Linda Straub Oral History

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[Ben Grillot]: Today is April 4th, 2000 and I'm sitting at Acklin Stamping Plant with Linda Straub, Union Co-ordinator at Acklin.

Tell me about when you first joined Acklin Stamping:

[Linda Straub]: It was 1969, I came here straight out of High School. Well, I was 19. I got a job, I wanted to go back to school, so I got this job and I thought I would save up some money and go back to school. Well, instead I ended up.. uh.. I got married the next year, had a son the next year, and got a divorce a few years later, so therefore I was a single parent and I ended up here.

[BG]: And what did you do at Acklin Stamping?

[LS]: I was a production operator on the small line. The progressive dies, which a progressive die basically takes the place of 5 or 6 jobs. There were a whole lot of us. There were about 600 employees then. Thats hard work. We still work hard but, you know, that was like 2000 pieces an hour, small tiny pieces, we would limp out of here actually. That was, it was a trip. In fact the women all had their jobs and the men had their jobs, because equal rights hadn't come in yet. As a matter of fact, this area right outside here, is where the women worked, from here down to the shipping department and we didn't go beyond that line, it was like an imaginary line.

[BG] Was it small line versus big line? Was that the distinction?

[LS]:Yeah, the small line were the women and the big line were the men. They'd all congregate around and kind of watch because they didn't hire too often. These old ladies would wear these dresses, and they'd have their hair all done up in these fancy hairdos and everything. They'd have an apron on but they didn't seem to get dirty and they worked their heinies off, I mean they really did and some of these jobs were oily and these women didn't go out of here looking like we look now. I mean when I run production, I look like I've run production. Not too many of those people did. And then equal rights came in.. in 1974.. well about 73 actually. And I'd gone off to have my son and when I came back they'd switched then. And so therefore the women went over on the big line and the men came on the small line and what basically we did is go find out that they had actually, most of them, easier jobs than we had. The cans are heavier than the small parts we had but you didn't have to run as many of them, and I'm not saying thats an easy job over there, because running those cans is not an easy job, its a very hard job. And through the years we went through a lot of changes, as far as, you know, women had to get used to going over there and the men had to get used to putting up with us, you know, driving mules and running trains, doing things women never did before. But everybody, it took a while, I mean, it took a while because there was that little, uh, invisible thing between the change to equal rights. But everybody after a few years was pretty cool, but you did go through a lot of transition.

[BG] How would you describe the safety issue at the time? Was it a problem? Was there a lot of danger?

 

[LS] Major safety issue.. Major safety issue when I first came here. And I was too stupid, too young and naive to even know it. I mean, I knew people were getting pieces cut off of themselves, but I had no comprehension of this place was worse than a lot of places. Acklin Stamping and City Auto Stamping were known as the butcher shops of Toledo because so many people got their fingers cut off of them. There was hardly ever a two week period where you didn't hear someone scream and you would look and they'd be taking someone to first aid because they got something chopped off. Through the years its gotten a lot safer here, but it took a long time. Its just been within about the last ten years, and even within the last ten years we've had people get fingers cut off, but not at the rate that they used to. I had a cousin that came up from down south with me and went to a union meeting with me, and I didn't pay any attention because I was used to it, but people wanted to ask questions at the union meeting, we're sitting in the back of the room and everybody had their hands up. And she looked at me and she said "Linda! What happened to these people's hands?" Becaues at least half of them had something missing., its not like that here anymore, not at all. And most of the people that had pieces gone have retired, maybe a few that are still here, but its so much safer. We had one guy really get his hand cut off, but that job is a lot safer. Everything is a lot safer.

[BG] And all of that came about through OSHA? Through better presses?

[LS] Through better presses, yeah. Safeguards being put on that were already in existence but just weren't there. One problem I had was with the forklift situation, actually I still have that problem. Not now, because they're basically carrying single loads. I almost got killed in 1993, because I going into the shipping department and there was a forklift truck coming out with a double load and he ran over me. There were these swinging doors back there, warehouse doors and he was coming out and I was going in and I don't even remember getting hit. That is probably the most recent bad one, there were a couple of amputations after that, but I think 1994 was the last one. Its a lot safer now.

