Assembly Line Held Hostage

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CASE 5: ASSEMBLY LINE HELD HOSTAGE

Summary: When a power struggle erupts in a highly charged confrontation precipitated by two disgruntled employees, production comes to a halt. This case involves crisis management, power, and control, plus some longer-range considerations about motivation of productive human behavior and handling grievances.

On a Tuesday morning at 6 A.M., two young automobile assembly line workers, disgruntled over failing to get their supervisor transferred,. shut off the electric power supply to the entire auto assembly line and closed it down at Consolidated Automobile Manufacturers, Inc. The electric power supply area, containing transformers, switches, and other high-voltage electrical equipment, was positioned near the center of the plant in a 6 x 7 foot area. Enclosing this area was a 10-foot high chain link fence with a locked gate, which together formed a protective cage around the facility and provided a measure of security. The two assembly line workers, William Strong and Larry Kane, gained access to the electric power supply area simply by climbing over the fence. Once inside, they halted the assembly line by throwing the main switches and shutting off the electrical power; no tools were required. Strong and Kane, who worked as spot welders, took matters into their hands when the union's grievance procedure did not work fast enough to satisfy them. The current labor contract has a formal process for handling grievances. Several hundred workers (from many different work groups) were idled by this dramatic protest and by the motionless assembly line. Some of them grouped themselves around the fenced area, shouting encouragement to the two men inside. In response, Strong and Kane were chanting, "When you cut the power you've got the power." They were in the process of becoming at least momentary folk heroes to some of their fellow workers. Sam Winfare supervised a work group of 20, including...
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