The situation that the article describes provides a brief overview of RATP’s (Regie Autonome des Transports Parisiens) operations with a view of explaining why the firm feels the need to fully automate one of its railway lines. RATP is the company in charge of Paris’s transportation system. The company started as a state-owned firm in 1948, when its sole mandate was to develop and operate the bus and rail network in downtown Paris. Over the years, the company saw its mandate and operations grow and by 2001, RATP had installed a modern transportation system in the city of Paris. By then, RATP had set up a subsidiary (RATP International) that it was using to spread its operations beyond the borders of France. Additionally, the RATP has also set up other firms within France to help it expand its network beyond the city of Paris (Anteby, Corsi & Billaud, 2013).
When Jean-Paul Bailly took over the RATP in 1994, he was faced with a dearth of problems. Key among them was the relations that the RATP had with its workers unions. At the time, the company had to deal with frequent strikes from its workers that were costing RATP a lot of revenue as well as affecting the firm’s operations. Bailly’s first order of business was to deal with these strikes and improve the relationship between RATP and its workers’ unions. The solution that Bailly came up with was a protocol that emphasized agreements between RATP’s management and the trade unions’ representatives as opposed to mass action. Having improved relations between RATP and the trade unions, Bailly moved on to the next project, which was the full automation of several old lines within Paris’s subway network. The RATP established that the automation of Paris’s subway network was a necessity, after its research proved that most accidents occurred because of human error. However, the process of automation would prove to be a logistical nightmare. It would have to take place over the course of three years to make sure that transport on the line did not completely stop. The RATP had already automated Line 14 and for the next part of the project, the company decided to modernize Line 1, one of the oldest and busiest ones in the network. To make this project successful, Bailly had to bring all of the stakeholders on board, including the trade unions (Anteby, Corsi & Billaud, 2013).
There were several key issues surrounding Bailly’s ambitious automation plan. Firstly, the company had to explain why it was spending hundreds of millions of Euros to automate one line when there were others that were lagging far behind in terms of technology, staff and equipment. The RATP also expected the process to encounter technical difficulties. Line 1 was the oldest in Paris’s subway system and carrying out the automation without interruptions was going to cost approximately six hundred million Euros. However, the biggest problem facing the automation process was potential opposition from the unions. Line 1 was prestigious and important. This meant that the 219 drivers working the line were senior workers who had been with RATP for some time. The unions had already spoken up against the potential automation, as they feared that it would cost many employees their jobs. Additionally, they felt that the automation would eventually lead to a decline in the prestige of the work done by drivers, as they would be gradually replaced. This meant that the RATP had to win the support of the unions if it was going to achieve any success in the automation of Line 1.
One possible solution for RATP would be to avoid laying off the drivers from Line 1. The 219 drivers working in Line 1 are some of the most experienced within the network, which makes them a valuable resource for the company. According to Williams (2012), companies should avoid downsizing because it makes them lose experienced employees that it may soon need again. Additionally, downsizing often demoralizes the employees who remain with the company. As an alternative, RATP could consider moving the drivers to different lines or different departments. The company would also benefit if it opted to promote the senior drivers to higher positions. One positive side of this solution is that it would help the RATP win the union over. Additionally, it would place the company in good light by showing that it has a sense of corporate responsibility (Cooper, Pandey & Quick, 2012). Alternatively, by retaining the 219 drivers, the company would be passing up on a chance to cut down on its wage bill, which would be particularly helpful considering the costs that would be incurred in the automation process.
Another solution to the problem facing RATP was dialogue. The trade unions are a part of RATP because they represent a significant portion of the company’s stakeholders. The workers that the unions represent are an integral part of the firm’s operations and without them RATP would not have been able to grow as much as it did. Dialogue in this case would be a form of organizational communication. According to Mills, Mills, Forshaw and Bratton (2007), effective organizational communication requires a company to provide important information to all of the stakeholders within it. In RATP’s case, dialogue between the firm’s management and the union representatives would allow the company to explain the reason behind its automation project. The management would be able to present the research showing that drivers often caused the railway accidents and that automation would reduce these incidents drastically. Additionally, the dialogue would provide both parties with a chance to come with a solution that fits both of them. One disadvantage of dialogue is that it does not always lead to workable solutions, especially if the parties involved are not agreeable. With this solution, there is also the possibility that the unions could be using the dialogue as a stalling tactic.
