Thursday, May 31, 2007

Wikipedia Entry & Phone Call Update.

I've started a Wikipedia entry about SITRACIMA. It's still under construction, but expect more detailed information soon.

Also keep your eyes on the Liz Claiborne, Macy's and Talbots wiki pages.

I was with Dr. Angelina Godoy on Wednesday, 30 May, at about 1:00pm when she called the women at the factory. The first conversation was with the leader of SITRACIMA. It was brief because the phone cut out, but Angelina called back and established contact with the leader of SITRACIMA's sister union, SITRACHOI. She spoke with the SITRACHOI representative at length.

The current situation for SITRACIMA is as follows: the women did not work last week after management imposed a mandatory, 5 day "vacation." (This may be illegal under Guatemalan labor law.) They are returning to the factory now, but have no work to do. The workers believe that the owners of CimaTextiles and ChoiShin (the factories at which the members of SITRACIMA and SITRACHOI work) have moved the orders formerly produced at CimaTextiles to other factories owned by the same firm (Modas Choi & Shin), including ChoiShin. ChoiShin has hired a new night shift (nonunion, of course), most likely to take up and produce the garments formerly sewn at CimaTextiles.

The women at CimaTextiles are being paid their base wages. This is not sufficient because the women typically supplement their normal wages by working overtime and producing over quota for bonuses. These "supplemental" earnings are in fact absolutely necessary to the livelihoods of the women, and constitute a significant portion of their incomes. I don't know whether they are earning enough to feed their families right now, but they are definitely facing significant financial pressure.

To encourage the women to quit, the factory owners continue to offer the women a severance package, which many of the women are tempted to take. How many have already taken the owners up on that offer, I do not know.

On Monday, May 28, the Labor Inspectors, the factory owners, the Guatemalan Vice Minister of Labor, the union leadership and union legal council met to discuss the situation. What exactly happened is unclear, but the workers reported that the President and Vice President of the firm which owns the factories were arguing and insulted the worker's legal council. The meeting dissolved without resolution. There is another meeting scheduled.

The workers believe the Labor Inspectorate is biased. They said that whenever the factory owners suggested a compromise, the Inspectors would remain silent or endorse the plan; if the workers suggested a different plan, the Inspectors would criticize and fight it.

The owners claimed during the meeting that there was no work for the workers at CimaTextiles, and kept saying "why should we pay people who are doing no work?" The rhetorical question hides an important fact: the factory owners cannot legally fire these women. Guatemalan law provides a method for closing a factory and laying off workers. The factory owners have participated partially in that method, and were told by the Ministry of Labor that the conditions required to close the factory were not met, that it would be illegal to close the factory. This clearly explains the motive behind the de facto pay cut ownership gave the women.

Our contact also told Angelina that there were rumors floating around that the leader of SITRACIMA was targeted to be assaulted (agredida). She asked Angelina to call back to check on her well-being. I haven't spoken with Angelina since then, but I presume that if she was not well, Angelina would have notified us.

This concludes the information Angelina and I received from SITRACIMA and SITRACHOI at approximately 1:00pm on May 30 2007.



Dr. Angelina Godoy leads a human rights seminar to Guatemala each summer. The students of this seminar met with the women of SITRACIMA the past two years; the next class, which leaves for Guatemala on 23 June, will meet with these women.

The union sent an urgent plea for help on 17 May to Dr. Godoy, which she forwarded to the her current and former students. The response was immediate: the students began organizing, writing letters, contacting the media, contacting their representatives, and contacting the brands which buy from CimaTextiles (the factory at which the women work). These brands are Liz Claiborne, Talbots, and Macy's house brand Charter Club.

