1966 – 1967 The Hughes Tool Company, the Union and ME
Editors Comment: The reader should understand what you are about to read is a history of a man who did not have a college degree, but instead was a man who America allowed to achieve what he could do. That is not the case any longer.
Hughes Tool Company
After leaving Aeronutronics I became Supervisor of Fabrication Control for the Hughes Tool Company which, at that time, was trying to ship helicopters during the Vietnam war. Specifically the Hughes OH369A Cayuse.
The day I was interviewed was September 23, 1966, a Friday. I was still employed by Aeronutronics when I was called by my former boss, Ralph Fleener, who had left AiResearch in an apparent power struggle he lost. He was now Manger of Materiel at Hughes. I arrived at the Tool Company and was given the VIP tour. I was shown the machine shop, the sheet metal shop and the assembly line. It had one helicopter on it, it was ship number seven. There were no signs of ship number eight. In fact there were no signs of anything that looked like a helicopter besides ship seven.
The assembly line was designed for sixty helicopters and at that point in time the contract required that they were to be producing one a day. They were so far behind schedule, ship number seven had been originally scheduled to have been shipped seven months before. To make things worse they had no idea when it was going to be shipped.
The only problem was Ralph wanted me to start the following Monday, three days later. At first I said, impossible, I have to give two weeks notice. They upped the ante. I said maybe one week. They upped the ante again and again. I accepted the job and left Aeronutronics with one hours notice on Monday September 26th 1966 and went to work.
Another reason I accepted the job was because it was a chance to get back into the ball game. I had been a systems guy long enough and this was more to my liking.
It was hard for me to believe a company could have a contract for a product they had developed, the Hughes OH-6A helicopter, and then could not ship according to schedule. I believe management’s greatest crime is to have orders for product and not be able to ship on time.
I would venture to say the management at the ex McDonald Douglas in Long Beach were guilty of the same crime, they couldn’t build the DC-10. To have orders and not be able to ship product is as stupid as going broke owning a liquor store.
At the Tool Company, for the first month, I was rarely in my office. I was in every section of the plant finding out how they did things. I figured whatever way they were doing things, it must be wrong. The problem was easy to recognize, they didn’t have the right parts needed to build helicopters. The fix wasn’t quite as easy. After the first month and with Ralph’s guidance I started developing the plan to show upper management just how I planned to get parts to the assembly line and ship helicopters.
During the second month (end of November, 1966) the company was visited by a Senate investigating committee from Washington D.C. who were there to find out why they should not take the contract away from Hughes and give it to Bell Helicopters. Ship seven was still on the line.
Howard was still alive, but he never came by the plant while I was there. Mahogany row didn’t know what to do with the committee but knew I had been assigned the responsibility to develop and implement a system. They sent the investigators to me.
It took me a week of presenting the fixes I had in mind, and they bought it. They asked me how long I thought it would take to implement my plan and I responded that it depended on what kind of cooperation I received. They went back to mahogany row and met with them the day they left.
After that I was told not to take any crap from anyone, but I had complete authority to proceed with implementing my plan.
While implementing an overall system you have to install temporary quick fixes to help as you go along. I decided to call in MIS to help me with my first one. MIS at Hughes was a large and powerful organization with a lot of computer types who were almost as nice as Beamers, (IBMers), but were not getting anything done.
In my first encounter, with Hughes MIS, I called for a meeting in my office at 5PM on Friday. I told them this was the only time I had open and it was a very important meeting. What I really wanted to do was impress them with the fact that if it took twenty four hours a day to get something done, that’s what would be done. Three MIS IT types attended and the first words out of their collective mouths were about how I was eating into their weekend. That went over with me like a lead fart.
I told them I had developed a simple little system to let me know what parts were missing when assemblies were being issued to the assembly line. Using the issue documents the little program I needed would identify the shortages by part number and then sorted in next assembly (station) sequence letting me know what part of the assembly line needed what parts for what ships. I had to know what we needed to ship helicopters and this was going to be a little fix we could use until we got the overall system installed.
I went over how it would work with the boys from MIS and they didn’t like it — mainly because I had designed it. On the surface they couldn’t understand why I wanted to install it in the first place. That’s a problem I have with MIS types to this day. When a company is not shipping on time, who do you think gets fired? I’ll just guarantee it’s never anyone from MIS!
Disregarding their attempts to discourage me I asked them how long it would take to program and how soon I could start looking at shortage reports. Their answer was to ask me when I wanted it. I responded, “Monday morning.”
They laughed, because they just knew I was joking, and told me with X days for programming and X days for testing and X days for debugging, it would take three to four weeks.
By now it was about 6:30 PM. I buzzed for my secretary and asked her to arrange a meeting with a fellow I had heard of in San Diego and make a reservation for me to fly down there within the next two hours. I told the reps from MIS I would not be doing business with them and thanked them very much for attending the meeting. This started a grand love affair between the Hughes Tool Company MIS and me.
