Chronic, wide-spread tardiness among hourly workers
We are a small (<50 employees) non-union manufacturing company operating in Connecticut. Most of our employees are specialty welders--highly skilled, hourly paid (punch a time clock), and difficult to replace. I have joined the company recently as the first and only HR person. I come from a white-collar world, where progressive discipline is widely used. It has not been introduced here.
This particular workforce pays no attention to punctunality. Almost everyone shows up late for work on an average of approximately 20% of workdays. It drives management crazy, and they fuss about it all the time. However, with virtually everyone doing it, and with the specialty skills these workers possess, they can hardly fire the entire workforce. So, year after year, the majority of workers' Performance Appraisals give them stern warnings about tardiness, but it just perpetuates with little consequence, except they may lose a few cents off of their annual merit increases. But many of these people are making so much money for the company, it makes no sense at all to punish them much for tardiness. It seems ridiculous to me--either we care about it or we don't! I have suggested flextime as an option, but some of the first-shift welders have to be off of their machines by 4:00 to accommodate second shift workers who share the same machine.
Can anyone think of another way to coax these workers into arriving on time? I think incentives in this case would be better that threats, which are simply ignored. It is causing the company's owner to feel resentful toward the workforce, they feel it, and the net result is bad morale and a "we"/"they" mentality. HELP!