Steel and chemical plants have always run continuously because it is costly and hazardous to stop and restart them, says Bill Sirois, vice president of Circadian Technologies Inc. But, "in the last decade or so, you've seen a massive conversion to running 24/7," he says in a recent report by Timothy Aeppel in The Wall Street Journal. In the same report, Joseph Martha, consultant with Mercer Management Consulting, says he sees more companies shutting plants as part of restructuring, but managing to maintain overall capacity by running their remaining factories continuously.
To run factories continuously after job cuts, companies typically "ask" the remaining workforce to put in more time. In ASSEMBLY's 2001 State of the Profession Survey, you said that more of you are being "asked" to do more work, and there's no a priori reason to suspect that the hourly employees in your plants are completely immune to these "requests," union work rules notwithstanding. More than one-third of you said that the time you spend at work has increased during the past 12 months, with 91 percent working more than 40 hours a week, and 22 percent putting in more than 50 hours. And, 29 percent of you expect your hours to increase over the next 12 months.
The increase in 24/7 operations, combined with the growing need for both parents in a family to work full time, is even driving innovation in day care. For example, Visteon Corp. and the United Auto Workers are building 13 child-care facilities that could stay open round-the-clock. The first center, scheduled to open in Dearborn, MI, later this year, has 1,090 applications for 220 available slots.
Health, safety and quality concerns abound with 24/7 operations. Longer shifts have fueled debate over whether they undermine safety and quality. Research by safety experts, labor unions and physicians has found a link between worker fatigue and accidents, but the debate is rife with conflicting evidence.
Regardless, there's no doubt that 24/7 operations are here to stay. We would like to hear how this is affecting you and how you are coping with its challenges. If you'd like to share your experiences and views, pro or con, please let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.