From firstname.lastname@example.org Fri Jan 14 07:56:25 2000
Union-busting at Jem III
Labor Alerts, 12 January 2000
At least 65 workers at the Jem III garment factory in Managua's Las Mercedes free trade zone have been fired recently for participating in a strike which took place in late November/early December. The most recent firings are part of a wave of downsizing.
Those fired include nearly the entire union leadership at the factory, almost every rank-and-file union member and a number of union sympathizers. There are rumors that management has prepared a blacklist of fired workers for circulation throughout the free trade zone.
Several Witness For Peace delegations have visited the Jem III factory which, until recently, had one of the better records of worker treatment in Nicaragua's free trade zone. The situation has deteriorated significantly since early December.
In December, management switched workers from their usual assignments to lines where their income would decrease, in violation of Nicaragua's labor code. Workers soon went on strike. Management had sought to have the strike declared illegal but, in an historic first in Nicaragua's maquiladora sector, the Ministry of Labor ruled the strike legal. Management promised retaliation against workers who had participated in the strike. It has now made good on that threat.
Reports vary as to whether 260 workers out of the factory's normal workforce of 400 already have been fired (Witness for Peace report) or whether 65 have been fired so far out of a total of 260 who are at risk (Nicaragua Network report). The firings are being spread out over several dates, leading labor organizers to suspect that the company divided up the firings so as to minimize worker resistance. The most recent round of firings included all of the remaining members of the union's board of directors, except for one woman who is pregnant. [Nicaragua's labor laws make firing pregnant women harder than firing other workers.]
Jem III is part of the JEM Sportswear company, based in San Fernando, California. It produces clothing for Wal-Mart. There are rumors that JEM Sportswear owner Jeffrey Marine hopes to sell Jem III to the owner of another factory in the free trade zone (Rocedes S.A.) and that he wants to eliminate the union to make the factory more attractive to the potential buyer.
Pedro Ortega, General Secretary of the CST Garment Workers Federation, said that the union has submitted two appeals asking the Ministry of Labor to guarantee the re-hiring of the fired workers. Ortega reports that the events at Jem III are not taking place in isolation. At the Chih Hsing factory, management has gone to the Labor Ministry to seek to have the union organized by CST excluded from collective bargaining.
Jem III owner Jeffrey Marine accuses workers of property destruction during the strike. He says that Jem III has a right to dismiss strikers who acted unlawfully. However, Marine has not substantiated his claims through the legal procedures mandated by Nicaraguan labor law for dismissing workers and the Ministry of Labor did not authorize the recent dismissals. [Note: Labor law in Nicaragua and many other countries is much stronger than in the U.S. but falls short in enforcement.]
The Jem III workers have asked for international pressure on the factory's owner and management. Please copy, sign and mail or fax the following letter. Please also send the following information (not this entire alert!) to Campaign for Labor Rights at <CLR@igc.org> or fax: (541) 431-0523:
I have sent a letter to Jeffrey Marine at JEM Sportswear: Name: City/State (or Country if outside U.S.): Organization (if listed with your signature to the letter):
Note: Companies often unplug their faxes when they realize that they are receiving high volumes of protest letters.
Mr. Jeffrey A. Marine
Dear Mr. Marine:
Human rights organizations report that the union leadership and the members of the union at the Jem III factory in Managua, Nicaragua have been fired for participating in a strike in late November/early December. The Nicaraguan Ministry of Labor ruled the strike legal. Under the law, workers should not be fired for taking part in a legal strike.
In response to inquiries, you have stated that some strikers engaged in acts of property destruction in the factory and you have implied that the Labor Ministry supports those claims as a basis for dramatically reducing the Jem III workforce. However, Labor Vice-Minister Roberto Moreno has told journalists that the Labor Ministry has not authorized any cancellation of labor contracts for workers at Jem III.
I urge you to reinstate the fired workers at the Jem III factory and to negotiate in good faith with the union that has been organized there and legally recognized by the Ministry of Labor.
Rumors suggest that you hope to sell the factory and plan to make it more attractive to potential buyers by first eliminating the presence of the union. Human rights organizations tracking this case have stated that their interest in Jem III will not end with a transfer of ownership. Destroying the union will only result in a factory in crisis. Any prospective buyer of the factory would know that it faces unrest by workers, pressure from the international human rights community and concern on the part of customers (the major garment companies) about labor abuses in the factories where their clothes are made. A factory with good relations between union and management is a more valuable asset.
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[Information provided by the Nicaragua Network: (202) 544-9355, <email@example.com>, Witness for Peace: (202) 588-1471, <firstname.lastname@example.org> and the National Labor Committee: (212) 242-3002, <email@example.com>]