In our last post, we began a discussion about the “Valukas Report,” a 325-page summary of an investigation into safety problems at General Motors. The report was commissioned earlier this year in response to the GM recall scandal involving faulty ignition switches and other automotive defects.
One of the few honorable characters highlighted in the report is a man named Courtland Kelley. He is a third-generation GM employee and has been with the company for more than 30 years. Sadly, his deep desire to do the right thing amounted to very little progress. Meanwhile, he has been transferred again and again into out-of-the-way positions within the company.
According to an article in Bloomberg, Kelley was the head of the nationwide GM inspection program when he first tried in earnest to call attention to obvious safety defects. He was met with apathy by colleagues and supervisors. Therefore, he tried going higher up the chain of command.
In a 2002 memo written to his boss’ boss, Kelley warned: “It is my belief that General Motors is violating the law by not properly dealing with safety issues that are persistent and ongoing. I have spent several years trying to work through the system at General Motors to address these concerns with a goal of protecting our customers and stockholders.”
His warnings continued to lead nowhere. He eventually filed a lawsuit against the company in 2003, but the case was dismissed on procedural grounds. Kelley hoped that his efforts would at the very least inspire other employees to speak up. But when he recently read the Valukas Report, Kelley was dismayed to learn that other employees became more hesitant to speak up after seeing the retaliation that he suffered.
In an environment like this one, it is easy to see why safety defects were covered up rather than fixed. If everyone is taught that dissent and advocacy are liabilities, they learn to become more fearful for their jobs than for the safety of Americans who buy their cars.
In light of this scathing report, we must hope that General Motors will be held legally liable for the deaths and injuries it has caused. GM’s actions have made it clear that our safety is of little importance.
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, “GM Recalls: How General Motors Silenced a Whistle-Blower,” Tim Higgins and Nick Summers, June 18, 2014