A third solution for RATP would be to change the company’s overall policy and tune it towards the future automation of all lines in the subway network. The automation of the lines is an important aspect of the company’s future operations. Even though it is likely to cost a lot of revenue and possibly lead to the downsizing of the firm, the company will have to carry out the project at one time or another. The company could use ethical guidelines when making its decision in this specific case (Hellriegel & Slocum, 2007). From an ethical point of view, the company would be faced with a dilemma between automating the subway to reduce the number of accidents that occur or putting off the automation to ensure that there was no need to lay off any of the employees. The case of Line 1’s automation placed RATP in a situation where the greater good could justify the laying off of several workers. One advantage of this solution is that the company has data that justifies the decision to automate the lines even if the automation comes at a cost. The company can use this justification to put off mass action on the part of the workers, though there it is likely that the strategy will not be foolproof. Alternatively, the laying off of more than two hundred senior employees for the purpose of automation would not bode well with the unions and the public. RATP would come out as a firm that lacks social responsibility and this could damage its reputation.
The first thing that RATP should do is carry out a comprehensive study looking into the benefits of automated railway lines. The firm had already established that a majority of railway accidents wer4e caused by the drivers and this meant that driverless trains were likely to be safer options. A full study into the issues would help the company have solid proof showing why the project was necessary. Having conducted this study, RATP could then create a logical argument in a bid to win over the trade unions. The study would have to involve representatives from the trade unions for credibility purposes. The benefit of carrying out a study into the automation of Line 1 is that the company could use the results to create a compelling argument concerning the project. If the findings did confirm RATP’s initial theory, then the company could claim that there was a need to automate the entire subway network with Line 1 being the start of a massive project that could last for more than a decade.
The RATP should also engage the major stakeholders in dialogue (Aken, Berenj & Bij, 2012). The company should call a series of meetings involving the management, department heads, the board and the union representatives. Through this meetings, the company would be able to explain the situation to all of the stakeholders and make sure that the department heads, the board members and the union representatives understood what the process of automation entailed. The company would explain how the automation would be undertaken and outline the different logistics related to the process such as the outlay, length of time and the necessity. The meetings could give the other stakeholders a chance to voice any concerns that they have over the project, make their own suggestions and take a stance on the matter.
The advantage of dialoguing is that it would provide the company’s management with an opportunity to explain itself. The company would use these meetings to try to win over the support of key stakeholders such as the board members and the department heads, which essentially means that the management would be trying to make a compelling argument during the dialogue (French, Rayner, Rees & Rumbles, 2011). By winning over major stakeholders, RATP increases the support that it has for its project make it easier to deal with the opposition that is expected from the trade unions.
RATP should have a special meeting with the trade unions that represent its workers to sort out the issue. The main issue regarding the automation of Line 1, and other lines in future, is the laying off of workers who were working on that line. The high possibility that automation will force RATP to downsize is one of the reasons why the trade unions seemed to be opposed to the project and this means that the company should focus on coming to an amicable solution with the unions. This solution should ideally be one that fits both parties but this would require one or both of them to compromise on their position (Adair, 2013). On RATP’s part, the compromise could see the company keep the workers that it removes from line 1 and relocate them to other departments. Alternatively, the trade unions would have to compromise on their stance regarding automation and allow the company to move forward with its project without any possibility of mass action.
The benefit of having special dialogue with the RATP is that it would allow the two main parties in the situation to air their views and work towards a solution. It is important for RATP’s workers to understand why the company needs to automate Line 1 and the best way for the firm to explain this is by meeting directly with union representatives. Additionally, a meeting between RATP and the unions would reduce the possibility of either party taking drastic action, such as strikes, and sustain the close relationship that the two parties had enjoyed since Bailly took over.
