often have very ugly side effects.

I think Toyota isn't going that path intentionally. With all increased production is a tendency of defects. From this story, I think managers at the plant have become corrupt and began cheating the system that Toyota offers. I know from talking to various people who worked or work for Toyota & Honda here in the Ontario plants, is that they are very fickle about quality control. Apparently in Alliston, if one notices a defect, they have the right to stop the line, and that employee gets bonuses from Honda. I also spoke to one employee at the Toyota Cambridge, Ont. plant that every month or so, a team of inspectors are flown in from Japan unannounced, and pick about 10 cars randomly to check for defects. I think at NUMMI, the managers ignored her claims because if all these defects were reported, then it would make the managers look bad. Managment is worst actually at the Ford plant in Oakville. I spoke to the brother of my old boss when I worked at a delaership in High School, and he told me when he worked assembling Windstars, workers were pushed to the limit to build them as fast as they can. I was told that 1 in every 20 cars were actually checked for defects, and he was given only 45 seconds to assemble an overhead liner. He told me too, that airbags were exploding on the line, as well as vans leaving the line with missing clips on the side moldings, and if a worker stopped the line if a defect was noticed, the management would get pissed, instead of giving the employees bonuses. Then again, that's FORD for you. As for GM in Oshawa, I wanted to set up a tour of the plant for Ted and I a few years back when I attended University there through a friend in class, who had relatives working at the plant. A few days later, I get a reply that GM has cancelled tours in Oshawa, because that was the year they began their production of the redesigned Impalas. Therefore, "too many cars were coming out with mistakes, therefore they don't want the public to see that" <_< Therefore, you cannot be blaming companies for the whole quantity problem. If you have a product in demand, people are people, and mistakes will be made. However, when greediness kicks in, like with my example at Ford in Oakville, and the emerging situation at NUMMI, then problems will emerge, and reputations will be tarnished.

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I think Toyota isn't going that path intentionally. With all increased production is a tendency of defects. From this story, I think managers at the plant have become corrupt and began cheating the system that Toyota offers. I know from talking to various people who worked or work for Toyota & Honda here in the Ontario plants, is that they are very fickle about quality control. Apparently in Alliston, if one notices a defect, they have the right to stop the line, and that employee gets bonuses from Honda. I also spoke to one employee at the Toyota Cambridge, Ont. plant that every month or so, a team of inspectors are flown in from Japan unannounced, and pick about 10 cars randomly to check for defects. I think at NUMMI, the managers ignored her claims because if all these defects were reported, then it would make the managers look bad. Managment is worst actually at the Ford plant in Oakville. I spoke to the brother of my old boss when I worked at a delaership in High School, and he told me when he worked assembling Windstars, workers were pushed to the limit to build them as fast as they can. I was told that 1 in every 20 cars were actually checked for defects, and he was given only 45 seconds to assemble an overhead liner. He told me too, that airbags were exploding on the line, as well as vans leaving the line with missing clips on the side moldings, and if a worker stopped the line if a defect was noticed, the management would get pissed, instead of giving the employees bonuses. Then again, that's FORD for you. As for GM in Oshawa, I wanted to set up a tour of the plant for Ted and I a few years back when I attended University there through a friend in class, who had relatives working at the plant. A few days later, I get a reply that GM has cancelled tours in Oshawa, because that was the year they began their production of the redesigned Impalas. Therefore, "too many cars were coming out with mistakes, therefore they don't want the public to see that" <_< Therefore, you cannot be blaming companies for the whole quantity problem. If you have a product in demand, people are people, and mistakes will be made. However, when greediness kicks in, like with my example at Ford in Oakville, and the emerging situation at NUMMI, then problems will emerge, and reputations will be tarnished.

There are always good & bad plants, but when top officials at Toyota are touting "We're gonna be #1!!" and they're pushing it - that's not hurrying to make product that's in demand, that's a numerical goal set by top management. Everyone below that then gets judged by how well they help make that happen, so middle management sets goals like stated in the article, and the wrong things get emphasized. Toyota has not been producing to demand, they've been producing beyond it - just look at the rebates they're having to attach to many of their vehicles in the last couple years (the Tundra seems to be the worst). Top management set a terrible numerical goal (sell more cars than anyone), and the company followed (shoving as many vehicles out the door as possible, leaving it up to dealers to figure out how to sell 'em all). Frankly, Toyota would have been better served to underproduce and keep quality up, since quality (or at least the perception thereof) was what made them #2 to begin with. It wasn't that long ago that rebates were unheard of on Toyotas (I think that's part of why so many Toyota dealerships have a large number of cocky pricks working there - they got used to thinking it didn't matter what they did, they would sell every last car on the lot to someone, so they didn't have to cater to anyone in particular). Toyota used to be in a great position, #2 with high profit on each vehicle and a bulletproof reputation. Then they started gunning for #1, and started shooting themselves in the foot. They probably would have gotten to #1 eventually if they'd stuck to their original plans (The Toyota Way) instead of getting greedy.

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