/** reg.guatemala: 92.0 **/
Guatemalan Pepsi union seeks solidarity
From U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project, 30 July 1997
Summary: A three-year old union at the Pepsi bottling plant in Guatemala City is under attack. The firings were unexpected but have occurred just as the union submitted a new contract proposal; several of those fired are involved in the contract negotiations. On July 15, management of Embotelladora Mariposa, S.A. (EMSA) illegally fired 28 members of the union SITRAEMSA in a surprise assault on the union. The union is requesting international pressure to secure reinstatement of the workers and respect for the union. The union is affiliated to FESTRAS, the foodworkers union of Guatemala, which is affiliated to the International Union of Foodworkers in Geneva.
SITRAEMSA obtained recognition and a contract in 1994 in part because of pressure from the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) trade probation that had been imposed on Guatemala by the U.S. at the urging of Guatemalan trade unions and groups like the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project. In 1993 union members reported death threats, intimidation, and other attacks on the union. The SITRAEMSA struggle became an important GSP issue for the U.S. government in 1994 and shortly afterwards the company negotiated a contract, which will expire in October. GSP probation was ended in May.
Thirty-five administrative personnel were fired at the same time at the 28 union members. However, the only non-administrative personnel fired were union members, although the majority of the non- administrative workers are not members of the union. The plant has 1,300 employees, approximately 360 of whom belong to the union.
The 28 union members were fired effective immediately, without prior notice. The company then began pressuring all 28 to sign letters of resignation and to accept severance pay, thereby relinquishing any further claims against the company.
The union asserts that the firings constitute a reprisal against its members and are directly related to the fact that the union had just presented the company with a proposal for a new contract. The company claims that they were merely reducing personnel, citing increased competition and the need to streamline.
However, the union points out that immediately after firing the 28 salaried workers, the company hired 75 new people on a temporary basis to fill the same slots; the company apparently expected the union to react to the dismissals with a work stoppage and wanted to prepare itself by hiring almost three times the number of fired non- administrative workers. This seriously undermines its claim that the firings were simply a personnel reduction. After the firings, the union called for a meeting of the "Junta Mixta" (as per the standard grievance procedure), which met on July 21. However, the company refused to review the firings at the meeting, asserting that since the firings weren't of a disciplinary nature, there was no reason to discuss them in the Junta Mixta. Instead, the company cites article 69 of the Labor Code, which allows them to terminate a work contract without cause. But according to Guatemalan law, the collective contract supersedes the Labor Code and has the force of law once it is signed by both parties. In addition, according to the union, the company needed to give the workers 15 days notice before terminating their contract, which would give the union a chance to use grievance procedures to try to negotiate a resolution.
Two Labor Ministry inspectors, Pedro Boror Lopez and Mario Rodolfo Morales Solares, presented themselves at the plant on July 15 at the request of the union. However, the union says that the labor inspectors didn't interview the fired workers or other workers who witnessed the manner in which they were fired, and only visited the company's personnel office. The union sent a letter of complaint to the Labor Ministry dated July 21. No action had been taken by the Labor Ministry as of July 29.
ACTS OF PRESSURE AND INTIMIDATION
The union claims that immediately prior to the firings, the company installed video surveillance equipment in the production area of the plant; that workers who were to be fired that day were greeted at the entrance to the plant by heavily armed guards who escorted them to their lockers so that they could retrieve their belongings and then escorted to the personnel office where they were pressured to sign letters of resignation and accept severance pay; that sales workers were fired on their routes by two administrative personnel accompanied by a lawyer, and likewise pressured to sign letters of resignation and accept severance pay. At least two workers were fired in their own homes when administrative personnel and a lawyer showed up at their homes before dawn to notify them that they had been fired.
These measures were presumably taken in order to surprise the workers and pressure them into relinquishing their rights before they'd had a chance to consult with the union. To date, only three of the 28 have signed letters of resignation and accepted severance. The company has since sent a series of telegrams to the homes of the fired workers inviting them to come pick up their severance checks (and, of course, to sign the letter of resignation which is a condition for being paid), and has, according to the union, even gone so far as to visit the wives of some of the fired workers at their homes, asking them to appeal to their husbands to accept severance on the company's terms.
The company appears to have used a real downsizing in the administrative department as a cover for attacking the union in advance of negotiations for a new collective contract. The company is aware of the role that GSP pressure played in helping the union win its first contract, and is also aware that the possibilities for GSP pressure are much more limited right now. It's reasonable to assume that it has taken this action with full knowledge of the favorable political context. This case can be seen as an opening salvo from the business community now that GSP probation has been lifted, and as such is an important test.
The union demands that the 25 fired workers who haven't accepted severance be reinstated immediately, and requests that protest messages be sent to, among others:
Enrique Castillo Monge, President, Corporacion Mariposa,
If possible, send copies of your above letters to:
CACIF (the business roundtable); fax: (502) 334-7025; and
Ms. Geraldine Chester, U.S. Embassy; fax: 502-331-0564
They also request that messages of support be sent to:
SITRAEMSA, Calzada Raul Aguilar Batres 44-31, Zona 12,
--prepared by the U.S./Guatemala Labor Education Project