Date: Sun, 5 Sep 2004 23:34:23 -0500 (CDT)
From: Michael Givel <>
Subject: [progchat_action] Chiquita Banana Workers Need Your Support
Article: 189787
To: undisclosed-recipients: ;

Chiquita Banana Workers Need Your Support

From Michael Given, 5 September 2004

Chiquita Banana Workers in La Lima and El Progreso Honduras ask for your solidarity in supporting their contract negotiations with the Tela Rail Road Company, a subsidiary of Chiquita Brands. Please contact Chiquita Brands, Honduras division and Ask them to be a responsible company and sign a fair contract with the workers in the fields and the packaging areas.

The struggle of the banana workers

The labor union Sindicato de Trabajadores de la Tela Railroad Company (SITRATERCO), which represents about 2000 banana workers in the north coast of Honduras, has been negotiating a contract with the company for 12 months now without any agreement. Despite immense profits, the company refuses to agree to a salary increase and improvements in healthcare. Chiquita also seeks to make drastic changes to the work environment, which would result in the reduction of the workforce and increased workload for the remaining workers. The company profits are immense compared to layoffs and speedups, low wages, poor living conditions and health problems that the workers and their families suffer due to low wages, pesticides and other chemicals that are sprayed on workers and their living areas.

The workers demand a 75% wage increase above the minimum wage of $4.91 dollars to $8.60 dollars per day (L89.50 Lempiras to L156.97 Lempiras per day). Workers need higher wages in order to afford the high cost of living and the high cost of the health care, which the company used to cover in its totality. This wage increase will also help workers pay for the homes they are forced to move to in the new development called San Juan near La Lima, since the company is closing down the worker living quarters it has maintained for many years. The workers can now own titles to the land on which their houses sit but the housing prices are unaffordable to the workers. Recently the company received the '2004 Corporate Citizen of the America's Award' because it built these houses; unfortunately the high cost of the houses is a great burden to workers whose wages are too low to lift them out of poverty.

Even though union members have not totally lost the health care service, it has been greatly reduced to the detriment of the workers. One worker explains if you have to have an X-ray done they send you to another place and one has to pay from our own pockets, before they would take care of everything in the hospital. The company claims that it has sold the hospital and this is why the benefits have been greatly reduced. Health care is crucial for workers and their families since there are many respiratory conditions and dermatological illnesses caused by the same chemicals the company sprays on the fields and uses in the packing areas. Also, there is a large number of women working in the packing areas that have developed cancer form exposure. Health care is very expensive for workers who only make minimum wage.

In addition to work restructuring, the offer from the company was to pay 0.28 cents of a dollar with and 0.006 cent of dollar as incentive for a box (Caja Integral) packed with quality (L5.25 Lempiras with 0.11cents of Lempira as incentive). The workers, men in the fields cutting bananas and the women in the packing houses, barely manage to make the minimum wage of $4.91 dollars for 8 hours of work (L89.70 Lempiras). In spite of the fact that they fill many containers with each with 960 boxes of 20 to 22 kilos of Chiquita bananas every day, they do not make more than the minimum wage.

The new work system proposed by the company is called: Caja Integral con Juntero y Halador (Integral Box with 'Liftman' and 'Pullman'), and consists of integrating the work of workers in the fields cutting the bananas with the work of workers in the department of packing by paying them the same amount for cutting the fruit and for the packaging of the fruit. Currently, the workers are paid by unit, for each stem cut they make $0.03 cents of a dollar (L0.68 cents of Lempira). A worker cuts anywhere between 160 (on a slow day) to 200 (on a heavy day) stems per day. Each stem (racimo) weighs anywhere from 70 to 100 pounds with the stem and does not necessarily fill a box. By paying for the box packed the workers lose because instead of paying for work performed, or stems cut and stems packed, they are paying for the final outcome, the packed box and the container filled. A worker explained, if from one stem you only are able to fill 90% of the box then the box is worth less. Now, if I cut a stem they give one price. Under the new plan if I cut one stem and it does not fill one box the worker looses, we all loose.

