Toyota Workers Say Bosses Have Ignored Safety Concerns For Years

Adding a bit of fuel to the anti-Toyota fire, six Toyota manufacturing employees now say they wrote a memo to company executives in 2006 voicing concerns about vehicle safety and long-term impact on the company, only to be completely ignored.

“We are concerned about the processes which are essential for producing safe cars, but that ultimately may be ignored, with production continued in the name of competition,” they stated in the letter, referring to changes the car company had made to simultaneously cut overhead while increasing output.

In the five years leading up to the drafting of this memo, Toyota had already recalled over 5 million cars worldwide and these men felt that, if the company continued down that path, it could “become a great problem that involves the company’s survival.”

But rather than rankle any feathers with their higher-ups, the memo merely vanished and was never spoken of again.

“They completely ignored us,” says 62-year-old assembly line worker Tadao Wakatsuki. “That’s the Toyota way.”

Toyota wouldn’t confirm ever receiving the memo or comment on it, saying only, “Communication is the backbone of our labor-management relations.”

If so, then maybe they should listen to Watasuki, founder of the All Toyota Labor Union, who is now speaking to the press.

“We used to test every one of our cars for safety and quality,” he told reporters. “Now we do maybe 60%. The old 100% is a thing of the past.”

Speaking about the decision to write the memo, he recalls, “Our responsibility as a labor union was to point out these problems that Toyota should have known about. People were overworked; some were committing suicide… Of course, Toyota did nothing, but looking back we see how important this was. We just told them what we saw.”

The revelation of the memo and Toyota’s alleged ignorance of it has gotten the attention of Congressman Ed Townes, chair of the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform, which questioned Toyota president Akio Toyoda in February.

“The Toyota employees’ safety memo now seems strikingly prescient,” wrote Townes in a not-very-pleased letter to Mr. Toyoda this morning. “If senior Toyota officials ignored important safety concerns raised by their own employees, it calls into question Toyota’s corporate priorities and its commitment to safety.”

Townes has requested that Toyota deliver a copy of the 2006 memo to the Committee before noon on Wednesday.

Toyota workers raised safety concerns with bosses in 2006 memo [L.A. Times]