In 1966 there were many computer services that a company could use before getting their own computer. Most of the companies that didn’t have their own computer were much smaller than a HughesTool Company. The computer services company I had heard of was Data Systems of San Diego (DSSD).
Within three hours of waltzing the MIS guys out of my office I was in the restaurant at the San Diego airport laying out the program on napkins for the fellow who owned DSSD, Don Weber. He and his staff worked on it over the weekend and, to the Hughes MIS department’s disbelief, and disfavor, I was up and running Monday morning.
When my boss and his crew blew into the company some of the people at Hughes got a little rattled. He was the kind of man who didn’t accept any excuses for not getting something done. He was very demanding, and logical. He made a quick reputation for himself one morning when he arrived at his office at about 5:00 AM.
He had forgotten his keys so he broke the window on the door and let himself in. Later, when his secretary arrived he had her call a local glass company and paid for the repair himself. The event reinforced his don’t let anything stop you attitude.
Because I was in charge of Fabrication Control, my department consisted of over 300 people in a plant of 3000.
Hughes was also the first company I had worked for that had a union shop. The material handlers, expeditors, stockroom clerks, schedulers, truck drivers, fork lift operators were all union and they worked for me. The union stewards and I didn’t get along very well.
The Union and Me
Prior to starting to work for Hughes, I had never worked in a Union Shop except as a kid for the United Grocery Clerks Union when I worked as a Produce Clerk. Working in a Union Shop in a manufacturing environment was definitely a change for me. As mentioned earlier I started my manufacturing career at AirResearch which was a non union shop. Not because it was anti union, but because Mr. Garrett treated his employees so well they didn’t want a union.
After the successful meeting with the Senate investigators I was promoted to General Manager of Manufacturing Control and my job was to ship helicopters, not worry about the union. I did just that, shipped helicopters in spite of the union.
When I say, in spite of the union, I mean it. Had the union had their way Hughes would have lost the OH 6A contract to Bell Helicopters and over 3000 Hughes employees would have lost their jobs.
The reason is, unions don’t care about, in this case, shipping helicopters, unions care about adhering to union rules. Let me give you two examples.
Ninety percent of the people who worked for me were men in union jobs. Jobs like Parts Mover. Inventory Clerk, Shop Schedulers, Expeditors, Truck Drivers, Fork Lift Operators, in other words hourly paid personnel. The other ten percent were the, Leadmen, Supervisors and Managers, in other words the salaried employees.
When I started at Hughes I had asked my secretary to make a study of how much the hourly paid positions were being paid within a twenty five mile radius of the Hughes Tool Company. For a reason.
When you have a union shop you must promote the next guy in line based on how long he has been an employee. This means that if another union employee shows signs of more ability, ability takes second place to time in grade. As a manager, responsible for shipping helicopters, my job is to get the brightest and best to promote so I can get my job done. Thinking that is anti-union.
The union only cares about the next guy in line getting the promotion regardless of his ability. In union terms, all men are created equal, but in truth all men are not created equally. They may be born with equal opportunity, but they each have different levels of ability and it’s up to management to pick the roses from the poison ivy.
If we don’t give the brightest the chance we won’t, in this case, ship helicopters and everyone loses their job. Simple, right? Wrong!
There came a time when I wanted to promote a guy who was number three on the seniority list, but the union wouldn’t let me. You must understand that I had a job to do and I was being paid to get that job done. In my mind the union did not have my job in mind, because all the union thought of was following the seniority rule.
So what happens when the guy who is ultimately responsible for shipping helicopters wants to promote the guy who is third in the line of seniority?
First I asked the head of the union to allow me to promote the guy I wanted. They said, “No way.” So what was I to do?
According to union rules, a man could never do a job above his pay grade, but he could be assigned jobs below his pay grade and that was my answer. I promoted the first two guys in line and then gave them boring jobs usually done at a lower pay scale, but they got the raise in pay the union required. I then promoted the guy I wanted and I was happy. The two guys I gave the shit jobs weren’t happy and so they quit.
Now understand what had just happened. Two men who were happy doing what they were doing, and whose talent would allow them to do what they were doing, got promoted, and eventually quit. Because of what the union rules dictate, they lost their jobs and I got what I wanted.
You may disagree with what I did, but my job was to ship helicopters and I had to have the right people in the right job. In today’s world one may ask why I was given the power to decide who was eligible and who wasn’t.
Easy answer, that is what I was hired to do and the result is the only thing that counts. I had a reputation of shipping on time and that’s why I was hired. The fact that I did what I did was partly responsible for Hughes keeping the helicopter contract. THREE THOUSAND men kept their jobs because of actions that I took. Screw the union!
Let me explain my last encounter with the union. To do so I have to educate you about one part of a helicopter, The Hub.
The hub is the very large part that the rotor blades attach to on top of the helicopter. It was a very hard part to manufacture and very primary to the shipment of helicopters.
On this occasion the union thought they really had me. And they did.
