Pressure Led to Shootings at Jeep
On Wednesday, January 26, Myles Meyers, a 54-year-old second-shift worker at DaimlerChrysler's Jeep plant in Toledo, was four hours late for work. When he clocked in at 8:33 pm, Myles had a twenty-gauge double-barrel shotgun under his long black coat.
Every tragedy, it is said, provides an opportunity; an opportunity to learn, to change, to grow, to build out of the ashes of our grief something better than what existed before.
Such, we hope, will prove to be the case in the aftermath of two senseless deaths at DaimlerChrysler's Toledo North Jeep assembly plant.
Perhaps we will never be entirely sure why Myles Meyers, a 21-year Jeep employee, brought a double-barreled shotgun to work last Wednesday and shot three people, killing one, before turning his weapon on himself.
Yes, he had been disciplined the day before for what DaimlerChrysler called a minor infraction, and at least one co-worker said Meyers had been having difficulties at work for a time and felt he was being singled out by supervisors. And, yes, Meyers and his wife were legally separated and he was awaiting sentencing in Lenawee County District Court on two drug charges. But Tuesday's disciplinary meeting reportedly ended with smiles and handshakes, Meyers had dinner with his estranged wife just before the shootings, and the drug charges were misdemeanors.
DaimlerChrysler officials might be justified in concluding that Meyers' personal difficulties ought to have been enough to precipitate the deadly barrage. But then we are told by experts that workplace violence is on the rise nationally and there are always clues.
"It's completely avoidable and it's never spontaneous," said Paul Viollis, a New York City-based consultant on workplace violence.
Meyers' act of violence has prompted a number of Jeep employees to speak out against what they claim are negative pressures at the plant, including long work weeks, too little time for family and leisure activities, job outsourcing, overly strict policies for sick leave and tardiness, and youthful managers telling veteran workers how to do their jobs.
We are not in a position to discuss the merits of these complaints, nor are we suggesting that DaimlerChrysler is to blame for these tragic events. Already, the automaker has said that it will review security measures at the assembly plant, and that is as it should be. But DaimlerChrysler needs to go further in taking advantage of what, amidst the tears and fears the shootings have engendered, is also an opportunity for introspection.
This is a chance, for example, for company officials to ask whether they are doing enough to balance their production goals with the physical, psychological, and emotional needs of their employees, who are handsomely paid but frequently work six and sometimes seven days in an environment where overtime is often mandatory.
It's also an opportunity for the company to examine whether workers are treated well, not in ways the company thinks are important but in ways that are meaningful to the employees. Do managers treat veteran workers with respect? Is reasonable support provided to workers who may be having difficulties on or off the job? Are the rules governing sick leave, tardiness, and other aspects of the workday strict, or are they rigid?
If, in fact, DaimlerChrysler is willing to look deep inside itself, what is likely to emerge from this senseless act of violence is a stronger, healthier, more cooperative workplace.
Myles went directly for the management offices of the KJ body shop, where he knew that most of the bosses would be eating their evening lunch. In the office he saw a stock boss named Yiesha Martin and pulled out his shotgun. He ordered Yiesha to call Roy Thacker and Mike Toney to the office over the walkie-talkie. Yiesha, frightened by the sight of the shotgun, did what she was told and urged Roy and Mike to "Come now!"
When a maintenance boss approached, Myles raised his shotgun and said, "Go away, this does not concern you!"
As soon as Roy Thacker, Myles's most immediate supervisor, came into the office, Myles raised his shotgun and fired. Mike Toney, the second-shift area manager, ran for his life.
Roy collapsed from his wounds just outside the office, and Myles fired at Roy one more time, at close range, as he lay on the floor. Mike Toney ran out of the office and into the production zone of the plant, and Myles headed toward the panel line.
The next shooting victim was Paul Medlen, a team leader who Myles believed had snitched on him. Then Mike Toney came into view. Myles shot at the boss who had caused him months of torment, wounding Mike Toney in the arm. Toney kept running.
Myles proceeded down the panel line searching for Carrie Woggerman, a 24-year-old line boss. Carrie had kept Myles under surveillance, following him to and from the men's room in hopes of smelling marijuana. Under orders from Thacker and Toney, Carrie kept a set of detailed notes on Myles's movements in the plant and actions on his job.
Carrie got away with the help of a skilled trades worker named Jim Garn, a process engineer named Jeff Beery, and a toolmaker boss named Brad Wolfe.
By 9 pm that fateful night, Myles had gone back into the management office, sat down in a cubicle, loaded a one-ounce deer slug into his shotgun, and pointed it into his mouth.
HISTORY OF SURVEILLANCE
It seems that body shop management could never catch Myles in possession of marijuana, no matter how many hours they bird-dogged him. They had tried for months to find some way to discipline Myles, simply because Roy Thacker said that he had smelled marijuana on Myles last November.
Toney was in the habit of directly confronting Myles on his job site, in front of other workers who witnessed heated arguments between a lowly Tech One worker and a powerful area manager. Jeep workers say that Toney was reprimanded for these direct confrontations and advised by someone in higher authority to delegate his campaign of surveillance. So, tragically, Roy and Carrie became the instruments of Mike Toney's wrath against Myles Meyers.
