Documenting the American South Logo
oral histories of the American South
Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Tracy L. H. Burnett, November 15, 1994. Interview K-0088. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Shutting down an assembly line to enforce quality standards

Burnett's standards of quality were higher than those of his employers. He remembers that his bosses at the White Furniture Company pressured him to relax his standards. Unwilling to compromise, he responded by shutting down the assembly line a number of times, until a company higher-up could validate his decision to reject a flawed piece of furniture.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Tracy L. H. Burnett, November 15, 1994. Interview K-0088. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

JEFF COWIE:
Did you ever have many run-ins with management?
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
Oh, yeah, constantly.
JEFF COWIE:
Over what sorts of issues?
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
Quality.
JEFF COWIE:
Huh.
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
Yeah, they accused me of nit-picking all the time.
JEFF COWIE:
Can you explain that a little bit?
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
Like they would say, "Well, this--". Say you had a problem on the lower part of a piece of furniture they would say, "Well, you're not going to see that unless you're down on the floor looking up under it." I'd say, "Well, you know, that's not quality. I'm quality control, not quantity control." All the time I would throw it up in their face. They didn't like it too much, but it was nothing they could do because they wanted me to--. That's what they hired me for to stop, you know, stuff like that.
JEFF COWIE:
So, they wanted more to slip through. When that came up would you end up giving up and just letting it go through?
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
No, I would shut the line down. Yeah, I would shut it down. See, what I would do is like the plant manager, the Marshall, he would come up, and he would say something like, "Well, I think it will go." Which he didn't know that much because he was fairly new to the company. I would say, "Well, I don't think it will go." What I would do is I would shut the line down and call the president, and he would have to come up there, and let him make the decision. Because if he says let it then I'll let it go. But as far as anyone else, no.
JEFF COWIE:
So you'd actually get the president of the company in there to look at a specific piece of furniture to see whether that was acceptable or not?
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
Uh, huh. Done it quite a few times. A lot of times.
JEFF COWIE:
And when you say you'd shut the line down, how would you do that?
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
I would just stop the furniture. You know, I was between this part of the plant which was making the furniture and sending it this way, then you'd have me, then you'd have the guys over here finishing it. I would stop it here so they would have nothing to go on the line so they'd have to stop it.
JEFF COWIE:
So you wouldn't really stop the line, but the furniture would back up behind you?
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
If they didn't have anything it was like--. You've been in there, right?
JEFF COWIE:
No, I haven't unfortunately.
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
You hadn't? Okay, it was like tracks. It was like a track, and it had carts that would come around. You couldn't let no cart go by without any furniture. So, you know, you had people at stations along spraying different things, and you couldn't let any empties go by. So you would have to stop it there. If you didn't have anything to load you'd have to stop it there. If you didn't have anything to load you'd have to stop it.
JEFF COWIE:
And everybody would just sit there and wait for you guys to resolve this issue?
TRACY L.H. BURNETT:
Well, if it was a glue problem a lot of times they would send them out there, and they would have me to take chalk and circle all the spots where I thought it was glue. They would have the people out in finishing or wherever to sand them, to try to sand the glue out or whatever needed to be done. Drawer fitted up and stuff like that.