June 5, 2014 at 2:03 pm

Barra: Employees must speak up on safety

General Motors Co. CEO Mary Barra sent a tough message to its 220,000 employees worldwide: Speak up if you see a problem with safety.

“We have to understand that the attitudes and practices that allowed this failure to occur will not be tolerated. Also, if we think that cleaning up this problem and making a few process changes will be enough, we are badly mistaken,” Barra told 1,200 employees at a town hall meeting at GM’s Warren Technical Center that was broadcast to plants and facilities around the world.

“So if you are aware of a potential problem affecting safety or quality and you don’t speak up, you are a part of the problem. And that is not acceptable,” she said. “If you see a problem that you don’t believe is being handled properly, bring it to the attention of your supervisor. If you still don’t believe it’s being handled properly, contact me directly.”

She said 15 employees — most of them executives including at least one vice president — were dismissed. Five others were disciplined in connection with the company’s delayed recall of 2.6 million vehicles linked to 13 deaths and 54 crashes.

Employees — including many high-level executives — sat silent during her presentation.

GM is also holding a 24-hour Web chat with executives on an internal company website starting today.

“We have to personalize this challenge. Quality and safety aren’t someone else’s responsibilities. They are mine. They are yours. We all must feel a personal responsibility to see that this company excels at every level,” Barra said. “We jointly own our successes and our failures. We have to hold each other accountable.”

Barra, who has worked at GM for more than three decades, said it was sad day for the automaker.

“For those of us who have dedicated our lives to this company, it is enormously painful to have our shortcomings laid out so vividly. I was deeply saddened and disturbed as I read the report,” Barra said. “But this isn’t about our feelings or our egos. This is about our responsibility to act with integrity, honor and a commitment to excellence.”

GM’s sales have remained strong in the face of the crisis that began in February when GM first recalled older Cobalt cars linked to deaths. The automaker initially sought to downplay the severity of the problem, noting that many of the victims were involved in high-speed crashes, weren’t wearing seat belts or were in alcohol-related crashes.

“This is a test of our character and our values. In the end, I’m not afraid of the truth, and I know you aren’t either. I want it known that we will face up to our mistakes and take them head on,” Barra said.