“Monkey Mind”

My reading this morning from Richard Rohr’s devotional book , “Yes, And” ,contained an observation that clarifies for me the attraction of Facebook. It appeals to my “monkey mind”. Consider this quote:

“… “the monkey mind” … Just keeps jumping from observation to observation , distraction to distraction, feeling to feeling, commentary to commentary. Most of this mental action means very little and is actually the opposite of consciousness. In fact,it is unconsciousness. It is even foolish to call it “thinking” at all. Although educated people tend to think their self-referential commentaries are high-level thinking.”

Discovery June 27, 2015

I have been on an extended hiatus from blogging. I don’t fully understand why because there are lots of thoughts and experiences to write about. I still have a desire to document my Ford experiences. I suspect my absence from blogging is related to my continued transition into what Richard Rohr describes as the “second half”of life. 

I am finding it harder to maintain a disciplined day to day routine. My life is being characterized more by discovery than determination. I am, in fact, enjoying the place where I am today. I think that an attitude of discovery is much healthier than one of determination, particularly when my resources to maintain a determined life style are diminishing. As far as I can tell, discovery can be sustained to the end. Perhaps control is a better description  than determine. 

Saying all of that, I am determined to blog more about the discoveries that come my way each day.

Production Foreman 1.02 – Body Shop

As a result of some mysterious process I was assigned be a foreman in the Body Shop. I only had a vague idea of what a body shop was and had no knowledge or experience related to body construction. What became immediately apparent was that the body shop was the furtherest point from the end of the production system. This was good news and bad news. The good news was the body shop was not usually on management’s radar. Unless, of course, there was a problem that impacted production in a way that would cause a loss of production at the end of the final assembly line.

The bad news was that the body shop was pretty much considered to be the red-headed step child of the production system. For salaried employees assigned to the body shop, that meant their interaction with, and exposure to, management was limited, for the most part, to the occasions when there were problems. Otherwise, it was out of sight out of mind. This would have a significant impact on opportunities for advancement. It was a paradox. The more effectively a body shop foreman did his job, the less he would be noticed. It became clear that just doing your job would not be sufficient to assure career progress. In fact, the opposite was true. If you did your job really well you could expect to retire as a body shop foreman.

The best example of this was Rudy Omen. Rudy was the current body shop foreman and was assigned the responsibility for training me and one other new hire. He had forty two years seniority with the company, most of it as a production foreman in the body shop. He started his career cutting lumber in northern Michigan for floorboards. He was deeply loyal to Henry Ford and the company. He was an excellent foreman. He always made production and was respected, and feared, by his employees. Standing about 5’4″ without a grey hair on his head, he was intimidating in a  bantam rooster sort of way. He was an all business, no nonsense person.. old school for sure. His knowledge of the body shop, as well as the ins and outs of Ford Motor Company, was boundless. Like my friend Joe Clark in Nashville, Rudy’s authority and influence far exceeded his organizational position. But, after forty two years of faithful and effective service to Ford Motor Company he was still a salaried grade 6 production foreman. Fortunately, the addition of a shift provided the opportunity for Rudy to receive a promotion to General Foreman just prior to his retirement, a nice parting gift.

In fairness, I must say Rudy may have very well not wanted to be anything else but a production foreman but it was clear that if you wanted to advance at Ford Motor Company you would need to do more than a good job. What was not clear was what, exactly, was necessary for career advancement.

Production Foreman 1.01 Salaried Employee

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.


Production Foreman 1.0

We moved to Louisville in the Fall of 1964 after I had accepted a job as a Production Foreman in the heavy truck section of the Ford Motor Company Louisville Assembly Plant (LAP). Hiring opportunities for salaried employee production personnel were created by Ford’s decision to double the production volume of heavy trucks at LAP. Accordingly, Ford hired personnel to support the increased production.

In addition to hiring personnel, adding a shift at a production facility requires significant additions and modifications to existing systems. Existing production continued while the necessary steps to train and equip the second shift were implemented. This was particularly advantageous for us new foreman. We would have the opportunity to shadow the current foreman and also be available for classroom training etc. Hiring of hourly production employees was accomplished in a similar manner enabling each foreman to get to know their new employees. It was not until some years later that I came to understand what an advantage it was being hired in those circumstances.

There was a downside to training during a shift launch. A somewhat relaxed atmosphere  which prevailed did not betray the real challenges that lay ahead. We saw some pressures and difficulties but we were exempt from any of their consequences.

