AKRON-Scheduling is everything in the North American tire industry. With at least 35 tire plants employing continuous operations to maximize equipment usage, scheduling options are under scrutiny.
Eight-hour shifts vs. 12-hour shifts is the main event in what has become a battle between management and employees.
Most union leaders of United Steel Workers of America's Rubber and Plastics Industry Conference locals prefer eight-hour shifts.
``(Twelve-hour shifts are) the worst thing that ever happened to this plant,'' said Billy Brewer, president of Rubber Workers Local 915, which staffs Dunlop Tire Corp.'s Huntsville, Ala., factory.
``There's no such thing as a perfect shift,'' said John Cunningham, president of Kitchener, Ontario, Local 80, whose members work 12-hour shifts at Uniroyal Goodrich Tire Co. ``We have a drawer full of examples. There is extremely little information about the 12-hour shift. But it's no secret that unions look poorly on 12-hour shifts in the original form of Monday through Friday.''
As one might expect, management has a different view of the issue.
``Twelve-hour shifts allow for more efficient use of the equipment, which increases capacity where bottlenecks exist, and overall it smooths out production,'' said Bill Campbell, operations manager at Titan Tire Corp. ``With 12-hour shifts you are using the heat, lights and equipment more effectively.''
But that doesn't mean management isn't sympathetic to employees' concerns.
``I have spent enough 12-hour shifts on the floor to know that's a long day,'' said Denis Garvey, Charlotte, N.C., plant manager for Continental General Tire. Inc. ``Because of the physiological impact on the body, I'd rather have workers work eight-hour shifts.''
But when the bottom line is in the spotlight, there's one choice that makes sense, according to Dennis Murphy of the Coleman Consulting Group, a firm that advises businesses on how to increase productivity.
``Properly designed, 12-hour shifts work better than eight,'' Mr. Murphy said.
The chief reason for deciding on which shift schedule to implement is the cost factor. Companies are searching for ways to increase the bottom line.
But Mr. Murphy warns companies that if they're switching to a 12-hour shift for cost reduction only, they may be in for a rude awakening.
``Many managers say they want 12-hour work schedules because they think eliminating a shift change will save them money,'' Mr. Murphy said. ``A company shouldn't accept two inefficient shift changes a day. They should fix the shift change so it's efficient and get back to the issue-which is maximizing the use of their machinery.''
Switching to a 12-hour shift from an eight-hour shift often saves a company some overtime costs, however.
But some union leaders claim the longer shift costs the company money in the long run-mainly because of a drop in production. The industry produced 210 million auto tires last year.
``It has taken its toll. It affects safety and production,'' Local 915's Mr. Brewer said. ``We're hitting 22,000 to 24,000 tires a day instead of 30,000 (capacity). We were hitting 30,000 with 8-hour shifts and 300 less people.''
``We wouldn't tell you it's categorically better one way or the other,'' said David Gooch, Pirelli Armstrong Tire Corp.'s corporate manager of industrial and labor relations.
Employees on eight-hour shifts can expect more overtime as well as phone calls from work on their off days. It's not uncommon for an employee on that shift to work 21 or more days in a row. That is far less common for employees who work 12-hour shifts.
According to Bridgestone/Firestone, an employee working at an eight-hour, five-day operation works 2,080 hours (260 days) while getting 105 days off per year (plus holidays and vacations). Employees at 12-hour, seven-day operations work 2,184 hours (182 days) while getting 183 days off per year (plus holidays and vacations).
One downside, employees say, is that working a 12-hour shift creates a work schedule that doesn't allow them to enjoy the extra days off they have.
``Especially at the rotating plants, a lot of people say they have a hard time resting on days off because they can't adjust to the different schedules,'' said Jim Frederick, Rubber Workers industrial hygienist for the United Steelworkers of America.
``When you work 12-hour shifts, about all you can do is go home, eat, take a shower and sleep-then do it again the next day,'' said Tommy Powell, president of LaVergne, Tenn., Local 1055, whose members work for Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. ``And even on what they call the three-day weekend, you have one day to get your head on straight from working the 12-hour shift, one day to rest up and one day to get ready for work.''
The future of 12-hour shifts in North American tire plants appears to be sound. Companies turning facilities into around-the-clock operations are looking for ways to maximize their assets. All companies will at least look at the 12-hour option.
But most local union leaders agree the 12-hour shift is a passing fancy.