The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Rotating shifts:
Jet lag on the assembly line

Aug 30, 2004

Two new auto-engine plants near rural Dundee, Michigan, are under construction by DaimlerChrysler, known on paper for this project as GEMA – a "joint venture" of Chrysler, Mitsubishi and Hyundai.

While the plants' new equipment will be very up-to-date, the management intends to set working conditions back 100 years. New hires will be expected to work 10-hour days, and to rotate shifts, working a different shift every week, with varying days off.

Rotating shifts were an artifact of the old steel industry, developed so that the open hearths and furnaces could be kept hot 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The aim at GEMA is the same: keep the equipment working as many hours as possible. GEMA says the plant will run at least 294 days a year, 20 hours a day, instead of the usual 245 days, 16 or 18 hours.

There are good reasons why workers of past generations opposed the rotating shift whenever they were able!

Imagine trying to care for children, or merely arranging to see your children, on a work shift that is always changing.

Moreover, many volumes of studies show clearly that while any work on shifts other than daylight is overly stressful, rotating work shifts are positively dangerous. Workers don't have the time to get accustomed to regular sleeping hours. A condition similar to jet lag develops and does not go away. This reduces workers' alertness on the job, leading to more frequent injuries.

Living in constant tiredness means that one's general health never quite gets up to par. Shift workers are ill more often, for longer periods of time. Very few workers can adapt to rotating shifts without suffering this "shift lag" to some extent.

In a final benefit to the bosses, shift workers die earlier, reducing the pensions to be paid. (And there are undoubtedly bosses who put this into their calculations!)

For workers, there is not one single good thing about rotating shifts. The benefits flow only one way – to the owners of capital.