Friday, August 08, 2008


The real Toyota news is labor, not profits

by Larry Geller

Today’s funny sideways business section in the Advertiser features an AP story, Toyota's profit plunges on U.S. sales slide, strong yen. Yup, Toyota’s trucks and SUVs aren’t selling any better than any other company’s, and their stock is down.

Ho, hum. Like, really, you didn’t know that already? Maybe not the exact number, but let’s face it, this is non-news. If you are a Toyota stockholder, you’re tuned in anyway.

There is news about Toyota. It’s about their labor situation. A new report is out. But AP and your local newspaper are not likely to breathe a word of it to you.

Labor news is deliberately disappeared news. Unless there is a strike or strike threat, of course, in which case the coverage is often pitched against the workers. That is, the strike will cause disruption. Never mind the role of management in the dispute. The disruption isn’t blamed on them.

Do you think you’ll ever see a headline, “Management refuses to pay living wage, threatens existence of company?” Or, “Viability of newspaper is threatened as unionized staff is laid off.”

Sorry, I get carried away about this. Back to Toyota.

A recent National Labor Committee report links Toyota to sweatshop working conditions and even human trafficking in their supply chain: The Toyota You Don’t Know: The Race to the Bottom in the Auto Industry, dated June 2008.

From a story about the report (which naturally you won’t see in your paper):

The report alleges that Toyota exploits guest workers, mostly shipped in from China and Vietnam. According to the NLC, these workers are “stripped of their passports and often forced to work — including at subcontract plants supplying Toyota — 16 hours a day, seven days a week, while being paid less than half the legal minimum wage.” Workers are forced to live in company dormitories and deported for complaining about poor treatment, the report finds.

Low-wage temporary workers make up one-third of Toyota’s Prius assembly-line workers, mostly in the auto-parts supply chain. They are signed to contracts for periods as short as four months, and are paid only 60 percent of a full-time employee’s wage. [The Dark Side of the Toyota Prius, In These Times, 7/16/2008]

A guy died on the job, in the 13th hour of his 14-hour work day:

His wife, Hiroko Uchino, described a grueling lifestyle that included an 85-hour workweek prior to his death. The NLC published his time cards, which reveal that he was “putting in 106.5 to 155 hours of overtime … in the 30 days leading up to his death.”

Much of this overtime went unpaid. (Toyota explained Kenichi’s extra hours as “voluntary quality control activities,” says the report.) But in court, his survivors were able to win pension payments.

Besides all this, Toyota is in bed with Burma’s criminal military regime.

All that and more, in the above-linked articles.

But never in your daily paper.

We’ll try to include some labor news here. If you have any, please send it along.


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