Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Arctic Freezer Plant

Academic journal article Journal of the International Academy for Case Studies

Arctic Freezer Plant

Article excerpt


The primary subject matter of this case concerns managing diversity issues in the workplace and the application of total quality management principles. Specifically, an appliance manufacturer is experiencing challenges involving Somali refugees who comprise a significant percentage of the plant's available labor pool. These challenges include quality and productivity problems caused by the Somali workers' lack of English skills and adherence to cultural and religious customs, as well as by the plant's own poor preparation to manage this group of employees. The case has a difficulty level of three or four, appropriate for junior or senior level students. The case is designed to be taught in a ninety minute class period, with two hours of outside preparation time by students.


Imagine the challenge of being a manufacturing plant manager of a major employer in the community, faced with the need to satisfy rigorous customer requirements in the areas of quality, price, and delivery. You must fulfill these requirements with a local labor pool that has a limited supply of applicants and recently has become populated by refugee immigrants who speak little or no English. Additionally, these refugee employees have cultural and religious customs that pose challenges in the areas of plant safety and productivity.

As a leading employer in the business community, you know the spotlight will be on your company to help come up with ways to address the community challenge of helping a new immigrant population become productive members of the community. The last thing your company needs is bad publicity in the area of relationships with workers from diverse ethnic backgrounds. Yet you know that your plant must compete on a global basis and your giant retail customers will spare no time in seeking other suppliers if you cannot meet their requirements.


It was 7:30 am on a Friday in late September, when Susan Michaels, a senior manufacturing engineer at the Arctic Freezer plant in Xenia, Minnesota, knocked on plant manager Jim Gromberg's door. "Excuse me, Jim, but we're at the 3-week mark since we launched the third shift on the upright line, and it's been pretty much of a quality and output disaster, with not much hope in sight for improvement. Despite everything we've tried, there are so many problems with these new Somali workers that we're almost out of ideas. I'm not sure how much longer we can go on before it starts hurting our quality and delivery reputation."

Jim was afraid of this. The third shift on the large up-right freezer line had been added in early September to address a growing backlog of orders from major customers such as Best Buy and Sears. The demand for freezers tends to be counter-cyclical to the national economy and this was proving to be true once again; retail demand for freezers was up 20 percent in the past year, as consumers began shopping for bargains and stocking up on meat and other frozen food items. However, the third shift was not meeting productivity expectations and certain issues that related to the 90 Somali workers (out of 120) on the third shift were proving to be more challenging than first expected. The moment had come for Jim to assess the situation and make a decision.


Arctic Home Products was a subsidiary of WH Alliance, a Norwegian appliance manufacturer. The Arctic plant in Xenia, Minnesota, manufactured approximately 2 million chest and upright freezers per year, about 60 percent of the total annual number of freezers that were sold in North America. The plant employed 1,600-1,700 International Association of Machinists Union employees who worked on the chest and upright freezer assembly lines. The plant operated 2-3 production shifts per day. As is typical of assembly line work in general, the work involves repetitive tasks completed on high unit volumes. …

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