Labor Relations Role-Play:

Gadgets, Inc.


Cheri Peele and Lawrence Susskind

Six-party, four-issue negotiation among a company's management and union representatives, environmental groups, and state and federal environmental agencies over fines and adoption of new technology in response to the company's illegal polluting


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Over the past eight months, Gadgets, Inc. (‘Gadgets’), a metal plating firm, has failed to comply with state regulations on the concentrations of copper and lead in their waste water. Gadgets' required monthly reports to the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) have been accurate, but the violations were overlooked by DEP for the first five months. When DEP noticed Gadgets' violations three months ago, it demanded immediate compliance and five months worth of fines.

Gadgets officials were surprised and upset. Citing economic hardship, past good faith efforts and its role in the local economy, Gadgets requested a delay in paying the fines while it explored options for rectifying its pollution problem. DEP initially agreed, but has now come under fire from environmental activist.

In the midst of this situation, the Innovative Technology Program (‘ITS’) of DEP has announced a new system for pollution prevention. ITS has been looking for a middle-sized firm to test its new system and DEP has ordered Gadgets to install this new system for further testing. The environmental activists now believe that Gadgets is getting off the hook, and that the system has not been sufficiently tested for use in a working firm.

Following the procedures of DEP's Innovative Technology Program, the Environmental Secretary's Special Assistant has called a meeting of interested parties to discuss four issues: (1) the choice of a pollution prevention technology; (2) a possible DEP subsidy for the installation of the new pollution prevention system at Gadgets; (3) the payment of fines by Gadgets; and (4) the frequency of and responsibility for monitoring of compliance by Gadgets. In addition to the Environmental Secretary's Special Assistant, the meeting will include representatives from Gadgets management, the Gadgets workers' union, two environmental activist groups, and the EPA.



This case provides a useful context for examining the dynamics of regulatory, particular compliance, negotiations. It also for examination of multi-party negotiation dynamics, such as coalition building and blocking, meeting design, and caucusing. Because there is a wide range of possible agreements, it can be interesting to compare agreements (and non-agreements) reached by different groups. The presence of scientific and technical uncertainty raises issues about the value of contingent agreement.



For all parties:

  • General Instructions
  • Schedule of potential fines for Gadgets Inc.


Role Specific:

  • Gadgets Inc. Vice President
  • Gadgets Inc. Workers Union President
  • Chief Water Scientist for Newberg Bay
  • Director of Deep Green environmental body
  • Environmental Protection Agency representative
  • Environmental Secretary Special Assistant


Teacher's Package:

  • All of the above



Multi-party negotiation; regulatory compliance; science-intensive policy disputes; environmental dispute resolution

Gadgets, Inc. Attributes

Time required: 30 minutes - 1 hour
Number of participants: 6
Teams involved: No
Agent present: None
Neutral third party present: None
Scoreable: Yes
Teaching notes available: No