ANN ARBOR, MICH. (Nov. 11, 2:50 p.m. ET) — Deep within the pages of the latest contract between the UAW and the Detroit Three automakers — in addition to the multi-tier wage strategies, bonus pays and hiring plans — is the list of official holidays.
And that list of holidays includes one that stands as a continuing symbol of an American cultural tradition — “Veterans Day (Observed).”
The holiday does not fall on the actual Veterans Day, Nov. 11.
“But it happens to coincide with the start of deer hunting in Michigan,” said Kristin Dziczek, the head of the labor and industry group with the Center for Automotive Research in Ann Arbor.
The (observed) holiday does not actually fall on the opening day of Michigan's firearm deer season each year either — Nov. 15 most years — but its placement helps extend weekends for avid hunters who would otherwise be manning a station on the line, while also making it easier for the Detroit Three to make sure they have staff on hand.
In 2011, Veterans Day (observed) is Nov. 14. In 2013, it will be celebrated on Friday, Nov. 16. It moves to Friday, Nov. 15 in 2013 and Friday, Nov. 14 in 2014.
The UAW contract covers workers in other states, but its base is in Michigan, which leads to the Michigan-centric (observed) holiday.
When the UAW first proposed adding a Veterans Day holiday to the calendar during negotiations with General Motors Corp. in the mid-1990s, the automaker was quick to see an advantage to placing it near the start of hunting season.
“People just fled the plants that weekend,” said Art Schwartz, now president of Labor & Economic Associates and the former general director of labor relations at Detroit-based GM.
Prior to adopting the holiday — which was also added to UAW contracts with Ford Motor Co. and Chrysler Group LLC — managers and hourly workers with more seniority typically claimed the available vacation time, Schwartz said. That did not stop other workers from calling in sick or just skipping work that day, which led to complications filling the production lines.
“Sometimes you just have to agree that this is the way people do things and you go with it,” he said.
That one-day break typically leads to shifts throughout the supply sector, especially from companies with just-in-time delivery, but the auto industry is not alone in keeping a careful watch on staffing during November.
“Up here, it's a big deal,” said Mark Stephens, president of Ironwood Plastics Inc., a precision injection molder for the auto, electronics and medical industries based in Ironwood, Mich., a town of about 7,000 people in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. “The schools are closed for two days, but it's not just about killing deer. It's a lot about camaraderie and getting together with your friends and family in the same place every year.”
Stephens noted that wolves have driven out the deer from his traditional hunting location, but he goes there each year regardless, to spend time with people he enjoys being with.
About a third of Ironwood's 115 employees are avid hunters, he said, but Ironwood's location — near the Michigan-Wisconsin border — helps the company make sure production continues uninterrupted even on the opening day of deer season, since Wisconsin's season opens four days after Michigan. Key staff members make sure every job is covered before heading out to the woods, he said.
The same is true at machinery maker R&B Plastics Machinery LLC of Saline, Mich., where builder and repair specialist Mark Boone (yes, as in Daniel), said most of the employees are avid hunters. So are many of its customers.
The company, a maker of single-screw extruders and blow molding equipment, has seen customers combine a business stop there with a visit to an outlet of outdoor equipment seller Cabela's in nearby
“Work comes first,” he said, “but we have excellent management and they give us a break and try to work around calls if they can.”