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OM in Action: Hyundai Workers’ Graveyard Shift Demands

August 17, 2012

Union members, left, wearing head bands saying “Unity Fight”

Our discussion in Chapter 10 about work schedules, incentive systems, and employee motivation can certainly be enhanced by The Wall Street Journal’s article (Aug.16, 2012) called “Hyundai Strikers Demand End to the Graveyard Shift.”  With a  strike  set for today, the company’s  union demands an end to night-shift work. Hyundai now runs two 10-hour shifts at its domestic assembly plants. But union leader  Moon Yong-moon is pressing for two 8-hour shifts. Mr. Moon has brought a decade long fight to end night-shift production to a head with a series of strikes that have cut Hyundai’s output so far this year by 40,000 vehicles worth $712 million.

While major car makers including GM run plants into the night—as do all of South Korea’s auto companies—Mr. Moon argues that night-shift work is unhealthy. “Working through the night has caused chronic fatigue, sleep disorders and indigestion for workers,” he said in an interview. “In some cases, it is also to blame for family troubles.”

His proposal to replace the current 10-hour shifts with shorter, daytime-only schedules is opposed by Hyundai. Its counter proposal would include 8 and 9-hour shifts each day tied to higher worker productivity. The union wants the company to add workers to maintain output volumes and insists the company agreed in principle in 2005 to end night work and hasn’t matched its promise with any action. Alongside an end to night work, Hyundai workers want a monthly pay increase of $134 and for 30% of the company’s net profit to be used for performance-based pay.

The company and union remain far apart.

Discussion questions:

1. Make the case for each side in this conflict.

2. What are the downsides of graveyard shifts?

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