These are pictures sent by the union workers to Dr. Godoy.

the factory gates

union leaders speaking with the workers

union leaders speaking with the workers

women fainted after facing intimidation, threats, rumors of violence, blacklisting throughout the industry, and the impending loss of their jobs. many are single mothers.



in a country where police violence frequently goes unpunished, their presence instills fear as much as it comforts.

the union has provided a modicum of stability for the workers

An open letter to Representative Jim McDermott

Dear Representative Jim McDermott:

We are writing in regard to an urgent labor rights situation unfolding in a Guatemalan apparel factory located in the city of Villa Nueva. Workers at the Cimatextiles factory, owned by the South Korean company Modas Choishin, were informed on Saturday, May 19 that the factory would suspend operations for three months, in violation of the terms of Guatemalan law. These workers are represented by SITRACIMA, one of only three unions within Guatemala’s apparel industry, which is made up of some 200 factories. Not only has the suspension of work been procedurally illegal, it has been accompanied by actions of increasingly serious intimidation and harassment against the union members, including acts of physical aggression, temporary deprivation of liberty (locking them in the factory), and threats of violence.

We are students, alumni, and faculty at the University of Washington. Many of us are involved with the UW human rights seminar that takes students to Guatemala and in which meeting these very women is integral to the lesson plan. This summer is the program’s third; if the women are able to meet in July, this may be the last class to speak with these women, and the last class to see the fruits of their struggle. The women have contacted us directly and asked us to take urgent action on their behalf. This crisis deeply affects us. As your constituents, we ask you to support these women.

The gravity and frequency of the acts of intimidation constitute a clear violation of workers’ right to free association, established in Articles 34 and 102 (q) of the Guatemalan Constitution. The Guatemalan Labor Code prohibits, in Article 10, retaliations against workers for attempting to exercise their rights, and in Article 62, forbids attempts to force workers to withdraw from unions. At the level of international law, the ILO Conventions 87 and 98 clearly establish the right to organize and bargain collectively, as does Article 22 of the American Declaration on the Rights and Duties of Man.

In addition to breaches of these most basic human rights, there have been numerous violations of the procedures outlined in Guatemalan Labor Code for the suspension of employment contracts. In particular, Article 73 of the Labor Code specifies that employers must make a written request to the Ministry of Labor for permission to suspend contracts, and that the Labor Inspectorate must then determine whether the causes of suspension are valid. We understand that officials from the Labor Ministry have not received written notice from the company in this case. Company representatives stated that due process was followed, but the Labor Inspectorate has not verified that claim.

As a party to the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement , the Guatemalan government has an international obligation to enforce its own labor laws (DR-CAFTA, Article 16.2.1(a)). As of this point, the Guatemalan government has not enforced these laws. Consequently, the crisis situation has continued within Cimatextiles, where workers are taking turns sleeping overnight to prevent the closure of their factories and permanent loss of their jobs despite threats on the part of ownership.

In response to this situation, and as a productive step toward resolving the crisis, the SITRACIMA union is calling for the creation of a “High Level Commission” of stakeholder groups. The proposed Commission would include representatives of the US Embassy in Guatemala, the South Korean Embassy in Guatemala, the Guatemalan Ministries of Labor and Economy, the US brands LCI (Liz Claiborne) and Talbots, the Korean Choi Shin Corporation, the Fair Labor Association (FLA), the independent COVERCO labor rights monitoring organization, the labor federation FESTRAS, and the Textile Apparel Commission VESTEX.

In support of this proposal, we urge the United States Government to direct its Embassy in Guatemala to facilitate the creation of the proposed High Level Commission and take part in its efforts to resolve this dispute. Furthermore, we ask you to encourage the Korean embassy and the relevant Guatemalan ministries to join the commission.

Thank you for your attention to this urgent matter.

Brandon Ballinger
Masha Burina
Dr. Angelina Godoy
Stacey Fernandez
Amanda M. Fulmer
Kalila Jackson-Spieker
Alyssa Kahn
Martina Kartman
Alexandra Larsson
Jillian Leslie
Jessica Michelle Nance
Phil Neff
Rod Palmquist
Veryl Pow
Khadyja Reinhardt
Tim Richards
Maya Sparks
Ariana Taylor-Stanley
Travis Thomas
Carrie Vincler
Nick Wong

Opening Salvo

This blog will document the plight of the workers at the CimaTextiles factory in Villa Nueva, Guatemala, and the activism in solidarity with those women.


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.

This section is under construction. Thank you for your patience.