Saturday, March 27, 2010

Yours truly talking Toyota, Live on Montreal radio, and startling stats from a professor in Japan

The cover story on the Toyota recall and its connection to the so-called "Toyota Way" that I wrote for The Progressive Populist in its March 15 edition prompted Anne Lagace Dowson of the "Saturday Afternoon in Montreal" show on CJAD 800 AM News Talk Show in Montreal, Canada, this week to contact me regarding an interview. I was on the show today to describe my views on the recall, which you've read in this blog, and why Toyota has come to the U.S. South in the first place.

Toyota is a very popular car in Montreal, she said. "People drive them till they drop." While the company has long enjoyed a reputation for efficiency, I said, it's the way it treats its workers in its pursuit for profits that concerns me.

Meanwhile, I also heard this week from Scott North, a professor of sociology at Osaka University in Osaka, Japan, who has written about Toyota and other companies and the pressure they put on their workers. "Toyota is not the only Japanese firm to squeeze the maximum amount of work out of each worker each day," North wrote.

North sent me a copy of an article he and Charles Weathers wrote for the journal Pacific Affairs in its Winter 2009/10 edition. Weathers and North note how "small union and social movement support for plaintiffs in recent court cases has helped shape public discourse regarding excess work hours in Japan," particularly at Toyota and McDonald's in Japan. Labor and other activist groups made sure the public was aware of what was going on in these companies, generating public sympathy and leading to court decisions in favor of the plaintiffs.

However, instead of responding to this sympathy and these decisions with a more humane work life for their workers, Japanese employers simply turned to ways to "re-legitimize the very overtimes practices" that led to the court cases.

How do employers do this? Weathers and North report various means are available, including these: they can simply deny overtime work exists; change the employee's work category so that he can no longer claim overtime; and "purposefully hire too few regular workers and hire a larger proportion of non-regular workers."

Weathers and North offer some startling statistics: Between 1991 and 2005, 67 workers at Toyota were reported to have died from overwork. Another 247 reported work-related injuries or depression. During this same period of time, the workload on Toyota workers jumped significantly as domestic production increased from 3.15 million automobiles and trucks (41.9 per worker) to 3.86 million (58.7 per worker). The number of workers declined from 75,266 to 65,798.

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