Red flag. After our classroom training ended we began shadowing our production foreman mentor. In addition to following every move of our mentor we attended any regular meetings which were held after the end of the shift. (note: mandatory attendance, no overtime pay for meetings.) The first meeting I remember attending was a cost meeting. The purpose of the meeting was to review the previous week’s cost performance of our department. The meeting was held in a conference room in the in-plant office area, a spartan space that gained its name, “The Cool Room”, by virtue of being the only air-conditioned room in the area.

Attendees (foreman, general foreman, superintendent) gathered for the meeting. We waited for the arrival of members of management who would conduct the meeting. Being the first occasion for all of our department personnel,including new hires, to be together in one place, it was an opportunity for introductions and to get acquainted. The atmosphere was jovial and everyone was up beat.There was a lot of teasing and joking. It was sort of like being in a football locker room after winning the game. Then it happened.

The conference room door burst open and in came “management” : Operations Manager, Production Manager, Plant Controller and one of their minions, all dressed in white shirt, tie and suit coats. Each of them looking like Vince Lombardi after a Packer loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Their presence transformed the atmosphere in the room. Suddenly all conversation ceased. Everyone came to attention in their seats. Despite the presence of us new hires, no one asked or offered to introduce us. Apparently the assumption was that  everyone knows “management” and “management” doesn’t need to know anyone.

The meeting commenced with a point by point review(think tirade complete with expletives for emphasis) of the various failures of each foreman area’s to achieve cost goals. Each foreman was expected to give an explanation for the subject failures and offer assurances to do better.Bad as the inquisition was, more revealing and disturbing was the complete abandonment of any camaraderie or mutual concern. It was also noteworthy that inquiries were not directed toward the general foreman or superintendent. It was every foreman for himself. Excuses, accusations, denial, finger pointing replaced the any goodwill that had existed, if at all. That meeting was a first glimpse of what life as a production foreman in a high pressure production environment could be.

Production Foreman Rule # 1: The buck stops with the production foreman. Or crap always runs down hill.

The honeymoon came to an end as we separated from our training bubble and became independent of the existing operations. It would not take long to realize why people said that production foreman have the most difficult job in an assembly operation.

A hint to understand how  difficult it is to be a production foreman, is found in the description “production”. A production foreman’s only reason for existing is to achieve production. Production is king. If production is not achieved nothing else matters. Once you understand that priority, you then are awaken to the fact that you are a “foreman”. Foremen get workers to produce. It became clear, as a production foreman I was responsible for attaining production requirements, which I had no say or control over, with workers who I often found did not share my concern for production, and, which I had very little control over.

Production Foreman Rule #2: The inmates run the prison.


Help Along the Way

As I write about my Ford experiences, I have been repeatedly reminded how much other people were a part of any success I experienced.

Without my father and mother-in-law’s relationship with Joe and Sue Clark (not to mention the fact that they, not me, contacted Joe on my behalf), I would have never had the opportunity to be hired at the Nashville Glass Plant.

Joe was a maintenance general foreman, much like a master sergeant in the army, whose reputation, influence and 30 plus years experience far exceeded his organizational status. Only later did I understand the personal risk he assumed by recommending me for hire. Not only did Joe intercede on my behalf, he and Sue asked us to live with them until we could get established and find a place of our own. The first 3-4 weeks after we moved to Nashville, Ann and I lived in their very comfortable mother-in-law suite. On several occasions during my time at the Nashville Glass Plant I benefited from my relationship with Joe. Most of the time it was because of his initiative not mine.

Ann and I had just purchased and moved into our first home a few days before I accepted the job offer. We were certainly doing better financially but we still had little personal discipline and even less cash. The new job held promise of better times but the the move to Louisville and associated expenses was truly frightening. There was no Joe and Sue Clark waiting to help out. We had to sell our new home and the possibility of taking a loss was real.

Nashville Glass Plant was notified that I had been offered a ob in Louisville as a production foreman. Because I was an hourly employee, there were no relocation benefits available. We would have to bear whatever expenses the move cost us. I visited the personnel office to begin the process of terminating my position as an hourly employee and then being hired as a salaried employee at the Louisville Assembly Plant. I was grateful to learn that my time as an hourly employee would count toward my Ford service. I remember how gracious and helpful the people in the personnel office were.

