Mexican maquiladoras–manufacturing operations on the U.S. border–are known for having poor working conditions and low pay. As a result, annual turnover rates often reach as high as 100%. At Plamex, a maquiladora in Tijuana that builds devices for Plantronics–annual turnover is just 36%. It might have something to do with the weddings.
Every year, Plamex puts on a wedding for employees, complete with music, decorations, and approving family members to watch the procession. This is not standard practice (though two other maquiladoras have adopted it since Plamex put on its first wedding a decade ago). It seems an oddly personal step for a company to take into its employees’ private lives, but consider the context.
When Plamex started the mass wedding program, the city of Tijuana required people who wanted to get married to bring back original birth certificates from their hometowns. At Plamex, over 70% of employees are out-of-towners. Add to that the other costs of putting on a wedding in the country (marriage license, judge, medical examination, and so forth) and it becomes too much for many workers to afford. Plamex covers it all.
Plamex is obviously filling a need–540 people have gotten married in the mass weddings, and 28 couples signed up for this year’s wedding, held on February 17th (see slideshow above). And while putting on a wedding for so many people isn’t cheap, Plamex has found clever ways to cut corners. Instead of hiring an outside band, the company holds an American Idol-style competition for employees who want to perform. Employees also provide decorations.
Plamex goes beyond just the wedding, holding parenting classes after work, having on-site doctors to perform exams, allowing the DMV to set up a table once a year so that employees can quickly renew their license plates, and even holding classes so that employees can finish their degrees (ranging from elementary school to an on-site master’s program in electrical engineering). It sounds more like a Google campus than a production plant, but it makes sense.
“If you resolve these problems, people will become more relaxed, more focused on doing what the company needs them to be doing,” says Alejandro Bustamente, president of Plamex. “They won’t be disturbed by personal problems that they may have.”
As a result, Plamex gets the best employees in the area. “Because of this incredible culture, Plamex is able to hire the best and brightest throughout Mexico and the southern part of San Diego county as well,” says Ken Kannappan, CEO of Plantronics.
Plamex’s intiatives have earned the company a number of accolades, including the “Great Place to Work” award from the Great Place to Work Institute–an award that takes into account anonymous employee surveys. Last year, over 100 companies from around the world visited Plamex to see its policies in action.
“When I started working here 17 years ago, I promised one thing to people: respect,” explains Bustamente. “We’re receptive to what people need and how we can help them resolve their needs.” So far, it’s a policy that seems to be working.