Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

GM to Begin an Internal Revolution with Saturn Complex / Using `Clean Sheet of Paper' Approach

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

GM to Begin an Internal Revolution with Saturn Complex / Using `Clean Sheet of Paper' Approach

Article excerpt

SPRING HILL, Tenn. - The first spadeful of dirt turned at the Saturn car complex site here will signal the start of a General Motors Corp. effort to revolutionize itself, and in the process much of the U.S. auto industry.

Saturn's chief aim is to slash costs and eliminate the estimated $2,000-per-car advantage of the Japanese.

GM believes it is so far from that goal that it must start Saturn with a ""clean sheet of paper'' approach, questioning every step of the business, from the design studio to the factory floor to the dealer showroom.

GM officials say privately that the key to Saturn is breaking down the old work rules and transplanting the Saturn system bit by bit throughout GM, which has 375,000 employees represented by the United Auto Workers union.

The UAW leadership has gone along with the basic Saturn proposals in return for some long-sought goals, including employee input in decision making and the recognition of members as salaried workers instead of clock-punchers.

There will be no time clocks at the Saturn Corp. plant. Management and labor will share cafeterias and parking lots.

UAW workers will help decide how many cars to build, how to advertise and sell them and what prices to charge. They also will be asked their opinions on how to improve assembly methods and where tobuy parts, and many workers will get lifetime employment.

The Saturn production force, which will include an as-yet unknown number of laid-off UAW members, apparently will get 80 percent of current GM production pay. The difference could be made up with incentive pay, a technique GM is counting on to add to productivity gains.

""This is is a major shift in attitudes,'' said Malcolm Salter, professor of business policy at Harvard University. ""Before, management would look at labor as a variable cost of production and theunion would look at the firm as something from which to extract as much as they could.''

Saturn is GM's attempt to break with the auto industry's past, when America ruled the carmaking world and the costs of inefficient manufacturing methods were passed on to the consumer.

Chief among them are rules which basically prohibit a worker from doing more than one or two jobs. U.S. auto industry executives generally agree that the key to Japanese productivity isn't automation but the sophisticated use of hands and minds. Saturn will try to copy and improve on that.

""I think what we're looking at here is perhaps the prototype of labor relations in the auto industry and the direction of American labor,'' said Harley Shaiken, a labor and technology expert at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. …

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