Date: Sat, 4 Sep 1999 00:18:35 -0500 (CDT)
Honduran workers tear-gassed and beaten while supporting striking Kimi workers
Grassroots Media Network, 4 September 1999
Workers from neighboring maquila (assembly-for-export) factories who refused to go to work in a stirring show of solidarity for striking workers at the Kimi factory in Continental Park in Honduras were tear-gassed and beaten Monday morning, August 30 by anti-riot police. Many workers were taken to local hospitals in nearby San Pedro Sula.
As of Monday afternoon, the situation was calm and remained so on Tuesday, August 31. On Wednesday, at the urging of the Kimi workers, the other workers in the park returned to work.
The confrontation took place following a weekend blockade of Continental Park gates by Kimi workers, who were protesting Kimi management's refusal to respect the collective bargaining negotiated by the Kimi union, SITRAKIMIH, earlier this year. It is the only collective bargaining agreement in the eight-factory Continental Park.
Kimi is a long-time supplier for JC Penney. Other U.S. companies sourcing from Continental Park include The Gap, Phillips-Van Heusen, Kohl's, Dayton-Hudson, Salant, Gear for Sports and American Eagle. Kimi workers had shut the park down on Friday and Saturday, August 27/28, by blocking entrances. They dispersed later in the weekend. When they returned on Monday, riot police were lined up in front of the gates to allow workers to enter the industrial park. But in an act of widespread solidarity, most workers refused to enter the park, even though Kimi workers encouraged them to do so. A representative from a local radio station then arrived and reportedly used a megaphone to lead the workers in chants. Without provocation, police then attacked the workers with tear gas and clubs.
Kimi management met with the union on Monday evening but demanded that the union's leadership be removed as a condition for negotiations. A second meeting on Tuesday, August 31 again produced no progress, with Kimi saying that other maquila operators in the park are threatening to close their plants if the Kimi union leadership returns. Removal of the union leadership would be tantamount to destroying the union, and the workers have rejected this demand. The negotiations have been convened by the Honduran Labor Ministry and are being observed by the Honduran Maquila Association.
Earlier, on Saturday, August 28, owners of the other maquilas operating in the park published an ad in the newspaper owned by Continental Park owner and presidential candidate Jaime Rosenthal warning that the Kimi conflict was threatening the future of the park and blaming outside agitators and foreigners for a potential loss of jobs. The ad came in response to the park's shutdown the previous day and was a clear attempt to threaten park workers not to support the Kimi workers. This attempt failed miserably when workers refused to enter the park Monday morning despite police escort.
Workers at Continental Park are becoming increasingly militant in supporting efforts to improve conditions and wages by forming unions. On August 16, workers at a second factory in the park, Yoo Yang, filed an application for union recognition. Maquila operators in the park, most of whom are Korean, are no doubt nervous about the growing efforts by workers in the park to exercise their basic right to organize.
The union at Kimi, SITRAKIMIH, is affiliated to the International Textile, Garment and Leather Workers Federation, an international trade secretariat of apparel unions which, along with UNITE, has been providing on-going support to the union.
Earlier this year the SITRAKIMIH union won the only collective bargaining agreement in Continental Park after a two-and-a-half year struggle. But a month later park owner Rosenthal refused to renew Kimi's lease, reportedly telling Honduran TV he would never allow a union in his industrial park. Kimi management then announced it would close the factory in the Park and relocate at a distance too far for most workers. [See CLR alert posted June 21, 1999.]
An international outcry directed at both Rosenthal and Kimi management ensued. When construction of the new plant fell far behind schedule, Kimi used the opportunity to cancel the move and asked the union to help find a new location, one presumably acceptable to the union. A resolution of this issue appeared likely.
Discussions then began between the union and the company regarding the company's breaches of numerous clauses of the collective bargaining agreement. Negotiations seemed to be proceeding positively until August 18 when management stalked out of the meetings and the next day unilaterally imposed a wage change that broke an agreement reached in the negotiations.
The workers, angered by the company's continued lack of compliance with the collective bargaining agreement, its reversal of the agreed-upon pay schedule and its cutting off of discussions with the union, stopped working and occupied the factory. Management remained inside the factory until later that afternoon when the police escorted them out.
The owners then refused to meet with the workers to resolve the situation, despite requests from the Honduran Labor Ministry that they do so. Instead, Kimi sought to have the union leaders arrested and jailed on charges of sedition, kidnaping and more.