[BG] How would you describe your co-workers? How was the comradery among employees?

[LS] This place has always been a family place. That was what was so hard when we closed through Tecumseh Products. We had such a high seniority rate, you know, the lowest seniority people had like, you know, 24 years here when we closed. And therefore, like me, a lot of people grew up in here. When you come straight out of school and you end up, you're not married or anything, lots of us weren't married or anything when we came here then we all got married, some of em got divorced. And we've seen some of our friends that maybe died before their time of diseases or whatever.. in a bigger place people don't get to know each other like in a place this size, and in like a office type situation a lot of times theres a big turnover, but that there wasn't a big turnover here and so therefore we're all close, the ones of us that are left and we still miss the ones that aren't here anymore.

[BG] And how would you describe the difference between that comradery and how the management treated you guys?

[LS] Do you mean the present management?

[BG] Tecumseh Products. We're talking about the 1970s, 1980s....

[LS] Oh they didn't like us. They ordered their people not to talk to us, not to look at us if they passed us in the aisle. They seriously were like that. Until the last.. I didn't have any problem with the management in here until the last... since I've been chairman. I mean everybody goes through their wheeling and dealing as a far as a company-union type relationship, but we had a good relationship. When we closed we had a good relationship within this plant. It was corporate that didn't want us anymore. And it hurt the company people here as bad as it hurt us. Because they were our family too because most of them had been here a long time too. There were a few of them that were the exception to that rule, but for the most part we had a good relationship, the last I would say, probably 5 years.

[BG] But during the 70s and 80s it wasn't quite like that?

[LS] The 70s and 80s were not like that. Like I said, they were told not to talk to us, not to have anything to do with us. They were always suspicious, which made our people so that they were suspicious back. It was constantly, constantly an "us and them" thing. And till the last few years.. you know.. we had the open house which we did together, that was with employee involvement..

[BG] That was in 97?

[LS] Yeah, that was in 97. Did you have a copy of that?

[BG] I have a copy of the brochure.

[LS] Ok

[BG] And a videotape that was taped there too..

[LS] (puzzled) How'd you get the videotape?

[BG] It was in the collection.

[LS] I'd like a copy of that! Because I had a videotape that disappeared.

[BG] I can make you a copy of that

[LS] Would you do that? I really appreciate that {BG: Sure). I was one of them that was on that communications team, helped put that together, and I ended up with no tape!

[BG] Harold Krueger was plant manager back then, right? Now the Plant Manager came out of the ranks of this plant?

[LS] No

[BG] Ok. It was someone who was placed on you by Tecumseh.

[LS] Right.

[BG] But Harold had been an employee here for some time...

[LS] In management

[BG] In management. And then Ray Cox was after him? I'm just trying to get the succession down. After Ray Cox it gets fuzzy..

[LS] Well we had Phil Wood.. he was before Krueger I believe.

[BG] Right, after Alvin Seeman Then came Phil Wood, then Krueger, then Cox, I imagine?

[LS} Cox, yeah. And then after that was Bob Housch.

[BG] Bob Housch, ok.

[LS] Bob Housch was.. That was the beginning of a decent relationship in here. When we got Bob Housch. He was an older guy that came out of retirement and he had brought plants that were troubled through before. But, uh, they thought that basically he was too easy on us. But through that came more of an involvement. Thats when did the Cumberland Group, we did that kind of thing. We did these seminars together, the union and management did. And then they formed these other teams, you know and things like that. And for a while we thought we were doing pretty good.

[BG] How did you come to become involved in the Union?

