Ford Motor Company's illegal discrimination lawsuits, financial setbacks and the huge drop in the value of its stock in 2002 should serve as a warning to the nation. Killing the Goose... is Jasper Garrison's inside story of what happed to bring Ford so close to disaster, what it means to you and why you haven't heard about it until now.
Everyone knows that it's self-defeating for corporations like the Big Three automakers to practice age, race and sex discrimination. That's the reason that many people advance for ending affirmative action. They argue that business leaders have learned that hiring and promoting the best people they can find of any age, color or sex is the best way to make money. Others see an ongoing problem with illegal discrimination in the workplace but make the mistake of defending laws to curb the practice on the grounds of fairness to the affected groups. What both sides of the argument fail to appreciate is the extent to which illegal discrimination in companies like Ford, GM and Chrysler is a fact of life that adds to your cost of a new car and imperials the entire economy.
Before the Civil Rights act of 1964 less than one percent of the Big Three's designers, engineers and sculptors were black. It took the women's movement of the early '70s to open the doors of these professions to women. In the closing years of the 20th century women and black people seemed to be everywhere in the auto-making process judging by their exposure in slick TV commercials.
Meanwhile, some of the white male benefactors of the pre-affirmative action system, were being downgraded on their performance reviews and offered special packages to retire. These men who sued Ford in a highly publicized "reverse discrimination" case received generous settlements totaling ten million dollars. Older blacks and older women received the same treatment in disproportionate numbers. A lawsuit filed by older whites, blacks, men and women, which received less publicity but affects more people, alleged only age discrimination. That was the case that Ford chose to fight with a virtual blackout on news coverage.
Ford's goal was to reduce its overall salary costs by bringing more of its high-salaried workers down to the industry midpoint. Ford pursued this course despite the fact that it had a well-earned reputation for recruiting the best talent available and a salaried workforce that was older than the industry average.
Outside analysts looked at the number of Ford's salaried workers with high performance ratings and concluded that the overall ratings must have been inflated. The fact that these analysts knew nothing of the business or the people involved did not stop Ford from imposing an arbitrary percentage of high and low performers. Lower overall performance reviews meant lower overall salaries and lower salaries seemed to mean higher profits.
The value of that kind of accounting is summed up in a 1990 exchange between two of Ford's Design Center employees who were not designated top performers. Jasper Garrison was a mid-level clay modeler who had just single-handedly rescued Motor Trend's 1993 Car of the Year from oblivion. Kathleen Dalessandro was a low-level engineer
Mr. Garrison: "What did you do today, Kathleen?"
Ms. Dalessandro: "I found a way to save the company five million dollars."
Jasper Garrison was Chrysler's third black clay modeler. He was American Motors' first black clay modeler and Ford's first black Master Modeler. He was one of two African-Americans who pressed a ten-year legal battle against Ford for race discrimination. He is the author of seven books: Invisible Warriors, The Random Factor, Doing Without, Messiah, Iago in Brentwood, The Smoking Gun and The Smoking Gun 2. All of Jasper Garrison's books can be read online at www.smartfellowspress. com