Date: Wed, 23 Jun 1999 17:36:38 -0500 (CDT)
New Honduran Union Victory in Jeopardy
Labor Alerts, 21 June 1999
On March 19, 1999 workers at the Kimi maquiladora in Honduras finally won their two-and-a-half year struggle to obtain a collective bargaining agreement. Their contract was the first in their free trade zone, and one of the few in the Honduran maquila industry.
But their victory may be short-lived.
The Kimi factory is located in Continental Park in Lima, near San Pedro Sula, Honduras. The Park, which has eight maquiladoras owned and operated by other employers (all but one Korean) is owned and managed by one of the most powerful families in Honduras, headed by Jaime Rosenthal.
Less than a month after the union's contract agreement, Mr. Rosenthal told Kimi management that he would not renew the lease of the factory in August. The reason? He doesn't want a union in his industrial park, and reportedly stated this position on Honduran TV.
After an initial outburst protesting Rosenthal's effort to make his park "union-free," Rosenthal said he would allow the factory to stay if the National Labor Committee stated publicly that there were no worker rights violations at the Kimi factory. This transparent effort to recast his opposition to the Kimi factory's presence from anti-union to pro-worker has fooled no one, including the Honduran Maquila Association, which recently admitted to workers that Rosenthal wanted Kimi out of the park because it had become unionized.
Nevertheless, the NLC issued the requested declaration and Rosenthal then stated that Kimi could stay - but with unacceptable conditions. First, he agreed to let Kimi stay for only one year and, second, he said Kimi's General Manager would not be allowed to enter the park.
Meanwhile, Kimi management, unsure of its future at the park and concerned it could be kicked out at any point given Rosenthal's belligerent attitude, signed a contract at a new location far from the park. The new factory location, which was not negotiated with the union and which was dumped on the workers with a surprise announcement, would add considerable travel distance for workers, many of whom already have to travel a good ways to get to Lima. The union says that most workers will not be able to make the move, thus destroying the union.
Whether or not there was overt collusion between Rosenthal and Kimi is not clear. What is clear is that the ultimate effect of their respective actions will be to destroy the union and the new collective bargaining agreement. At this point, the primary responsibility must be borne by Mr. Rosenthal, who is effectively kicking Kimi out of his park.
The Kimi workers have reacted militantly to these developments, engaging in a work slowdown, hanging banners throughout the factory, and talking with other workers in the park to warn them that if Kimi leaves, they can forget about organizing efforts to improve conditions and wages.
Mr. Rosenthal is running for President of Honduras in next year's elections. His business interests are extensive. Together these facts can provide some leverage to persuade Mr. Rosenthal to welcome Kimi staying with open arms and no preconditions. But direct communication to Mr. Rosenthal is needed now.
Please copy, sign and send the following letter to Jaime Rosenthal and please send the signature portion of your letter (not this whole alert!) to Campaign for Labor Rights: <CLR@igc.org> or fax: (541) 431-0523. Mr. Rosenthal's daughter, Patty Rosenthal, manages the park on a day-to-day basis. You can contact the Rosenthals via her email address or by mail or the fax number listed below.
Ing. Jaime Rosenthal
Dear Mr. Rosenthal:
I understand that you have created a situation which is forcing the only maquiladora with a collective bargaining agreement in your Continental Park to leave.
Under the circumstances, I view your actions in obtaining Kimi's departure as a violation of the internationally-recognized right of workers to organize unions and to obtain collective bargaining agreements.
While you have recently reversed your public stance and stated that Kimi can stay, you have set unacceptable conditions for Kimi. Moreover, Kimi has now made other lease arrangements given your earlier statements and actions. International opinion will hold you responsible if the Kimi union is destroyed and its contract nullified.
I know that you have the power and capacity to resolve this situation in a way that is beneficial to all. I urge you to assist Kimi in staying at your park without preconditions and to assist Kimi in getting out of the lease at the new site.
You are no doubt aware that there is growing movement in the United States to support the rights of maquiladora workers. Should the Kimi union collapse because the company was effectively forced out of your park, the park would become an unacceptable location for U.S. apparel firms which have codes of conduct, are part of the Apparel Industry Partnership or are in any other way pledged to ensure that basic rights of workers at their contractor facilities are respected.
I sincerely hope that you can work out an acceptable resolution to this situation as soon as possible before this case becomes the focus of a major international campaign.
[Information provided by the U.S./Labor Education in the Americas Project (US/LEAP): (773) 262-6502, <firstname.lastname@example.org>]
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