Sunday, June 17, 2007

Update From Union Leaders

We spoke with the union leaders on Friday; they had a crisis because the workers have still not been paid their severance pay as promised. The workers showed up to be paid and when the company started the procedures to pay them, they were calculating the amount owed the workers at a much lower rate than the workers believed they were due.

The workers have now gone two weeks without receiving any payment and the company keeps putting off paying them. People are desperate, were yelling, and there were moments when it seemed violence might break out. A union leader said the Jefe de Personal was making comments that were tantamount to incitement, saying things like "Aqui se va armar un gran relajo" (Hard to translate, something like 'major stuff is going to go down here') which instead of calming people down, made them more upset. Then the company said that workers could receive their payment right then (at the lesser amount that the company was offering according to its own calculations), or else nothing. Some workers (by one estimation about 80) agreed to receive the lesser amount because they needed the money and felt it was so uncertain that the company would ever come through on its promises that they should just take what they could get; others refused on principle. Then the company announced they wanted to suspend the entire payment process.

At some point then the workers went to the offices of the Labor Inpsectorate (we spoke with a union leader as she was on her way home from that meeting). She said the Labor Inspectors had interviewed them. In a meeting yesterday -- they have been having meetings because the company keeps putting off paying the workers, in violation of the deal they made with the union, and yesterday the workers held a public manifestation to demand payment -- one of the Labor Inspectors said that he, too, was receiving threats in conjunction with this case. So it's not only the workers, but now government officials investigating the case that have been threatened.

The head of the Sitracima union received a threatening text message on her cellphone the night of June 13. She did not want to repeat to us what the message said because she said it had extremely obscene words on it and she was riding on a bus. But she still had the message on her cell phone yesterday and another worker had seen it.

While workers from Choishin have not been under as much pressure as those at Cimatextiles, they believe they are headed down the same path because they have begun to see decreasing orders. A union leader told us that three lines in Choishin are currently producing clothes only for the local market (not for export), and that in the warehouse she has seen a lack of material waiting for production. So they know the orders aren't coming in, and they are very concerned that they are going to be next.

She also expressed her gratitude to us for all the actions we are taking on their behalf and her eagerness to keep in touch.

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The workers at the Guatemalan factory CimaTextiles formed a union in 2001. They won a collective bargaining agreement in 2003, and since then have struggled to protect their gains. The corporation which owns the factory, Choi & Shin Co., Inc., consistently tries to break the union's back, and has since its inception. etc. etc. Here is the union's wiki. Here are the pictures from the protest. Here is the urgent action.

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