Nicaragua Maquila Organizing Hangs in Balance
Labor Alerts, 6 February 1998
The future of trade union organizing in the Free Trade Zone in Managua, Nicaragua, appears to hang in the balance today as workers await word on whether the Nicaraguan Labor Ministry will recognize the recently organized union in the Taiwanese-owned Chentex Garment Factory, which employs 2,000 workers. The factory has sewn garments for JC Penney, Wal-Mart, and Kmart, and most recently, Bugle Boy pants. According to organizers of the Federation of Textile, Garment, Leather and Shoe Workers (CST), if the Chentex union is recognized, that recognition - when added to the recognition in the Fortex and Jem III factories - will go a long way toward paving the way for the unionization of the entire Free Trade Zone. At the same time, denial of recognition will mean continuation of what has been an uphill struggle for Central American union organizers in a sector understood globally to be hostile to unionization.
On February 5, the Inspector General of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Labor, Dr. Emilio Noguera, visited the Chentex factory. He met with management and officials of the factory's recently formed trade union, telling them that under no circumstances was the Labor Ministry going to permit the legalization of that union. He also stated that the Ministry of Labor would allow massive firings if the workers carried out another strike. The visit came one day before the Labor Ministry was obliged by law either to legally recognize the Chentex union or to explain why requirements had not been met.
Union organizers accuse Chentex management of threatening workers who are union leaders within the factory and otherwise violating the agreement reached last week when 1,800 workers held a day-long work stoppage. Virtually the entire workforce had gone on strike on January 26 protesting the firing of 21 of the 90 workers who had signed up for the union. The firings took place the day after papers seeking legal recognition for the union had been filed with the Labor Ministry, amid accusations that the Labor Ministry had turned the workers names over to factory management.
[Note from Campaign for Labor Rights: Many people do not have access to a fax machine. Also, many labor rights violations are crises requiring an immediate reaction. To find out how to subscribe to the Labor Defense Network (which will send faxes in your name in response to violations of workers' rights in Mexico and Central America), contact (202) 544-9355 or <email@example.com>.]
At this crucial moment for garment assembly plant organizing in Central America, send a fax to the Nicaraguan Minister of Labor asking for legal recognition of the union in the Chentex Garment Factory. A sample letter
Dear Mr. Navarro:
I am writing to express my concern about the situation in one of the factories of the Las Mercedes Industrial Free Trade Zone in Managua. Workers at the Chentex Garment Factory have organized a union and filed the required papers seeking legal recognition for that union. The deadline for the Labor Ministry to give legal recognition to the union is February 6. I urge you to recognize the union with a minimum of delay. I am also disturbed about threats made by Labor Ministry Inspector General Dr. Emilio Noguera to workers who are union leaders at the Chentex Garment Factory. According to reports, he stated that the Ministry of Labor was not going to permit the legalization of any union in the Chentex factory. He evidently also stated that the Labor Ministry would allow massive firings if the workers carried out another strike. I urge you to disavow these threats made by Dr. Noguera and ensure that Chentex factory management abide by the agreement signed together with the workers on January 26. Sincerely,
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