Date: Tue, 3 Aug 1999 10:26:53 -0500 (CDT)
Support fired union leaders in Nicaragua
Labor Alerts, 2 August 1999
Workers at the Taiwanese-owned Chih Hsing factory in Nicaragua's Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone have asked for international support in their struggle to organize a union in the factory. Workers are demanding the reinstatement of fired union officers and recognition of their freedom to organize. The eight hundred workers at the factory carried out a four-day strike last week after twelve union leaders were fired by management. Over 1400 workers at the Chentex factory, owned by the same company which owns Chih Hsing, held a brief sympathy strike last week as well. The Nicaraguan Ministry of Labor issued a ministerial resolution ordering the company to reinstate the first four fired workers but the company has appealed the resolution. On July 28, the company and all 12 fired workers agreed to respect the labor code until the Labor Ministry decision on the appeal, which is expected very soon.
Union organizers are requesting that letters asking for prompt denial of the Chih Hsing appeal and confirming the order for reinstatement of the fired Chih Hsing workers be faxed to the Minister of Labor in Managua. (See below for a sample letter.)
The new union at the Chih Hsing factory was formally organized under the auspices of the CST (Sandinista Workers' Central) on July 16. Sixty workers signed up as members, substantially more than the 20 members required by law to form a union. Ten union officers were elected.
On July 20, the petition for legal recognition of the union was filed with the Ministry of Labor and the union was recognized that day. That same day, the company fired the first workers. In protest, the other workers turned off their machines in a peaceful work stoppage. On the morning of July 21, the workers came to work and continued the strike, staying at their work stations with their machines turned off. That afternoon the Labor Ministry declared the strike illegal because the workers had not submitted a petition to the Ministry explaining why they were on strike and what their demands were. According to Nicaraguan law, if a strike is declared illegal, workers have 48 hours to return to work before they can be fired.
On Thursday morning workers arrived to find the names of more fired workers tacked to the door of the factory. The total had risen to twelve. Factory management distributed the list of fired workers to all the other factories in the Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone. The workers would be blacklisted and prevented from ever working again in any of the 16 factories in the zone. The workers say that the firing is illegal because, under Nicaraguan law, if a union is legally recognized by the Ministry of Labor, its members cannot be fired for 90 days afterward.
On Monday, July 26, the workers returned to work, thus complying with the 48 hour limit given by the Ministry of Labor. On July 28, Lucas Wei Huang, manager of the factory, promised the Ministry that the company would respect its decision on the case.
Workers at the Chih Hsing factory make only about 11 cents for every $14.99 pair of Arizona Jeans they sew for JC Penney, averaging between 24 and 27 cents per hour. They often are required to work 70 hours a week and are cheated on their overtime pay. Workers are routinely denied permission to use the Social Security health clinic, though money is deducted from their wages for this service. Pregnant women are fired in an effort to avoid paying maternity benefits.
Please copy, sign and fax the Spanish language version of this letter to Nicaragua's Ministry of Labor (see translation below) and send the signature portion of the letter, with your name and address (not this entire alert!), to Campaign for Labor Rights at <CLR@igc.org> or fax: (541) 431-0523.
IF YOU DO NOT HAVE ACCESS TO A FAX, you can email us your name and address, which we will add to a sign-on letter being sent to the Ministry of Labor by the Nicaragua Network. If you want your name added to the letter sent by the Nicaragua Network, please indicate that clearly in your response.
Dr. Wilfredo Navarro
Estimado Dr. Navarro:
Por medio de la presente carta, quiero expresar mi profunda preocupacion por la situacion de los trabajadores despedidos de la Fabrica Chih Hsing en la Zona Franca Las Mercedes en Managua. Doce trabajadores han sido despedidos ilegalmente por apoyar la organizacion de un sindicato en la fabrica. Este sindicato fue legalmente reconocido por sus Ministerio. A pesar de eso, la gerencia se niega a reintegrarlos a sus puestos de trabajo. Le insto a negar la apelacion de la gerencia de la Fabrica Chih Hsing a su resolucion ministerial que mandaba la reintegracion de los trabajadores despedidos. Espero que sea reconocido el derecho a la libre sindicalizacion y que los dirigentes sindicales pronto esten de nuevo en sus puestos de trabajo.
Dr. Wilfredo Navarro
Dear Dr. Navarro:
I am writing to express my profound concern about the situation of the workers at the Chih Hsing factory in the Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone in Managua. Twelve workers have been illegally fired for supporting the formation of a union in the factory. This union has been recognized legally by your Ministry. In spite of this, management refuses to rehire the fired workers. I urge you to deny the appeal of Chih Hsing management of your ministerial order that mandated the rehiring of the fired workers. I hope that the right to organize freely will be recognized and that the fired workers will soon be back on the job.
LABOR DEFENSE NETWORK
The Labor Defense Network (LDN) was mobilized around the crisis at Chih Hsing. LDN is an emergency response system, sending faxes in the name of its member subscribers when there is a labor rights emergency in Mexico, Central America or the Caribbean. To have 6 faxes sent in your name during the year, send $25. For12 faxes, send $50. Members receive the monthly Urgent Action newsletter, which details all the recent mobilizations. To join, write a check to Labor Defense Network for $25 (6 messages) or $50 (12 messages) and send it to 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003. For more information, call (202) 544-9355 or write to <email@example.com>.
SECOND INSTALLMENT OF CLR ORGANIZING PACKET
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The 1999 Sweatshop Activist Organizing Packet is a multi-theme, multi-campaign packet for local activists organizing around sweatshop issues. Order by email <CLR@igc.org> or phone (541) 344-5410. Include your postal address: Packet is in hard copy. Packet includes a donation form and a return envelope. Suggested donation: $10.00.
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