Analysis of an Adversarial Labor/Management Situation in a Latin American Industrial Setting: A Case Study Using Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

By Cangemi, Joseph | Organization Development Journal, Spring 2009 | Go to article overview

Analysis of an Adversarial Labor/Management Situation in a Latin American Industrial Setting: A Case Study Using Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs


Cangemi, Joseph, Organization Development Journal


Abstract

This article describes an intervention strategy regarding a continuing labor/management dispute in a large production facility in Latin America, resulting in an average of four strikes a year over a five-year period. This facility was part of an American international corporation. Interestingly, for 20 years prior to the current ongoing dispute, there was essentially labor/management tranquility. This article analyzes the motivation for the dispute, as well as recommendations made.

Several years ago, the author, a long time consultant to a large industrial corporation with over 70,000 employees worldwide, was in attendance at a meeting at corporate headquarters in the United States. At this meeting, it was disclosed there were continuing labor disputes in the company's main production facility in a large urban center in a South American country. These disputes were causing significant losses in both production and revenue. Top management in the corporation was perplexed because the company was a leader in pay and benefits in that locale. They wanted to know what was behind these disputes and asked the consultant to visit the facility "to see if he could make some sense" out of what was happening. There had been labor peace in the facility for approximately 20 of the last 25 years. However, the plant had averaged four strikes a year during the last 5 years.

The Process

The author, fluent in Spanish, arrived in the country's capital city several days later and spent his first evening with the corporation's regional president, an American. The president gave his views on the labor/management* problems in the company's facility in question, which was in another location in the country, and had approximately 900 employees.

The next morning, accompanied by the president, the author journeyed to the plant location and was cordially met by the plant's general manager and human resources director.

After a lengthy meeting with the president and general manager and his team, a strategy was developed to obtain data from appropriate company personnel: individual interviews would be held with all members of the management team, followed by focus groups (8 to 10 participants in each group) with staff and plant associates. The interviews began later that very day.

Two basic, open-ended questions were asked of management, staff and employees alike:

What is occurring in this facility, at this time, you like, appreciate, respect?

(Appreciative Inquiry)

What is occurring in this facility, at this time, you believe needs improvement that will make the facility a better place in which to work?

The author listened intently, accepted whatever was said, and asked questions to obtain further clarification and understanding. Whatever data were collected, both individually and in each focus group, were given back to all participants at the end of each session so they could read what had been written and make corrections, should there have been any misunderstanding in what was said and what was written. Also, this was done to develop a sense of trust between the author and company personnel at all levels, including the Sindicato (Union). The author wanted to make it clear there was no hidden agenda* everything would be above board. All sessions lasted approximately one hour and were conducted in Spanish. Because of the animosity between the Sindicato and company management, it was decided to keep both groups separate to avoid serious confrontation during the interviewing process. Further, the author felt it would be difficult to develop a sense of trust with Sindicato personnel unless he could interact with them without the presence of company personnel.

The Development of Trust

All interviews occurred over a period of 10 days from early morning until late at night. Approximately 50% of plant personnel were interviewed. Because the author had lived in Latin America nearly 7 years, had worked for an American company there, spoke the language, was married to a Latin American, had a daughter born in Latin America and understood well the cultural differences between the United States and Latin America, a sense of trust and credibility was facilitated without much difficulty between him and plant personnel at all levels. …

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