[LS] Well, actually, I think it was probably pre-destined, to tell you the truth, I didn't know it at the time though. Because, when I was a kid, my dad worked at City Auto Stamping, my uncles worked at City Auto Stamping, my cousins, and then my brother went there and so I wouldn't realize what I was doing, but every kind of family gathering that we had they would talk shop, you know, and I would sit there, and I didn't even realize this was what I was doing at the time, but I would decide, and they would get loud!, I would decide who I thought was right. Honest to god. And then through the years... I was here ten years before I really got involved involved, it was 1979 I believe, and then slowly but surely all that stuff that I'd been listening to all those years started to come to pass. But when I really did finally get involved it was to the point where if you had a problem, there wasn't a whole lot getting done (especially after Louie left), if you had to go do it yourself you might as well just do the job. And they, the first thing they asked me to do, was they, the committee that was in at that time came and asked me if I would represent this place for workers compensation from the Union side and they had not had a rep to do that before. And so thats where I started. And I came to the conclusion that, evidently, I guess, I was supposed to do this until somebody above me decides I'm not. And then I became the secretary, I still did workmans comp, became the secretary, and when I got run over by the forklift truck I was out for 14 months. Very, very serious so I didn't run that election. And when I came back they asked me to run for chair and so I did. And here I am

[BG] You talked about Lewis Mattox for a second. Did he help you at all? Encourage you? Did he give you guidance?

[LS] Lewie gave everybody guidance. When Lewie spoke it was like E. F. Hutton, everybody listened. He had connections downtown, he had connections everywhere. Lewie was involved when the U.A.W. was born in the Detroit - Toledo area. And he was involved in every bit of it. When I came here.. actually the Union.. now, you know, the Union and the Management we work together more than back then. Back then it was the very birth and nobody would get along. And when I came here we had all kinds of cut steel over there in the steel room and if management tried to pull some stuff Lewie would say "Everybody to the steel room!" And everybody just walked off their jobs and we went to the steel room and Lewie would preach. And pretty soon they'd come out and Lewie would have his way. That wouldn't work anymore, but it worked back then because Lewie was a big time leader.

[BG] How did Lewie come to leave the company?

[LS] He was forced into retirement.

[BG] By higher management?

[LS] Yeah, that was back when they didn't have quite the rules that they have about working and he was basically elbowed out. Then he died. He wasn't retired hardly any length of time and he died.

[BG] Were you involved in the Union during the strike of 1986? And the circumstances leading up to that? Could you talk about what happened and how it happened?

[LS] Well, actually the 1980 strike was the big one. The 1980 strike, that was the one that was 10 weeks long and there were a lot of things that happened during that period of time. In 1980 they uh.. We went on a ten week strike and there were a lot of things that happened on both sides. Um, I don't feel that there was a whole lot gained from it. But it was basically, they tried to push and we tried to keep them from it and it worked for a while. And then in 1986 we went on strike again. That was a two week strike. There wasn't the violence.. people went to jail in 1980. There were things that happened out on the street, things that happened in here, and people went to jail. Of course they lost their jobs, but they all came back, and that was, you know, the usual strike kind of stuff that happened in the street, um, [?]ing some cars, and things like that. Nobody ran over anybody or anything like that, though the company did try. Um. 1986 at the end of the two weeks the company came back with a proposal that was basically the same contract that we had just turned down, or a one year phase-out. In 1986 nobody had a job, it was a recession, so you didn't have a choice. So everything that they didn't get from the 1980 strike, they did get in the 1986 strike, being thats when they froze our cost of living. There was, they put language in there that if you were hurt or sick for three years, then you automatically lost your job. Which affected, you know, we have people that think its really neat to be on worker's comp. Well thats a bunch of crap. Because it affects people. When you can't work anymore, until it happens to you, you don't really realize. I had people, one guy did commit suicide, the guy that got his hand cut off eventually did commit suicide. I'd had a psychiatric allowance for him and it worked for a while, he called me in 1978.. no it was 1982.. And he was going to kill himself then, but I talked him.. he was drunk and crying and his arm was hurting, you know, he had like 13 major operations on this arm and he was scheduled for another one and he called me and I talked him.. well actually I talked him to sleep. It took all night but I talked him to sleep and the next morning I got with him and thats when we got the psychiatric allowance and it worked for a while but then in 1988.. It might have been 1991 this other guy, that was his last link...and he just took a bunch of pills and that was it for him. But he never took his hand out of his pocket and he never.. or if he did he had a glove on. I mean, and I've had several other people that were workers comp cases that got hurt and they.. You take it personal when you can't come back, you know, thats a part of you thats gone. And they took.. And theres been more thats tried suicide, but just through intervention it didn't work, they were close a few of 'em, but it didn't work. Where was I?