The assembly line was in desperate need of hubs for rotor blade assembly. The hubs were being machined and were about three operations away from our only tape-controlled, million-dollar, mill/drill/lathe, wonder machine that performed about twenty operations at once. The problem was, the machine was going to break (complete the order it was running) sometime the next morning and breaking down the current setup took almost as much time as setting it up. Many, many hours.
To take advantage of the break I wanted the hubs fed through the next three operations so at least one hub would be the next job to run on that machine. The next morning I held a meeting and asked about the status of the hubs. They weren’t at the machine where they needed to be.
I was told that one of our two fork lift operators, a union job, called in sick and the other was driving a truck to a vendor for some other hot part. I asked why someone else hadn’t moved the hubs and was told only approved fork lift operators could do it because of the union contract.
I went ballistic and, with about three or four of my people following me, went looking for the hubs in the machine shop. Along the way a union steward joined the procession and we looked like a snake going through the shop with me at the head.
He knew what I was about to do. I located the first fork lift I could find, jumped into the seat, started it and proceeded to move the hubs. During the whole event the union steward was yelling at me, over the noise of the fork lift, that I was taking somebody’s job away from them. I was called up on charges, and practically given my last rights. But I had an ace up my sleeve.
My secretary’s analysis of the pay scale at Hughes comparing it with like job descriptions in the local area had been completed. The end result was the Hughes employees were drastically underpaid. I then negotiated with and received approval from top management to implement the new pay scales, which averaged thirty five to fifty cent an hour increases, for about five union classifications.
This in a time when a ten cent an hour pay raise was considered better than average and a fifteen cent merit increase was considered outstanding.
Instead of making the announcement myself, I called in the chief union steward and gave him the news. He almost went into shock while I offered to let him make the announcement and take credit for negotiating the increase. But, only if he and his henchmen would get off my back forever.
He did, I let him make the announcement and I was never bothered again. Later the workers nominated the chief steward for local president of the union and I implemented my system.
There are many more stories that caused what followed and they are all about not taking any BS from the union and holding each employee responsible for and allowing him to do the job.
What followed was, three months later we were shipping a helicopter a day. The next month it went to two a day and the following month four a day.
Before I continue I must make a statement about my attitude towards unions. You may think I dislike unions, but that is not true, there is a place for unions where needed. And where need is in any company that lacks in paying a just wage or just health care benefits while the employee is working for a company a union may be needed. Unions should never be allowed to determine how a company is managed or who should be appointed to what position.
The union will be the first to accuse management of playing the good old boy card when promoting personnel and I say any manager who does that will, eventually not get the job done and lose his job. At the same time unions are notorious applying the good old boy system in handing out favors for their favorite friends.
Humans are human, however if I, as a manager, pick friendship over ability, I will lose my job. Union bosses can do whatever and the union will still be there, you decide.
However, unions should not exist at any State wide or national organization. There should only be unions at the individual company level with no higher larger overall union. There should be no AFL/CIO, there should only be the XYZ Company union that represents that company’s employees.
What does anyone gain from having State and national unions? A bunch of money going into the pockets of a bunch of lazy bastards.
But whether a union gets into a company should be left to the employees of that company. They should be allowed to vote with a secret ballot on whether to have a union shop or not. Today the unions are trying to force, by law, that each vote should be publicized. Unions are trying to take our American sacred right, to vote in the privacy of our own conscience, away. They are trying to force a bill through Congress called the Employee Free Choice Act (EFCA) that would require any union vote by an individual be publicized. What kind of Americanism is that?
During those first same months in 1966 a tornado hit the Army’s helicopter training base in Texas and they desperately needed replacement parts for helicopters of a different type than we were currently building. We accommodated them while getting back on our primary schedule. I was now with Hughes two or three months and genuinely disliked by many in managers and supervisors in manufacturing, not just the union.
Most of it stemmed from when I gave a contract to Convair in San Diego to build 500 belly sections. The manufacturing manager pleaded, for the sake of his sheet metal shop employees and belly section assembly employees, not to send the work outside. I told him I was there to support a helicopter assembly line and not a sheet metal shop. But when he could prove he could make what we needed, we’d look at it again. You don’t make a lot of friends fixing that great of a problem in that short of time.
Howard Hughes had some people working for him that had sealed employment records which meant they were there for life. Some of them were my counterparts. My boss lost a power struggle with MIS ironically after we had fixed all the problems. He was fired and knowing I was next, I had my secretary start packing my stuff. With tears in her eyes she did as I said and then the phone rang. Yep it was Ralph’s replacement and he did not like me. His last name was Cassani.
I was called to his office and to my surprise he said he was not going to fire me. What he had in mind was worse, humiliation. I sat there while he told me how he was going to chop up my department into three or four and I would end up with some minor job with a big title.
At that point I really got pissed and did something I rarely do. I reached over and grabbed the bastard by his tie and pulled him across his desk. I then yelled in his ear “I quit” and if he wanted to mention my actions to anyone I would wait for him outside the plant.
I was fired.