Lastly, RATP should do as much as it can to avoid laying off any of the workers who operate on Line 1. With the automation process, the two hundred and nineteen drivers who services line 1 will no longer be operating the line. In some situations, laying off the workers would be the ideal thing to do for various reasons. Firstly, it would decrease the wage bill and therefore lessen the financial impact of the automation process. Secondly, firing the drivers would give the company a chance to hire new workers who would carry out the few remaining manual functions in the line. However, the drivers in Line 1 were some of the most capable and experienced in RATP’s network. They had worked with the company for years and this had turned them into valuable resources for the firm. Instead of firing them, it would be better for the company to move them to different lines or departments where their colleagues could profit from the knowledge and experience that they had.
One advantage of keeping the drivers from line 1 is that the company could use them to train other employees. RATP could take advantage of the drivers experience and move them to senior supervisory positions or pair them up with newer employees. The firm could also move some drivers to different lines in the network where they would help improve the services that the company provides to its clients. The largest benefit of keeping the drivers is that it would ensure that RATP did not have to deal with damaging lawsuits filed by the fired employees. Such lawsuits would damage the company’s reputation by dragging a sensitive issue out into the open and involving the public. Additionally, if the lawsuits went against RATP, the company would stand to lose large amounts of money.
The solutions proposed above could result in a large range of negative outcomes for RATP. Firstly, the trade unions could refuse to compromise in the negotiations even after the company explains that it was carrying out the automation of line 1 for the greater good. The unions could stand firm on their stance and push the company to cancel the project with the threat of mass action. It is likely that the company is in a fragile state with regard to its relationship with the unions especially after Bailly had to work so hard to regain the trust that the two parties had lost for each other. Mass action could cause serious damage in the relationship between the unions and the company. This makes it likely that RATP would be willing to back down in the face of such threats.
Another negative outcome could see the drivers from Line 1go against the unions and the company in opposition to the automation process. The drivers could fail to understand the company’s reasons for carrying out the changes or even fail to understand the reasons behind the change. They could then refuse to cooperate with the company and the unions and attempt to stall the automation project through mass action or civil suits. The fact that the drivers in line 1 are the most experienced makes it a possibility for them to rally other workers behind their cause.
RATP’s automation project is likely to face a myriad of problems mainly related to opposition from strong parties such as the unions and the workers in the firm. The project is supposed to make Line 1 completely driverless as a way of reducing human error and with a view of eventually automating the entire subway network in Paris. However, the automation would mean that the drivers currently operating the line would be out of employment. The fact that automated lines employ more people than manual ones is a positive for the parties involved but it is unlikely to please the drivers who stand to lose their jobs. As a solution to this problem, the company needs to dialogue with the involved parties and win them over. This could be achieved by making them understand that the automation could save lives. During the dialogue process, the company needs to place special focus on the trade unions. This is because they represent the workers who might lose their jobs because of the project and gaining their support could help make the automation of Line 1 a seamless process.
Adair, J. E. (2013). Decision making and problem solving strategies. Philadelphia, PA: Kogan Page Ltd.
Aken, J. E., Berends, H., & Bij, H. (2012). Problem Solving in Organizations: A Methodological Handbook for Business and Management Students. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Anteby, M., Corsi, E. & Billaud, E. (2013, March). Automating the Paris subway. Harvard Business School Teaching Note 413-093.
Cooper, C. L., Pandey, A., & Quick, J. C. (2012). Downsizing: Is less still more? New York: Cambridge University Press.
French, R., Rayner, C., Rees, G. & Rumbles, S. (2011). Organizational behavior. Hoboken, N.J.: Wiley.
Hellriegel, D., & Slocum, J. W. (2009). Organizational behavior. Mason, OH: South-Western Cengage Learning.
Mills, A. J., Mills, J.C.H., Forshaw, C. & Bratton, J. (2007). Organizational behaviour in a global context. Peterborough, Ont: Broadview Press.
Williams, C. (2012). Effective management: A multimedia approach. Mason, OH: South-Western/Cengage Learning.
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