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Published: Friday, 1/28/2005

Plant employees reflect on factors they think led to tragedy

Schaffer Schaffer

The air was full of smoke, speculation, and discontent during lunch hour yesterday at Zinger's Bar and Grill, a watering hole on Matzinger Road that has served Toledo Jeep workers for years.

Less than 16 hours earlier, worker Myles Meyers walked into DaimlerChrysler's North Toledo assembly plant with a double-barreled shotgun and killed his supervisor, wounded two others, and then turned the gun on himself.

"I love my job, I get paid well, but the crap you have to put up with is unreal," said Clay Akers, a 20-year Jeep assembly worker.

A litany of possible reasons for Mr. Meyers' actions emerged from everyone's lips - many reasons surrounding working conditions at the North Toledo assembly plant that just a few years ago evoked pride and high spirits in the community.

Everybody seemed to have a reason ready for why the shootings happened: Long work weeks that reduce family and individual leisure time; the outsourcing of work; strict policies for sick days or being late, and managers in their 20s directing veteran, 50-year-old employees.

"It's a damn shame people had to die for this," bellowed an assembly worker who declined to offer his name. "There's new [supervisors] that try to overstep their bounds; young kids telling grown men what to do," he said.

Hunkered at the bar were Cheryl Schaffer and her husband, Raymond Schaffer, who started working at Jeep 21 years ago. "I didn't sleep at all last night," Mr. Schaffer said. "Weekly speculation comes up about who's going to go - postal stuff. Who's gonna pop?

"Just to hear it, it didn't surprise me," he said quietly.

Mrs. Schaffer talked openly about how worried she is, has been, and will be about her husband going to work.

"I stay up after he leaves in the morning at five, worrying about him. He's so overwhelmed," Mrs. Schaffer said.

But after letting out his frustration, Mr. Schaffer shrugged. "It's not so cut and dried. There's people there that do care about ya. They're just taking orders.

"Maybe now things will get better," he added.

But Mr. Akers remained doubtful, as did most in the bar on the grim afternoon. "I don't see things getting better, I see 'em getting worse," he said.

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