At some point in the process, a supervisor took me aside and told me they were going to process my paper work and hire me as a salaried employee at the Nashville Glass Plant and then they would transfer me to the Louisville Assembly Plant. What it amounted to was a paper only transaction but what it would do is entitle me to relocation benefits as a salaried employee. Our moving expenses would be paid by Ford Motor Company and the sale of house would also be covered. I was stunned. It was truly a gift. Someone was willing to something that was not required of them to help out. I have always thought that Joe Clark may have had a hand in that but I never had any way to confirm it.

We were on our way to Kentucky


As I wrote this post I was reminded that my Ford employment was not the first time I had benefitted from others along the way. After I graduated from high school my Dad contacted his cousin who was business agent for the local Operating Engineers Union and he arranged for me to get a job as a Pump Operator at a construction site at the Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. Despite my unqualified status, I was hired and paid a very good wage. I worked that job until I left for college.

After Ann and I were married and moved to Florence, Alabama my dad called a friend who offered me a job. I worked as a laborer unloading coal rail cars for $1.25 per hour for 4-5 hours a day. The money didn’t cover expenses and was a incentive that led to Ford in Nashville.

So much for being a self-made man.


Becoming “The Man”

“The Man”  is a slang phrase that may refer to the government or to some other authority in a position of power. The phrase “the Man is keeping me down” is commonly used to describe oppression. The phrase “stick it to the Man” encourages resistance to authority, and essentially means “fight back” or “resist”, either passively, openly or via sabotage.

The term has also been used as an approbation or form of praise. This may refer to the recipient’s status as the leader or authority within a particular context, or it might be assumed to be a shortened form of a phrase like “He is the man (who is in charge).”(Wikipedia)

I submitted an application and resume in response to an ad in the local paper for production foreman at the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant in Louisville, KY. Ford was adding a shift to their heavy truck production line. Soon after, I received an invitation for an interview.

Since I had been working for about two years at the glass plant, I had some idea what being a production foreman entailed. My bosses were production foreman. It was clear that the job was demanding but the prospect of increased income, better benefits, career opportunities trumped any concerns at that point. A big downside to accepting the job included moving to a new city where we did not have any family or friends. This would be particularly difficult for Ann. Additionally, accepting a job as a salaried employee would mean that I would no longer be a union member and would lose any of the protections that came with union membership. If I should not succeed, there would be no safety net. If I had a complaint, there would be no union rep to address my grievance with the company.

I traveled to Louisville for my interview. The first person to interview me was a salaried employee representative who worked in the personnel office ( that would be the human resources office today). It was a strange and prescient experience. The interviewer’s name was Royal Graham. He was an older gentleman, maybe in his sixties. As we began, he was reviewing my information and started the interview with a question that threw me completely off guard. He asked, “Where do you go to church?” I answered “Church of Christ”. I am sure that my face betrayed my uncomfortableness with the question. He realized that and immediately explained that he saw I had attended Abilene Christian College and he was an elder in a local Church of Christ. He set me at ease on that subject but then proceeded to encourage me to not accept a production foreman job because he believed it would not be a good choice. Although he did not express it directly, he implied that it was no job for a Christian young man. By the time the interview was over, I was confident that he had my interest at heart but I was not persuaded. Several other members of management interviewed me and after reaffirming my desire to be a production foreman I returned to Nashville.

After a few days I received an offer to become a Production Foreman at the Ford Louisville Assembly Plant. I immediately accepted the offer and thus began my journey to become “The Man”. Little did I know…

Moving Up at Ford’s

Continuing reflections on my career with the Ford Motor Company (Ford’s).

It was 964, almost two years since I was hired by Ford Motor Company as an hourly production worker at he Nashville Glass Plant. There had been ups and downs including being laid off for several months but I had settled into the routines of production work and schedules. Because of my low seniority i worked a lot of different jobs and schedules.

Ann was busy taking care of two babies and managing our home. We had moved several times in the two years. I was working a seven day operation schedule which meant my shift assignment changed each week and off days varied according to the shift being worked. The upside was that there was a generous pay premium and built in overtime days. I also got four consecutive days off once a month. The biggest downside was the shift changes which impeded sleep and family activies since the rest of the world seemed to be M – F and 8 hour days.

We were beginning  to enjoy the good pay and regular paychecks. Despite our undisciplined money management, we decided to purchase our own home. After looking at our options, we purchased a small house (800-900 sq ft) for $10,000.