The union saved Myles's job, and body shop management could not accept defeat. So Jeep management eliminated Myles's job as a skilled salvage repairman. It was not the first time Jeep had made a "punitive job cut" to punish a worker. An electrician's job was eliminated after he caught a body shop boss illegally disconnecting a safety device for robot cells and a worker almost got hit by a descending robot.
There are perhaps only a half dozen Jeep workers who can do the type of work Myles did as fast as he did it. The previous summer, when Jeep management had eliminated some inspection jobs, hundreds of Jeep Liberty bodies were built and painted with defective body parts. Myles and several other repairmen worked 12-hour shifts to swiftly repair the hundreds of Jeep bodies. But management was no longer grateful for the extra effort that Myles had put in.
After Jeep management eliminated Myles's repair/salvage job, they put him on another job in hopes of writing him up. But Myles was competent and they had no way to pin a poor workmanship letter on him. So management put Myles, a worker with over 20 years seniority, in the weld tunnel, where he was expected to repair welds on both sides of the assembly line and inspect the cars for incorrect parts.
On Tuesday, January 25, it seems that two Jeeps with incorrect hoods were mistakenly sent to the paint shop instead of being routed to the reprocess zone. It was officially Myles's job to enter the code into the computer to rout these cars with incorrect parts. Yet Myles protested that his boss had ordered him to "buy off" (approve) all the cars that came to the weld tunnel, and simply perform the repair welds.
That night Myles was taken off his job at around 9 pm and brought before management over the hoods problem. Several witnesses said that they heard shouting and harsh words exchanged. One electrician reported that he saw Myles and Roy Thacker arguing loudly, though the news media reported that everything was friendly in this meeting. One worker reported that at 11:30 pm, Myles was still in the office "getting chewed out."
After this disciplinary meeting, Myles told his friends that someone in management threatened to take away his 'Tech One' status as a skilled welder, brazer, and sheet metal specialist; Some of his close friends have reported that Myles was under the impression he would be fired in March, as soon as he reported to serve a short jail sentence over a minor marijuana possession charge in Michigan.
In July 1970 Chrysler worker James Johnson was suspended for “insubordination.” Johnson, who worked at the Eldon Avenue plant in Detroit, had protested being moved back to the oven line, one of the worst jobs in the factory.
Johnson, an African American, had experienced many instances of racial discrimination in his time at Chrysler, as well as the speed-up, overtime, and dangerous conditions that all auto workers faced at the time.
Johnson returned to the plant with a gun and shot dead two foremen and a jobsetter.
At his trial, witness after witness testified to Eldon Avenue’s horrific conditions and racial abuse as well as to the union’s helplessness. Three black workers had died after workplace injuries or after being forced back to work too soon when they were ill.
Johnson’s steward testified that he had tried to get Johnson a heat pass (it was 120 degrees at the oven), but that managers had “already made their mind up” to suspend Johnson. The history Whose Detroit? by Heather Thompson tells the story:
“General Foreman Ellsworth Rhodes testified that ‘Hugh Jones [one of the foremen Johnson shot] was determined and the decision was really made by him quickly.’ Johnson thought that he had been fired and that his persecutors had won. Losing his long-sought-after job was an indescribable blow to his pride.”
Judge and jury toured the plant to view working conditions firsthand. The jury found Johnson not guilty by reason of insanity. Racism and Chrysler, they said, had driven James Johnson crazy. The workmen’s compensation board ordered Chrysler to pay him benefits.
After Myles and Roy were dead and the two wounded men were taken to the hospital, the Toledo police came and herded all the body shop employees into one area. A maintenance boss named Jim Bender came up to me and said, "Why do these nuts always shoot their bosses, George?"
I replied: "Gee, I don't know, Jim! Go figure!"
THE WHOLE TRUTH
On February 1 the Toledo Blade ran an editorial asking DaimlerChrysler management to ease up on the workers at Jeep and quit creating undue job stress with long work days and work weeks of forced overtime.
I grieve for Roy Thacker, who I thought was a good man and a decent boss when I worked for him. I grieve for Myles Meyers, who impressed me as a good man and a talented worker. Myles Meyers, in my opinion, seemed to be a man who had a lot to live for. He was always bragging about his kids, he always had a smile on his face and a joke to tell, and he talked a lot about his engagement to a woman that he loved.
One worker who was a close friend of Myles said, "Myles was our 'class clown,' he always made us laugh." Another worker who knew and liked Myles became angry at the news media's coverage and asked, "Why doesn't the union speak out about Myles? The union knows what they (management) did to Myles. Why don't they (the union) tell the whole truth?"
I do not claim to know everything about the shooting incident at Jeep. Those who know the most are talking the least. Auto workers, the families of the victims, and the public need to know the truth and demand that DaimlerChrysler give truthful answers to important questions, not just sweep this horrible incident under the rug.
While DaimlerChrysler wants the world to believe that Myles Meyers went berserk and shot people over issues and problems in his non-work life, the fact remains that he did not harm anyone outside the Jeep plant.
George Windau is a millwright in the second-shift KJ body shop at Jeep's Toledo North Assembly Plant.