[BG} So would you say nothing was gained by the strike? The management was able to force the contract on you?

Yeah, they forced it on us. And like I said, at the time it was a recession - you didn't have any choice. Now it was different this time. In 1998 it was different because everybody's working now. And if we had to, with the 6 dollar.. they wanted to take 6 dollars an hour away from us in 1998 which would've meant we would've had people out there sticking their hands in presses in the same presses, taking chances of getting their same fingers and hands cut off for McDonald's wages. We had, the insurance wasn't any good, we had 80-20 insurance with a lot of deductibles, by the time, the average wage, which, if you weren't on production the average wage was about $11.70. If you were on production it could go up as high as $17 but not all of them, it depended on your piece rate. And so therefore that $6 an hour for the average person say they're making $14 and thats somebody thats on production and really working their heinie off for that $14 an hour they would be back to $8. When we were in negotiations I went by a McDonalds in Waseon, it said "Now hiring, full benefits, $8 an hour." Well we didn't even have full benefits. We had 80-20, lots of deductibles, our pension was $12 a year. Um, that was one thing I don't understand about what back when the old timers were in, why they didn't go for more, for a better pension. Because this $12 a year, for 30 years at Acklin Stamping, I'm going to get $300 a month. For 5 years here, my pension rate now, for the new company is $30 a year its the U.A.W. retirement plan. Its $30 a year, so for 5 years I'm going to have $150, but I've got enough time to more than double my pension. And the insurance is 100 percent now, so thats another raise in itself. Its an hourly wage which is $12.50 an hour we start out at $12.50, straight across the board, except skilled trades which are $17. And there is something, I guess, to be said about a skeleton crew because we're doing more with less people which is the going thing. And so therefore as soon as this company starts to make money I have confidence that we'll do better. We're already doing better!

[BG] There seems to be a change where you and Howard can come together and work out disagreements.

[LS] Yeah. And you know, that doesn't mean everything's totally perfect. I mean everybody, um, they're trying to run a business and we're trying to help them run a business and that means that sometimes you have differences of opinion about how it should be done but we've been able to come together and work things out as well.

[BG} That seems to have been Lewis Mattox's opinion as well, sort of. Just try to tie it all together...

[LS] Louie... Louie would've really had a lot of changing to do.. I, sometimes, it gets thrown up to me, as late as even in negotiations that "Well, you're no Louie." But this is a whole different ball game now. You know, Louie was great and Louie would've, somehow I think Louie would've survived, but it would've been rough on him. And that doesn't mean we've given away the house, because we haven't. I mean we, you just have to learn how to wheel and deal, its different, you know. I mean everybody does. Its not just me or this place. If you're going to survive, especially since the Japanese thing, well the Japs came in and they were taking all of our work, something had to be done to keep our work here. And if that meant that we had to give up that "I, Me" attitude and its a "We" attitude, sometimes it gets a little rough with this "we" attitude but its still good, if you're smart you work things out. And when you can't work it out you have a procedure that you go through.

[BG] You said when you started here that there were 600 people.

[LS[ Yeah.

[BG} How did that change over time?

[LS] That changed through uh

[Ring, Ring]

[BG] Is that your phone?

