[OPE-L:7394] Intensification

From: Rakesh Bhandari (rakeshb@stanford.edu)
Date: Wed Jun 19 2002 - 11:59:47 EDT

Jim Devine sent this piece from the Los Angeles Times to pen-l today. 
Grossmann attempted to salvage Marx's theory of increasing misery 
with a focus on intensification. Marc Linder considers 
intensification in the second half of his book Labor Statistics and 
Class Struggle--of course a major problem is that evidence often 
remains anecdotal and statistical verification of intensification has 
to be indirect, e.g., in the number of industrial accidents.  And of 
course Jane Slaughter, Michael Parker and Tony Smith have made 
intensification central to their critique of lean production.

Need for Speed Has Workers Seething

Labor: Production pace is emerging as a top health concern for 
low-wage employees.
Times Staff Writer

June 19 2002

A decade-long obsession with productivity has been healthy for the 
corporate bottom line, but workers say they are paying for it with 
exhaustion and pain.

Job speedup is emerging as atop complaint for low-wage employees in 
sectors as diverse as food processing and tourism. It has become a 
pivotal bargaining issue in some union
contracts. And increasingly, health and safety experts consider it a 
source of injury and illness.

The subject is crucial to many aging workers, who see a future in 
which they would be unable to keep up the pace.

In a Los Angeles pork-processing plant, workers once limited by union 
contract to boning 60 hams an hour are up to 70 an hour.

Maids at a Las Vegas Strip resort have in five years gone from 
cleaning 14 rooms to 17 rooms per shift.

A frozen-food plant in Marshall, Mo., runs 1,200 chicken pot pies an 
hour, compared with 1,100 two years ago and 800 in 1980.

Speedup takes its toll in many ways, such as a veteran food-service 
employee being fired for failing to keep up with new production 
quotas or a young immigrant's fatal slip of a knife
on a fast meat-cutting line. In small but growing numbers, many 
workers are taking a stand and saying "no more."

Last month, in one of the strongest responses yet, hotel housekeepers 
in Las Vegas put job speed ahead of wages in contract negotiations.

"In our industry, wages and benefits are perennially the No. 1 and 
No. 2 issue. For workload to jump to the top of the table is really 
something new," said Tom Snyder, a spokesman
for the national hotel workers union. "That tells me that companies 
are trying to squeeze every last bit of energy out of their work 

Facing demanding shareholders and cutthroat national and 
international competitors, business owners have been under tremendous 
pressure to boost output per employee since at least
the early 1990s, economists said. The recent economic downturn only 
made matters worse.

"Profit margins got killed in the last recession, so corporations are 
under a lot of pressure to raise profits," said Stan Shipley, a 
senior economist at Merrill Lynch & Co. "How do you
do that? You can't raise prices; nobody has that power anymore. The 
only way is to make your workers more productive."

That need, he said, "unquestionably" leads to a faster work pace.

But many workers argue that they already are operating at maximum 
speed and have no reserves to fall back on.

"Owners are going to have to realize these are not machines cleaning 
their buildings. You can't just crank up the dial," said David 
Huerta, senior organizer for the Service Employees
International Union Local 1877 in Los Angeles, which is fighting 
attempts to make janitors clean downtown office buildings faster.

"People have reached their max," he said. "Asking more of them now 
would mean all-out war."

Labor has a long history of fighting management over speed, going 
back to assembly-line innovations of a century ago. At the height of 
union power in the 1960s, most contracts,
particularly in manufacturing, contained language on workload and pace.

Today, the vast majority of workers are not under union contract, and 
even those who are may be vulnerable.

Just ask Christina Roman, a member of the Hotel Employees and 
Restaurant Employees International Union when she was fired in 
December from a job she had held for 24 years
packing airline meals. Weeks earlier, a supervisor warned her in 
writing to improve "severely poor productivity."

"They wanted us to do the work of five hours in three, and that is 
not possible," said Roman, who lives in Hawthorne. Still unemployed 
six months later, she seems bewildered by the
shift that effectively shut her out of the job market.

"All those years, I did quality work," she said. "Now they just want 
people who work fast."

Roman worked for LSG Sky Chefs, a division of German airline 
Lufthansa and the largest airline caterer in the world. Despite 
healthy growth, the company advised investors last year
thatindustrywide consolidation was squeezing profit margins. The 
company vowed in its 2001 annual report that it would respond by 
"improving productivity [and] standardizing

About that time, Roman and several other workers said, strangers 
toting clipboards and stopwatches appeared at the company's three Los 
Angeles-area kitchens. They measured each
movement, calculating the minutes it took to load a cart or to set up 
a tray with napkins, cookies, bread, butter and a salad.

Representatives of Sky Chefs declined to be interviewed but issued a 
written response to questions. The company acknowledged that workers 
were studied and timed and that rates were
set for each task.

"We use these average times as a tool to help us ensure that the 
right number of employees are on duty at the right times," the 
statement said, "not as a way to hold workers to a time

Nevertheless, workers must now keep detailed logs and explain 
whenever they fall below production guidelines. Several said they 
were threatened with dismissal if they failed to keep
up with the scheduled pace.

Jorge Gamboa, who sets up meal trays for American Airlines flights, 
was warned in writing May 7 that his performance was "far below 
company standards of 180 trays per hour."

