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Ford eyeing bathroom breaks
Report: SUV plant in Michigan to have supervisors collect data on time workers spend in restroom.
October 27, 2005: 11:32 AM EDT

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Ford Motor Co. management reportedly is trying to stop the company's financial outlook from going down the toilet.

The Detroit News reported Thursday that management at the company's Michigan Truck plant in Wayne, Mich., issued a memo in which it said too many of the factory's 3,500 hourly workers are spending more than the 48 minutes allotted per shift to use the bathroom.

The extra-long breaks are slowing production of the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator sport utility vehicles that are built there, the company said.

"In today's competitive environment, it is important that Michigan Truck plant immediately address this concern to avoid the risks associated with safety, quality, delivery, cost and morale," the memo said, according to the paper's report.

The paper reported that the memo also warns that Ford supervisors will begin collecting weekly data on the amount of time workers spend on bathroom breaks and "respond appropriately."

Workers interviewed by the paper said that management is trying to divert attention from broader problems at the nation's No. 2 automaker, including soft sales of the large SUV's made at the plant following this year's run-up on gasoline prices.

"It's an excuse by upper management to gloss over some of the real problems we have out here," Jody Caruana, a worker at the plant and a committee member for United Auto Workers union Local 900, told the paper. "This might be an issue in one zone or another. But is this causing a quality or productivity problem? No."

Ford spokeswoman Anne Marie Gattari told the paper the 48-minute bathroom break limit is spelled out in the UAW contract that covers local plant rules.

"We are managing our business according to the local agreement," Gattari said.

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Ford reported a third quarter loss of $191 million, or 10 cents a share, a bigger loss than expected by analysts, and it warned that its full-year earnings would be a the low end of its earlier guidance. Despite strong summer sales spurred by "employee pricing" discounts, Ford's U.S. sales are down 1 percent over the first nine months of the year as it continues to lose market share. Sales of the Expedition are down nearly 25 percent year-to-date, while sales of the Navigator fell 21.5 percent.

Some efficiency consultants told the paper that Ford will gain little from monitoring bathroom breaks.

"It's a giant throwback to the bad old days of the '70's and '80's, when you squeezed the guy at the bottom of the heap any way you could," Sandy Munro of Munro & Associates told the News. "That only causes lots of discontent."

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