If you have invested a lot in plant and equipment, one way to get the most for your money is to run it a lot. That, however, gets challenging when the operation is labor intensive. Yes, it would be great to run 24 hours a day but that means someone has to be working overnight. NPR reports that some automakers have been experimenting with different ways of running a third shift (New Schedules Push Graveyard Shift Off The Clock, Jun 14).
As car companies struggle to meet growing demand, the third shift is making a comeback. But many factories running on three shifts are doing it differently from in the past. And that new “three crew” shift pattern could make what’s normally a hard job even harder.
At Ford’s Michigan Assembly Plant in Wayne, employees work 10-hour shifts four days a week. The so-called A crew gets days, while the B crew gets afternoons. But the C crew shift rotates its start time every week. On Fridays and Saturdays, workers start at 6:00 a.m. On Mondays and Tuesdays, they start at 4:30 p.m.
Note that the math here works out the same either way. The firm gets 120 hours of production whether the plant goes for 24 hours a day for five days or 20 hours over six days. As an added plus, the firm is allowed to tack on overtime to the shifts.
Chrysler also uses this scheme at some of its plants and both Chrysler and Ford are reported to be sticking with this scheme at any plant that needs to run three shifts.
So what’s the catch? Being on that C crew is kinda brutal.
And there’s a hidden cost for the C crew, according to Ronald Chervin, head of the University of Michigan Sleep Disorder Center. Rotating working hours can feel like having a bad case of jet lag, one that does not go away.
“We’re very well-constructed to have a robust circadian rhythm,” Chervin explains. “So the brain expects you to be awake certain parts of a 24-hour cycle and expects you to be asleep [during others].”
General Motors has tried this scheduling pattern, but Larry Zahner, the company’s manufacturing manager for North America, says GM did not like waiting until Sunday to do preventive maintenance and did not like the new schedule’s effect on workers.
There are some interesting tradeoffs in this scheme. On the one hand, I can see why the UAW is willing to play ball with this scheme. Having a third shift — even if on a crazy schedule — is more people working and avoids a heavy overtime burden that could otherwise occur with two shifts.
On the other hand, I wonder how long people last on the C crew. It beats not working, but overtime it just have to be rough on the body.