Being hired as a production foreman in the fall of 1964 marked the beginning of a new phase of my Ford Motor Company career. Production foreman was a salaried employee position. Previously, I was an hourly, union production employee. Becoming a salaried employee meant I no longer enjoyed the benefits of an hourly employee which included seniority rights, union representation and protection.. good hourly wage rate, overtime, paid holidays and vacation days … recall rights in case of layoffs et al. This was a bit scary because I was suddenly unprotected. If I was unable to succeed as a Production Foreman there was no guarantee that I could go back to my hourly job.
What I came to realize much later was that when a person is hired as a salaried employee, they sign an unwritten patriarchal contact. The employee, in exchange for all the benefits of a salaried employee, agrees to submit themselves to the service of Ford Motor Company. The expected priorities of Ford employees is … Ford first, everything else second. As Tennessee Ernie Ford (ironically) sang in “16 Tons”, “I sold my soul to the company store.” The conditions of the contract were not an issue until those secondary priorities came into to conflict with Ford, then you knew who owned you.
As a salaried employee I was “the man”, a company man and therefore the face of Ford Motor Company to my hourly employees. Because of the highly adversarial relationship between Ford and the UAW (United Auto Workers), production foreman were mostly considered as the “enemy” by their employees. Therein was the most difficult aspect of being a production foreman. To survive, you had to walk a line between hourly employees and the company. It was analogous to being an army sergeant.
The dress code for production foreman as well as other male salaried employees was a white shirt and tie. This was important because it was a visible sign of the who was on what team. Generally, upper management would wear suits, occasionally dispensing with their jackets when it was hot or they wanted to show they were just one of the guys. But we came to understand which team they were on.
Ford salaried employees were classified by pay grades. General Salaried employees were Salaried Grade 5 to Salaried Grade 8. Management Roll employees were Grade 9 and above with several subsets up to Grade 15. Grade 16 and up was Executive Level. As a production Foreman I was a Salaried Grade 6. The pay was better than my hourly wage rate. Company policy dicated the pay levels of supervisory salaried personnel were to be set at a minimum of 10% over the hourly rates of their employees. This worked well because hourly employees got wage increases regularly through union contracts. (So should I root for the Union during contract negotiations?)
I quickly realized how complex and hazardous was the life of a production foreman.