Gamboa, a 13-year Sky Chefs employee who works with a strained elbow, 
said the rate is impossible to maintain.

"It's OK to go this fast once in a while," he said, "but when you do 
it every day, it damages you."

Worker advocates say Sky Chefs is no exception. As evidence, they 
point to the remarkable productivity gains of the last decade, which 
continued through boom and recession.

Economists note that those gains were driven largely by factors such 
as increased computer use and more efficient work practices that cut 
idle time.

Although new technology and business practices have helped workers 
become more efficient, they also have eroded their ability to control 
the pace and volume of work.

For example, the use of bar codes and scanners in warehouses cuts the 
time workers spend searching for merchandise but also makes those 
workers highly replaceable. Meat-cutting
factories have significantly boosted productivity but also reduced 
the need for skilled butchers.

"Workers are now being called upon to be very flexible and do 
whatever the employer wants," said Bill Dickens, an economist at the 
Brookings Institution in Washington, "and that
can include working harder and faster."

Unlike wages and benefits, though, the pace of work is difficult to 
quantify or to compare across industries. So despite growing 
interest, evidence of speedup remains largely anecdotal.

"It seems soft and mushy, but what people are saying is meaningful," 
said Bill Kojola, an industrial hygienist in the AFL-CIO's Health and 
Safety Department. "At some point,
there's no more to squeeze."

Many health and safety experts suspect that fast work pace is at the 
root of an epidemic of musculoskeletal injuries, such as tendinitis. 
And in a few severe cases, they say, speedup
may have led to death.

In Nebraska, an immigrant worker at a meatpacking plant died two 
years ago after slicing open his chest with a boning knife near the 
end of his shift. The United Food and
Commercial Workers International Union, which represented the worker, 
said excessive workload contributed to the death.

The accident prompted a written warning from the Occupational Safety 
and Health Administration to the employer, Excel Corp.

"Added workload could cause the employee, working with sharp 
instruments, to work at an accelerated rate, increasing the potential 
for knife injury," the Oct. 4, 2000, OSHA letter
said. "This practice should be curtailed."

In a paper released in May, the National Institute for Occupational 
Safety and Health identified speedup and other changes in work 
organization as a priority for research.

"To compete more effectively, many companies have restructured 
themselves and downsized their work forces," the authors said. "The 
revolutionary changes occurring in today's
workplace have far outpaced our understanding of their implications 
for work-life quality and safety, and health on the job."

Labor union veterans remember battles over production speeds going 
back decades.

Jim Rodriguez, an organizer with the United Food and Commercial 
Workers, represented workers in Los Angeles meatpacking plants 30 
years ago, when contracts contained strong

"We had the right to aggrieve workloads. We had the right to conduct 
studies and adjust the speed if we had to," Rodriguez said. "We won 
many an arbitration case that then set
standards, like 60 hams an hour on a boning line."

To settle a dispute at the Farmer John pork-processing plant in 
Vernon, Rodriguez rigged a mechanical counter under a table, which a 
worker could tap with his knee each time he
boned a ham. The union documented a speed of 67 hams an hour, seven 
more than management claimed, and won the right to slow the line, he 

Many such hard-won gains were lost, however, as union jobs 
disappeared and organized labor struggled to hang on to those that 
were left. In that tough bargaining environment,
unions generally found it easier to concede control over work speed 
than accept cuts in wages and benefits.

Today, the same line runs at 70 hams a minute, Rodriguez said. Farmer 
John executives did not return calls for comment.

"We don't have the work-standard language [in the contract] 
anymore-that was taken out long ago," Rodriguez said. "Even if we 
did, I don't know if we could slow it down. The whole
mentality of this country is: 'Hey, that's featherbedding. You can't 
tell an employer he can't go faster.'"

But more and more these days, workers are trying to do just that. The 
most notable case to date is that of the Las Vegas hotel 
housekeepers, who by threatening to strike forced work
speed to the top of the bargaining agenda.

The Culinary Workers Union, which is affiliated with the Hotel 
Employees and Restaurant Employees, did its own statistical analysis 
that showed an increase during the last 10 years
in the number of rooms cleaned per worker. The average size of rooms 
and number of fixtures in them also grew, said D. Taylor, chief 
officer of the union local.

The union also commissioned a study of housekeeper health by UC San 
Francisco occupational epidemiologist Niklas Krause, who found high 
levels of stress, pain and unreported

Housekeepers, most of whom are immigrants, often worked through lunch 
and breaks and declined to drink water to reduce trips to the 
bathroom, he said. More than 80% said they
regularly took pain medication to get through a shift.

"They think we're made of stone, that we're made of wood," said Maria 
Bruce, who works for the Mirage in Las Vegas. "But they don't know 
that we ache all over. Our whole bodies
ache all over, but we still have to do the work."

Initially, resort groups such as MGM Mirage Inc., the biggest 
operator on the Strip, challenged claims that workload had increased 
at all. But after weeks of negotiations, the union
won detailed contract language that reduces overall workloads for housekeepers.

Now, Taylor said, it's time to move on to kitchen help and porters, 
who also complain of growing workloads.

"I view this as a step in the process to give service workers the 
ability to have some control over the amount of work they have to 
do," he said. "This wasn't the end. It was a

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