Sometimes bosses do not realize that it is the little things that matter most to workers. Signs of fairness and trust, factory workers often say, are more telling of how their company feels about them than any formal management-labor relations program.
The Japanese built their reputation as employers largely through attention to such details. But 40-year-old Peggy Gleissner thinks her Japanese employer--Nissan--forgot to teach that lesson to its American supervisors at its auto plant here.
Gleissner, a line worker who has become an ardent supporter of the United Auto Workers organizing drive after working for five years at the plant, said her relationship with Nissan's U.S. management was shattered by the way Nissan acted when it snowed one day last winter in central Tennessee.
To Gleissner, the incident was symbolic of arbitrary decision-making at Nissan.
"We had a real bad snow here, and when we have a snow here in Tennessee, no one can drive," Gleissner said. "I lived in Michigan, so I learned how to drive (in snow). But these people down here can't.
"They put on the bulletin board that anyone throughout the plant who cannot get to work (because of the snowstorm) will not get paid. It was on the bulletin board, no exceptions. Well, I have a friend who lives an hour away in a hilly area, and they closed the highway, and she couldn't get to work. A guy who lives in the same town, he couldn't get to work either.
"He got paid. I found out other people got paid, but (the supervisor) wouldn't pay her . . . because she was for the union. I had been working quietly for the union. But right after that is when I became vocal for the union."
Gail Neuman, Nissan's vice president for human resources, declined to confirm or deny Gleissner's account. But she said Nissan has a policy stating that workers will not be paid if they miss work because of bad weather. "We have clear guidelines for our supervisors," she added. "They cannot treat union sympathizers any differently than they treat our other employees."
But Gleissner is not swayed. Now, despite Nissan management's strong anti-union stance, Gleissner openly spends much of her free time working in the UAW's small office near the plant, helping UAW staff organizer Jim Turner contact and sign up more Nissan workers.
"We need rules; we need a contract," she added. "They have rules now, but they will change the rules to whatever suits them."