Truth Before Dishonor

I would rather be right than popular

My Experience As A Piece-Rater

Posted by John Hitchcock on 2009/01/28

I spent nearly nine years working for a union company that had a combination of hourly workers and piece-raters (incentive workers). When I started out, I was obviously working for an hourly rate because I could not produce enough to be considered a piece-rater.

As time moved on, I got to the point where I was producing fast enough to be paid piece-rate instead of hourly in my piece-rate job. There were, and are, many hourly jobs at the plant, and those jobs are filled by people who believe they are working hard. They are producing enough to not have management all over them for lack of production. I remember one particular hourly employee saying, “If I go home exhausted, I worked too hard.”

Hourly employees and piece-rate employees get paid roughly the same base-rate, that is if a piece-rater does not make rate, he or she will be paid a base hourly rate that is roughly the same as an hourly worker. But it is slightly less. As of 2008, a “Class A” operator on hourly would be paid $12.40 an hour while a “Class A” operator on piece-rate would be guaranteed a minimum of $12.15 an hour. And the guarantee is based on the week’s average. So, a piece-rater could make $15.00 an hour for 4 days and $4.00 an hour for the 5th day and actually get paid that $4.00 an hour for that 5th day.

While I was working there, the company decided it was paying far too much money to certain segments of the piece-rate community. Pipe department, where people willingly pumped pain pills into their system on a daily basis to make their money, was re-time-studied to kill their $18.00/hour average. The new time-study was set at such a point nobody could reach base-rate, much less get beyond base-rate, without skipping breaks. All but 3 in Pipe department quit. 2 of the 3 remaining transferred out. The company, in desperate need for pipe, transferred 1 of the 2 back in.

One segment of Boot Department was making $19.00/hour, which was grossly overpaid, according to management. A time-study came in and resulted in cutting the pay of the two remaining employees in that segment down to $14.00/hour. The fact those two each had 25 years with the company or more, and the fact those two had found many shortcuts to increase their production and income was not a factor. The company had already decided anyone on the floor who made $17.00/hour was grossly overpaid.

Another segment of Boot Department has been overpaid, according to the company, for a very long time. It has been time-studied repeatedly. Each time-study resulted in lower pay per piece, as expected, yet the two people who are mainly responsible for output in this segment continue to make over $18.00/hour. And management is still unsatisfied. No doubt there will be more time-studies to cut their pay further.

Elbow Department has been time-studied and the results were obvious: their pay was drastically cut. Every time the company does a time-study, people lose money. And the company is amazed that overall productivity has fallen off. The company continuously states it is using the industry standard “3 miles per hour” to determine pay rates. When I asked what it meant, the company said “3 mph is 3 mph.” When I said it was a metaphor, the then-plant manager declared “It is not a metaphor, it is a fact.” Of course, 3 mph is 52 inches per second. There is no safe way to precisely band-saw steel at 52 inches per second without risk of cutting off fingers or worse. Of course, no machines shove steel through their parts at 52 inches per second. But 3mph is fact and not metaphor.

The fact every time-study reduces income for the piece-raters has nothing to do with … what does it have nothing to do with? The company only wants to kill wages for piece-raters to improve profitability. And I am not against improving profitability at all. Don’t get me wrong on this. Profitability is paramount in a business’s success. But is this company doing the right thing?

When I started working for the company, the company was producing above $90 per man-hour. There was a time I was there that the company was producing around $115 per man-hour. In 2008, the company was producing under $90 per man-hour with a stated necessity of $98 per man-hour. Of course, the company had absolutely no idea why productivity had fallen off so much, what with the increased cost of the finished goods. There was no way the company’s efforts to kill the pay of producers had any effect on productivity.

I said all that to say this: If you kill the income of the producers, the producers will kill the production. If you kill the incentive, there will be no incentive. If you overtax, you will lose your tax.


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