longtooth

My Letter To Mark Phelan

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:scratchchin: I sent this e-mail to Mark Phelan, writer for the Detroit Free Press, in response to his "Build the Camaro" article on the newspapers website. As i tell him near the end of the e-mail, i have put much of myself into the letter, and i humbly submit it for your perusal;

Mr. Phelan,

I am a thirty year vet of the General Motors Corporation. Started back in '76 with Fisher Body in Trenton, New Jersey. I was a nineteen year-old kid in wide-eyed awe at the manufacturing might of the automaker. Back then, GM controlled an unwieldy fifty percent of the US market. Specifically, what i was introduced to, and later became proficient in was roll forming. My department made all types of decorative and functional roll-formed moldings and structural items. Every summer, around the end of May, we'd receive the new tooling for the parts that'd be going on the models in the fall. It was definitely a great time in the plant, in the industry.

Our facility in Trenton was sprawling, in excess of 1.2 million square feet. A sizeable village, if not a city, under one roof. Coming down the stairs from the locker room, there hung a sign.

It Stated:

Have Pride In Yourself

Have Pride In Your Work

....And In GM!

And for me at least, therein lay (or lies) the problem. I took this advice to heart. I embraced the concept. I forged an identity that was for better or worse derived from my employment with General Motors. I married young, two months after my employment started. My wife's name was Diane. She died in June of 2002, from complications of breast cancer at the too young age of 44. During the course of my employment, my wife and I also raised a strong, beautiful and now married daughter named Christa. All of this, and much more, made possible by the good job and benefits I had because of GM. They certainly had my allegiance and devotion.

You, as well as I are aware of the changes that've swept through the auto-industry, indeed throughout manufacturing America over the past decades. Sometime in '94 I believe it was, our plant manager in Trenton gave us a presentation which extolled the virtues of something we later learned was "Delphi". We'd already gone through identity makeovers from Fisher Body begetting Inland Fisher Guide ad nauseum. So we were again morphing into another entity. Our factory payroll was shrinking. Jobs were being sourced to other Delphi facilities across the land and I thought one thing; "Spin-Off". I made my move in '97, to a nearby GM Parts Division Warehouse. I preferred to stay with the parent company. Leaving Trenton was the most difficult decision I had to make up until that time. I really came to miss the Big Tent family atmosphere of my home plant.

I can recall in 1995 one hot, humid summer's day in the plant as I worked on a job that nine months hence would be in production in Grand Rapids, MI. I found myself growing increasingly aware of what was later to become a rarity to me and countless other souls. The awareness that I would never see the likes of all this, ever again. I stood tall, upon the wooden platform on which I was working at the time, taking in all the sights, the sounds, the smell of the place. A living breathing entity. As of then, still primarily intact. Row after row of 24 pass heavy duty Tishken Roll Forming Mills. Production lines spitting out finished seat adjuster mechanisms destined to underpin drivers and passengers alike in thousands upon thousands of GM vehicles as yet unborn. High-speed 500 ton stamping presses mindlessly, remorselessly spitting out dozens of seat component pieces every minute. I stood there, taking it all in. A faithful scribe, witnessing the moment. I loved it then, and the memory remains. A keening, living memory to treasure...

...brings me back to the present day. I now am an employe of GM North American Operations at the Doraville, GA assembly plant. We're laid-off this week. The scheduled De-Rate at the plant is being implemented by managerial, engineering, and essential hourly staff as I write this. Our slow selling cross-over-sport-vans will be produced at a rate that management feels is closer to actual demand. Were that it were so. I personally feel that resources allocated to this endeavor would be better spent elsewhere. But my voice in the matter is as a mouse-squeak in a windstorm. Morale at our plant is low. Many of the hourly, if not the majority are pondering the merits of the "Special Attrition Program". So far, 733 out of approximately 2800 active hourly have signed on, are locked in, having passed the 7 day threshold for backing out. The deadline for the program's been extended, in my opinion, to allow for more time for the psychology to work. This is a sad place now. No espirit de corps to speak of. A sad place dying a slow, ugly, gut churning death. I will remain with GM. I hope to finish on top. Riding the crest of the wave with a resurgent, yet increasingly impersonal GM. Because I personally need to validate myself. Validate at least two of those principles that I embraced some 30 years ago.

From the sign:

Have Pride In Yourself

Have Pride In Your Work...

Mister Phelan, as to your Camaro article;

Two weeks ago, may Heaven love them for this, Management saw fit to bring to Doraville, inside the plant, in the executive parking garage...The Camaro Concept Vehicle! The sight of it was breath-taking! We were allowed to take pictures of it. The vehicle was to be displayed at the auto show in Atlanta. "Build It" you stated. Indeed. This thing outclasses the Corvette in my opinion. Talk about a "Halo" vehicle. I heard about the now defunct Chevy SSR while it was in the pipeline. Heard about it's coming for nearly 3 years until it belly-flopped onto the market. Same thing with the much ballyhooed Pontiac Aztek.

The Camaro must be built. It must be meticulously faithful to the concept. I view it as a test of the Corporation's vision, resolve, logistics handling. As I stood there looking at it, I actually began to believe again. I could feel a sense impending validation, even though it betray the shallowness of my being. If "We" could pull this off! "Oh What a Feeling", to borrow from our competitor.

Mister Phelan, I have put much of myself into this message to you. I thank you for having taken the time to read it.

Edited by longtooth

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good read... gave me a few goose bumps here and there... well written and it came from the heart, you have had a rough couple of years it seems, but as you and I both hope, that GM's future looks as bright as a newborn baby. Take pride in yourself, take pride in your work, and take pride in GM.

I could see those 3 lines on a car flag, hanging outside of my car...

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Ditto.

I was in Atlanta last year around this time for the FIRST robotics competition at the Georgia Dome. I noticed the signs on the subway to Doraville and came to know at some point while we were there that there was a GM plant in Doraville. I was subsequently shocked and dismayed to hear about the plight of the plant thereafter.

Good luck and "Go GM!"

good read... gave me a few goose bumps here and there... well written and it came from the heart, you have had a rough couple of years it seems, but as you and I both hope, that GM's future looks as bright as a newborn baby.  Take pride in yourself, take pride in your work, and take pride in GM.

I could see those 3 lines on a car flag, hanging outside of my car...

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General comment: We should all do more of this -- letter writing/activism.

Specific comment: Wonderful letter. You are a talented writer. I am sorry for the loss of your wife. My hat is off to you having the strength to carry on and move from one factory to the next. You are a "tower of power."

Best Regards

Ernie Hayman

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A+++

Fantastic article. Thank you so much for sharing this with us.

Members like you (both of GM and this site) is what makes

me a GM fan first and foremost. I wholeheartedly beleive in

everything you have said. :)

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That was a very good and moving article. I also hope that they will build teh Camaro..i will give everyone in the company hope. And as you said, it really needs to stay close to the concept.

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very nice. more of those types of signs should be more widespread.

yes, let's hope GM will rise from this previous "funk" and become the great auto industry leader it should be. :)

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Great read, thanks for posting it.

Will you let us know if you get a response?

Thank You all for the kind comments. I'll keep you "posted" re: any type of response from Mr. Phelan.

I think the letter is something of a catharsis. There are hundreds of thousands of individual stories like mine.

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