Date: Thu, 26 Mar 98 08:19:22 CST
/** pn.alerts: 83.0 **/
Anti-riot police invade banana plantations
U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project alert, 25 March 1998
For the past month there have been stand-offs at two sets of banana plantations in Guatemala that produce for Del Monte Fresh Produce and Chiquita Brands. In both cases, workers attempting to form a union in order to negotiate better wages and working conditions were reportedly illegally fired. In both cases, management then locked out the entire workforce, then accused the workers of conducting an illegal strike and sought orders to arrest the fired workers.
This morning we received news that anti-riot police have been sent to carry out these orders on two plantations that produce Del Monte bananas, Fincas Mopa and Panorama. Workers reported later this morning that the police have entered the plantations and are conducting house-to-house searches and are apparently intent on evicting all the workers, not just those for whom there are arrest orders. Workers are currently in hiding to avoid being arrested or evicted. Worker rights advocates are concerned not only with the violation of these workers' basic right to organize but also with the possibility that there could be violent confrontation.
We are seeking immediate communications to both the Guatemalan and U.S. governments.
The Del Monte Case. Workers trying to organize a union at the Mopa and Panorama plantations obtained an injunction on February 19, 1998. Five days later, on February 24, 22 workers were illegally fired, according to the workers. Local labor inspectors have reportedly been complicit in this, having agreed to alterations in the dates so that the firings appear to have occurred before the injunction was imposed.
Workers at these plantations are being organized by a strong banana workers union, SITRABI, an affiliate of CUSG and the International Union of Foodworkers. SITRABI unions on other plantations subsequently engaged in a work slow-down to support the fired workers. A cooling off period followed but management has now moved ahead to arrest the fired workers as well as the executive committee of SITRABI.
These two plantations are owned and under contract to Bandegua which in turn solely supplies Del Monte Fresh Produce, now a privately-held company headquartered in the United Arab Emirates. Bandegua has refused to take responsibility for the behavior of its suppliers, in this case Guillermo Lippman Romero who leases and operates both the Mopa and Panorama fincas from Bandegua.
The Chiquita Case. The situation is very similar with the Arizona and Alabama plantations, which produce for COBIGUA which solely supplies Chiquita Brands, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. Both plantations are reportedly owned by Mr. Victor Manuel Morales Haeussler, and together employ about 350 workers. On February 9, 1998, workers seeking to organize a union at these two plantations filed an injunction against both plantations. The injunction prohibits management from firing workers without a court order. On February 12, twenty-two workers comprising the executive committee of the union were fired without the requisite court order. In addition, workers say that management shut down plantation operations. This union effort is being supported by UNSITRAGUA.
Management is also accused of other worker rights violations, including (a) intimidating workers with armed men; (b) threatening to close the plantations down permanently; (c) refusing to allow any of workers to return to work unless the worker signs either a blank piece of paper or an anti-union statement; (d) requiring workers owed back pay to sign receipts that included a statement in opposition to the union; (e) accusing the union of an illegal strike.
In order of priority, contact the following and request their immediate intervention to resolve the dispute at the Mopa and Panorama plantations quickly, peacefully, and in a manner that respects the basic rights of the banana workers on these plantations.
1. The Honorable Rodolfo Mendoza
2. Send a cc to:
The Honorable Pedro Lamport
3. Ambassador Donald Planty
4. Mr. Mohammed Abu-Ghazeleh
5. And, for the workers at Arizona and Alabama:
Mr. Carl H. Lindner
This alert was prepared March 25, 1998 by the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project, PO Box 268-290, Chicago, IL 60626. Tel: 773-262-6502; Fax: 773-262-6602; E-m: firstname.lastname@example.org