These charges clearly have been made to deflect attention from Kimi's continuing refusal to respect its workers' internationally respected rights to free association and collective bargaining.
ACTION REQUESTSWhile the workers have been attempting to find a resolution to this conflict, Kimi is attempting to bust the union by demanding the firing (and/or arrest) of the union's leaders.
Contact both the Honduran and Korean governments and urge them to persuade Kimi to negotiate a resolution as well as to abide by its collective bargaining agreement with the union.
(Note: Contacting the Korean government can be an effective tactic because the Korean embassies in Central America largely serve to support Korean investment in the maquiladora sector in the region. Korean-owned maquiladoras account for as much as 50% of production in some countries.)
We have suggested contacting both governments' respective embassies in Washington since it is much cheaper and easier than faxing or writing Honduras. As an alternative to faxing the Honduran embassy, you can call that embassy in Washington at (202) 966-7702.
PLEASE send a brief note to Campaign for Labor Rights by email <CLR@igc.org or fax (541) 431-0523 notifying us if you respond to this alert ... and please include your city and state (or country, if not the U.S.) Thank you!
I. Sample letter to the Honduran government (Use as-is or adapt.)
The Honorable Hugo Noe Pino
Dear Ambassador Noe Pino:
On August 30, anti-riot police attacked maquiladora workers at Continental Park in La Lima with tear gas and clubs. Many workers were hurt and taken to hospitals. The workers had refused to go to work, in a show of support for Kimi workers who were peacefully demonstrating outside the Continental Park gates.
I deplore this excessive use of violence against unarmed workers. For nearly three years workers at the Kimi maquiladora in Continental Park in Honduras have sought economic justice and dignity. In March of this year they finally obtained the only collective bargaining agreement in the park. Since then, however, they have been subject to threats to close the factory and move it to Buffalo and a failure by management to abide by the contract.
On August 18 the workers went on strike in protest against management's continuing refusal to respect the collective bargaining agreement.
Given the long struggle of the Kimi workers to obtain a collective bargaining agreement, it appears that Kimi management has provoked this confrontation. While the workers are trying to negotiate a resolution, Kimi is refusing to do so and instead is seeking to effectively destroy the union by removing its leadership.
We respectfully urge the Honduran government to use every means at its disposal to mediate a resolution between management and the union, to ensure that Kimi abides by its legally-binding collective bargaining agreement and to ensure that the basic rights of all maquila workers at Continental Park are respected.
For a brief time, it had appeared that Continental Park and its tenant Kimi were in the process of becoming an example of a free trade zone where basic rights would be respected, offering itself as a model for U.S. customers and U.S. companies that are increasingly concerned about the conditions under which apparel for the U.S. market is made. Now, this is in doubt.
As you know, the U.S. Congress is considering new trade benefits for Central America's maquiladora sector and many people are watching the Kimi situation and Continental Park for evidence that workers can exercise their basic rights. I hope that it can be a positive example rather than a negative one.
II. Draft letter to the Korean government (Use as-is or adapt.)
Dear Ambassador Lee:
I write to you about an urgent matter involving a Korean-owned maquiladora in Honduras.
On August 30, workers at the Continental Park in Lima, Honduras were attacked by Honduran anti-riot police with tear gas and clubs. In support of striking workers at the Kimi plant - which, like most of the factories in the park, is Korean-owned - workers from the other factories had refused to go to work in the Park.
The Kimi workers were striking in protest against the company's refusal to honor a collective bargaining agreement signed with the Kimi union in March, 1999. The company had twice broken off negotiations initiated to resolve this situation and has provoked the workers to strike to win respect for their basic rights.
Following this violent confrontation, Kimi managers met with the union on August 30 and August 31 but stated that they have refused to negotiate unless the union's leadership is fired . These terms are, of course, unacceptable to the union.
Kimi is also saying that other Korean operators in the park will leave if the Kimi union leadership is not fired.
We respectfully urge your government to: (1) urge Kimi management to sit down and negotiate an acceptable resolution of this matter; and (2) urge the other Korean operators in Continental Park to immediately issue a public statement that they respect the rights of their workers and welcome the return of the Kimi workers, the union and its leaders. Thank you for your consideration of my views.
The Grassroots Media Network
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