The other component of Caja Integral proposal involves what the company calls Juntero y Halador, with this new process the company intends a return to the working conditions of the beginning of the last century. 'Liftman' is the man that actually carries the stem once its cut by the 'cutter' to the hanging cable for transport to the packing areas and a 'Pullman' is the man that operates the hanging motor that pulls the cable with the stems into the packing areas. Chiquita wants the worker, the 'pullman' to pull the product from the field where the workers cut the bananas to the packing areas by tying a rope around their torso and pulling the product a distance of 3 kilometers or more. Currently, the hanging fruit is transported by an electrically powered hanging motor. A member of the union explains it this way: the fruit is pulled by a hanging motor; now they (the company) want the men to pull the fruit with a rope wrapped around the abdomen we consider this proposed change backward technology because first we used a machine and now the strength of man. They (the company) think that this way there will be better quality. The worker refers to the company's tactic of putting the responsibility for the quality of the product solely on the workers by using this rudimentary system of transport the objective is to protect the banana stems from damage when transported to the packaging area. The process of transporting the fruit with the use of human strength is another example of the long history of exploitation that this company has in the north coast of Honduras. The company wants to negotiate Caja Integral and replace the motorized transport system only to have human beings pull more than 20 stems of bananas each weighing up to 100 pounds with their own backs. Chiquita Brands seeks to eliminate its social responsibility towards the workers and the Honduran community, as it has been their practice for more than 100 years. Some believe the company is taking advantage of the dire conditions left by Hurricane Mitch (1998) to win concessions from the workers. The conditions the workers faced after Hurricane Mitch, including flooding, lack of food and water, destroyed fincas and a decline on union membership, gave the company the advantage it needed to introduce to the negotiating table of this contract the pay per box system, or Caja Integral (Integral Box with 'Liftman' and 'Pullman').

The workers admit that great improvement has been achieved in their lives thanks to their own struggle and efforts. Yet much remains to be accomplished, for example two weeks the union went on a two day strike asking for the reinstatement of five workers unjustly fired by the company when they protested the lack of transport to their work, a responsibility of the company. One worker in one of the fincas remarks, it is by our own efforts that we have won many improvements, they (the company) do not give us anything.

Now the company and the union, SITRATERCO will be negotiating with the aid of a government mediator to see if the negotiations advance from the impasse. The workers ask that the mediator be from the proximity of San Pedro Sula and not from Tegucigalpa (hundreds of miles away) because this will insure that the mediator be present all week and help the negotiations advance.

Many have worked here for more than thirty years and their parents and grandparents have left their lives in the fields of the Municipios of La Lima and El Progreso. Now, the same workers ask Chiquita for fair wages, wages representative of the life and work performed with sacrifice. They want a better life not just for them, but also for their children. The Chiquita workers also ask you for your support in their struggle, one phone call, fax or e-mail from you or your organization will let the company know that the international community is watching their international labor practices.

Chiquita Banana Workers in La Lima and El Progreso Honduras ask for your solidarity un supporting their contract negotiations with the Tela Rail Road Company, subsidiary of Chiquita Brands. Please contact Chiquita Brands, Honduras division and Ask them to be a responsible company and sign a fair contract with the workers in the fields and the packing houses.

Solidarity Action

What can you do to help the workers of the banana industry in Honduras?

In Honduras contact:

Alexander Vallecillo, Manager of Labor Relations for Tela RRCo (Chiquita Brands)

Tel. (504)-668-2521 ext.6 s ext. 7

(or call and ask to be transferred to Alexander Vallecillo's extension) Fax-(504)-668-2435

In the United States:

Chiquita Brands International, Inc. Michael Mitchell (U.S.), 513-784-8959, George Jaksch (Europe), +32-3-203-9135,

(They can answer questions about the signing of the Freedom of Association, Minimum Labour Standards and Employment in Latin American Banana Operations agreement)

You can also send a message via their website telling them you support the SITRATERCO) workers in Honduras (look for the button that says Contact Us or Send E- mail):