Several weeks before we purchased the house I happened to notice an ad in the Nashville newspaper. The Ford Motor Company Louisville Assembly Plant in Louisville, Kentucky was expanding their heavy truck production and was seeking to hire Production Foremen. The position was salaried and would mean increased pay and benefits and opportunity for advancement. It seemed to be a good opportunity. I don’t recall what specifically motivated me to apply. Perhaps it was just the natural progression of the american dream. How could I ever expect to be the President of Ford Motor Company if I didn’t move up in the organization. I felt reasonably confident that I had a good chance of being hired because I was currently a Ford employee and I had two years of college. I mailed my resume and a short time later received an invitation to come to Louisville for an interview. Shortly after my interview, I received an offer a job as production foreman which we accepted. Little did I know what that would mean to our future. Most immediately, it meant that we would have to sell our newly purchased home just weeks after we had moved in.

More on getting hired as a production foreman to come.


How can I help?

The following excerpt from Richard Beck’s blog post today http://experimentaltheology.blogspot.com/2014/08/eccentric-christianity-part-6-eccentric.html is a real eye opener for me. He reveals a truth concerning our churches that I have sensed but have been unable to define. I am convicted.

Success in America is to need nothing. To never need help. Your job in America is to be fine. Autonomous and self-sufficient. To be anything less–to need the help of others–is to be a failure. A drag on society. A loser.

This shaming is killing our churches as it shuts down the economy of love, the ways in which we share and respond to the needs of others and how they respond to our needs. The theologian Arthur McGill calls this economy of love a community of neediness.

But the flow of this economy shuts down if everyone in the church is neurotically shamed into hiding their needs from others. We all would rather play the hero, we all want to be the helper, the one who serves. But we don’t ever want to be the one being rescued, or the one needing help, or the one who is being served. Standing in that location–being the needy one among us–is very, very uncomfortable.

Churches tend to hide their fear of loving each other by serving strangers outside the community of faith. The church gives food at the food pantry. The youth group builds a house for a poor family on a mission trip. We send money overseas to the Third World.

Those people are the needy people. We’ll help them. But me? I’m fine. I’m good. No, I don’t need anything. Can I help you?

It’s not that those people at the food pantry or in the Third World don’t need anything. It’s that the church is responding to these needs in a state of denial. The church is denying its own need, weakness and vulnerability. Thus, the church comes to see itself as a hero, riding in on a white horse to save others. Since we don’t need anything from the people we are helping there is no reciprocity, no economy, no relationship, no giving and sharing back and forth.

We show up, do our good deeds and then pack up and leave. Why? Because we don’t need anything from those people. They need us. We don’t need them.

But we do need them. And we need each other.

appreciating the Ordinary

I came across this quote from Brene Brown that I found helpful as I continue to wrestle with the question: “How does one find meaning and purpose in their old age?” 

Brene’ Brown calls to our attention this important facet of our ordinary days. In many instances, we equate ordinary with boring or, even more dangerous, ordinary has become synonymous with meaningless.

I think I learned the most about the value of ordinary from interviewing men and women who have experienced tremendous loss such as the loss of a child, violence, genocide, and trauma. The memories that they held most sacred were the ordinary, everyday moments.

When we fail to cherish the ordinary we begin to waste our lives. Attentive to our aging face, our over-weight, our range of influence, and perpetual need for money are at least four thieves; each screaming from sunrise to sunset about lack.

These and others succeed only because we give them permission to abuse us at will. The solution is to be attentive to the power of the grateful moment.

We are not to be bugged because so many calls come in. We are to be thrilled we can still hear the phone ring.

We are not to fret because the kids eat us out of house and home. Overjoy hits because our kids are growing o consider and normal.

We are not to be dismayed because prices rise. We are to be grateful we have abundant selection.

We are not to be frustrated by the discover of illness. We are to lavish in the truth that the medical field did not shut down exploration twenty years ago.

 We are not to be whining that there are not enough hours in the day. Rather, we are to praise God that we can drive the car all those places, pay the bills for all those in the family, and still find ourselves upright and energetic.

Decide. Decide to cherish the ordinary. Men, women, and children are suffering from a terrible (yet acceptable and unnoticed by the masses) disease called ingratitude for the simplest of gigantic blessings. Stop complaining, whining, and/or sighing. Treasure right now.