Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Teachers, unions and the Geo Prizm

Mrs. Advisory Bored and I both broke into the IT world as employees of Electronic Data System (EDS), a whole owned subsidiary of General Motors (GM). That honor bought us a one-way trip to the suburbs of Detroit, MI.  While there, we bought ourselves a new car, our first "new" new car.  We weren't really interested in an early 90's GM product, but that was neither the time or the place to buy Japanese.  Fortunately GM had opened a joint venture with Toyota to learn lean manufacturing techniques so we bought a Geo Prizm, Chevy's version of the Toyota Corola.  We owned the car for 17 years and logged plenty of memorable trips in the East and the most important one, moving back home to Seattle.

This joint venture was called New United Motor Manufacturing, Inc (NUMMI) and was located at the site of the old GM assembly plant in Fremont, CA.  What was so interesting about the NUMMI facility was that it was staff by former workers of the Fremont plant, generally considered to be among the worst workers in the industry producing some of GM's worst vehicles.  Re-energized and re-trained in the Toyota Production System (TPS), however, the plant lead by Toyota management started to produce a range of Toyota-designed products starting in 1984 until last year when the plant closed after GM pulled out of the partnership.  The lesson to be learned was that while the UAW did itself no favors, union workers were not the problem. It was a change in leadership, a focus on quality, a top notch design and radically re-envisioned assembly model that made the difference.

It is well worth considering this lesson as we attack "bad" teachers and their union.  When bloodletting is finally done, all you may be left with is a group of demoralized employees futilely trying to assemble a model that is ill-conceived and out-of-date, handed down to them by a bunch of bean counters more concerned with the numbers on the paper than the product on the street. If, as happened at NUMMI, we identify a new, better way of working first, the problems that need to be fixed may well fix themselves.

Just sayin'.