[Tape Recorder was shut off while Linda received a Telephone Call]

[LS} Thats changed a lot. When I came here I'd worked after school and on weekends on the turnpike and at K-Mart, and so when I came here it was different because, you know, like I said, I was very naive when I came here. I would go down the aisle and there would be people sitting around reading newspapers and stuff. And I couldn't figure out how these people had time to do this because at those other two places where I'd been you just didn't do that kind of stuff. And they basically had somebody to make the part, they had somebody to stock parts, they had somebody to put em away. Course we had a lot more, you know, there was a lot more jobs per se. We had, like, the Whirlpool job, there was a few outside jobs, but Tecumseh really never wanted us to do work for anybody but them, because that way we would still be under their finger, you know. And so they took that stuff out and it wasn't too long before they took that stuff out. But through people getting old and retiring all those jobs that were single jobs went into progressive dies, so that meant you know it took one person to do what four or five were doing before, maybe a few more, plus the stocking up of the parts from one operation to the next that then uh.. so much more automation came in. And uh, through the course of time.. you know, they didn't specifically say "Get rid of everybody all at once." They just didn't do a lot of hiring and the place got smaller and smaller and jobs got combined. Basically I guess what I'm really saying is between progressive dies and job combinations that came about. Well even the first day that this place started. On Friday, June 25th, there were 33 people here and on June 28th there were 21 people here and we did the same thing with 21 people that 33 people did on the Friday before.

[BG] Thats amazing.

[LS] Yes it is. And the biggest thing that I think we have going for us right now is the attitude and the commitment to make it. The best case scenario is that we want to make this place go. We feel like we're creating something and we are. Its not often that you get to be in on the ground floor of something, especially when we already knew what we were doing. But like before we were held back, we were pretty well repressed because we have.. We're a self-directed workforce now we don't have any bosses, I mean there are obviously people who oversee

[Ring Ring]

{The tape is stopped while Linda received another telephone call)

[LS] I see a lot for this place. And I'm not saying this with a partial attitude, I see.. what I see happening here is.. Boy, people are going to think I'm sucking up to Howard and thats not how it is, its just the facts. He does business completely different that I ever saw Tecumseh do it. Tecumseh would spend $100,000 to save themselves $500 just because maybe we [?? Announcement over the PA system drowns this out.]. With Howard he does listen, and with Howard, hes going after business. When I would go back through there, as a chairman, making copies or doing whatever, with Tecumseh back there they'd be talking about their boats or how their car ran or whatever. When I go back there with Howard, he's busy doing quotes, he's busy trying to get the work in here that should be here. We now have a sales department, Acklin per se, itself, didn't have that before. But then Tecumseh wanted to keep us repressed. Like for instance when we were closing they said that we, our quality was so bad. We have a 99.9% quality rating and thats what really made me mad, don't get me started, that really made me mad when everything was in the news media they were saying things like that. And we all knew it was not true and we had proof, I mean, it was their memos that was coming out with this stuff, and even their management team that was here shook their heads, they just shook their heads. And you know, nobody, nobody thought it was right. But with Howard I see a future. I see.. I think this place is going to go and I think its going to go big. I think that he appreciates us and I don't think that he'll not appreciate us. He's that type of person. He's a generous person and as long as we treat him right he'll treat us right and that is from, even from the whole team here to a single a person. You know what I mean? It doesn't matter. Thats not to say that we never have a disagreement, but when we have a disagreement its different then when I had disagreements with Tecumseh. With Tecumseh they didn't listen, they'd say file your grievance and then we'd go through the grievance process, then we'd go through the arbitration process and basically it'd come out however the arbitrator decided. And with Howard, we haven't had a grievance yet. A lot of the grievances before were over overtime and they way they'd get a job and things like that. Well we're a self-directed workforce now. So now, shame on us if someone gets bypassed for overtime because we have leaders out there that are union members that schedule overtime. So that took away a lot of the grievances. But a lot of the grievances were policy things where they would just come out and say they were going to re-vamp everything in a heartbeat and most of it was stupid stuff and then we'd end up having major policy grievances, you know, along with all of those overtime grievances. But, so far, we've got a good working relationship, um, every once in a while we disagree, sometimes you've got to agree to disagree but we're a lot better than we used to be. And I think we're going to go far.

 


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