Fox Detroit Apologizes for Exposing Big Labor

Bear with me here. There’s a bit of a backstory …

Ten months ago, the Detroit Fox affiliate exposed a handful of Chrysler auto workers who were spending their lunch breaks drinking booze and getting high. Working on an anonymous tip from an employee inside the Jefferson North plant, WJBK’s Rob Wolchek discovered more than a dozen employees over a ten day period punched out to get pickled.

Less than two months before the story broke, Barack Obama traveled to the very plant busted in the “Problem Solvers” investigation to tout his economic policies. To add insult to injury, Chrysler received $14 billion in taxpayer-funded TARP and bail outs from January to June 2009, paying back little more than half and sticking hardworking American taxpayers with the difference.

At the time the first story broke last September, outlets like the Huffington Post and Rush Limbaugh covered it, and it gained national media attention. Chrysler fired (“suspended indefinitely”) 13 of the 15 identified in the original video, and Fox Detroit followed up just a few days later with vox pops from employees who knew those in question.

Chrysler cited two policies in their Standards of Conduct guide that “might apply” to the above situation:

Use, possession, distribution, sale or offering for sale, or being under the influence of alcohol or drugs (other than use or possession of narcotics in medicines prescribed by the employee’s physician), on Corporation property, or while operating a Corporation owned motor vehicle, or while engaged in Corporate business.

Unacceptable conduct due to alcohol or drug abuse (other than use or possession of narcotics in medicines prescribed by the employee’s physician), or conduct that indicates a potential for impaired or unsafe job performance due to drug or alcohol abuse.

The issue seemed to have died down until Wolchek staked out a popular hangout for auto workers based on two anonymous tips from inside another plant just a few miles south of the Jefferson North plant.

The hangout? A private parking lot owned by the local United Auto Workers Local 372 (the link was dead when I clicked it).

The Detroit Free Press‘ account of this story had more than 350 comments at the time of this posting, many of them defensive of the employees spending their lunch breaks drinking and smoking and hostile toward the news media for just doing their job.

Chrysler’s senior vice president of manufacturing had this to say about the Motor City Fox affiliate’s investigation:

“I just want to say I am both hurt and angered over what your cameras captured. Again, we have Chrysler workers in a compromised position, without regard for the impact of their actions, the reputation of their coworkers, the plant, of the company, not to mention their own reputation and that of their families. As a company, in the last two years we’ve come too far and made way too much progress to let the bad actions of a few put a shadow on the rest of the employees. And to be clear, we’ve got a code of conduct at Chrysler and some of the activities that we saw in your video are clearly outside of the code of conduct and unacceptable. The employees that we identify, as soon as we understand who they are, will be suspended indefinitely without pay and anybody else involved will be dealt with swiftly. It’s very frustrating to us, we take it very seriously. We have a lot of very committed folks at Chrysler. We are very proud of our team. We have some folks who apparently do not want to be part of that team.”

After the most recent story broke last Wednesday night, Fox followed up with a “Let It Rip” roundtable discussion, which is worth checking out here.

Did local media do their job? It sure seems like it, until you listen to the wrap-up from the story on Wednesday night:

Chrysler Auto Workers in Trenton Caught Smoking and Drinking During Lunch Breaks: MyFoxDETROIT.com

Chrysler Auto Workers in Trenton Caught Smoking and Drinking During Lunch Breaks

Beginning at about the 7:00 mark, the two anchors and Mr. Wolchek announce they are union members, after apparently being accused of going after Big Labor in their hard-hitting report. When asked why he hadn’t investigated Chrysler “big wigs,” who enjoy “two-martini lunches,” Wolchek said, “I would much rather go after the big fish.”

The male anchor says, “We would also like to emphasize the vast majority of workers are good, hardworking people. We’re talking about a few workers…”

Their apologist mentality comes on the heels of the decision of a St. Louis County jury, who found two violent members of the local SEIU chapter were not guilty in the assault of black tea party conservative Kenneth Gladney.

Nearly one-third of the entire report is dedicated to apologizing for exposing these misbehaving union workers.

Were the folks at WJBK afraid of a union-led backlash for their report? I emailed Mr. Wolchek to ask why he tempered his investigation with a three-minute apology. I have not heard back, but I will post Mr. Wolchek’s response to my email here when and if I hear from him.

.