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Interview with Gladis, worker at Legumex/Tierra Fria

February 25, 2007  |  Share

Sunday, February 25, 2007


(Worker's name has been changed to protect her identity.)

NLC:  Thank you for agreeing to this interview.

Gladis:  Thank you for helping us to study and come here and everything that you've given us.

NLC:  Our hope is to improve conditions in the factory too, so that you get paid the minimum wage, get paid overtime correctly, so that the workers get their Social Security.   So that is what we are going to be working on, to try to improve conditions in the factory.  So that is why we are going to ask these questions...

So, yesterday, you (the workers) spoke about a particular village where the workers from there work every day until 9:00....from the village of San Jacinto. 

Gladis:  Yes, the workers from there enter at 6:00 in the morning and don't leave until 9:00 or sometimes until 11:00 at night.  One time their bus broke down and they had to return walking and didn't get back until 2:00.

NLC:  But why do the people from San Jacinto work these long hours?

Gladis:  Everything that they are told, they do it.  They never speak up.  If they tell them to stay until 11:00, they stay, and the hours that they stay, they only pay them 6 Quetzals [78 cents U.S.] from 6:00 to 9:00.

NLC:  How many workers are there that are working those hours.

Gladis:  Forty.

NLC:  So about 40 workers.... and is it every night?  Do they actually start at 6:00 a.m. or at 6:30, 7:00?

Gladis: The ones from San Jacinto start at 6:00.  The ones from close to here, Parramos, El Tejado, Chimaltenango start to work at 6:30.

NLC:  San Jacinto is far away?

Gladis:  I really don't know where it is.

NLC:  They work until 7:00, 8:00, 9:00 every night?

Gladis:  When they leave at 10:00 at night, the next day they get out at 5:00 in the afternoon.

NLC: Is this the first factory she is working or she had work in other factory?

Gladis: I worked in a house and in piece rate making "Abas doradas" and beans.

NLC:  This was in a factory or in a house?

Gladis: In a house.

NLC: How long have you worked in Tierra Fria?

Gladis:  I'm been working there for 3 months, I worked there before but this last time I started 3 months ago.

NLC: When did you work there before?

Gladis:  In August. 

NLC: And have you worked there for a short time?

Gladis:  I've worked for 3 month as well.

NLC: Why did you need to leave, or were you fired?

Gladis:  Yeah, because I went down below and there was a man who wanted to take me by force and my father didn't let me go back.

NLC:   How old are you now?

Gladis:  In January I turn 17 years old.

NLC: Do you work in the preparation?

Gladis:  The ones in preparation are doing melon and I'm doing peas.

NLC: So you work on peas?

Gladis:  When I do pineapple they send 20 of us to do pineapple.

NLC: What exactly in your job in peas?

Gladis:  It's Chinese peas and I classify them, the ones that have no spots at all become first class and they go for fresh and the ones that have little spots are second class and those go to the frozen peas.

NLC:  And do you have a production quota, of how many you have do an hour?

Gladis:   Forty pounds an hour, the supervisor wants.  But if the products isn't good, the supervisor chastises us and says why don't you hurry up.  But if the product isn't good you can't find the 40 pounds.

NLC:  Each do 40 pounds by yourself?

Gladis:  Yes, me alone.

NLC:  Standing up?

Gladis:  Yes, standing up the whole day.

NLC:  And does a conveyor belt come by with the product?

Gladis:  No.  Just like that table over there.  They get poured on top of a table and one goes looking for the bad ones and puts them in one box and the good ones go in another box.... and then what happens is that if some bad ones get through, the people in processing find them, and there, they pass by on a machine [conveyor belt].

NLC:  Can you make that production goal?

Gladis:  No.  Sometimes we only make 20,000 pounds among all of us, and the supervisor scolds us, calls all of us....and says that those from San Jacinto are the best, and always divides us into the table of the "lazy ones" [huevonas] and the table of the "more-or-less" [laughs].

NLC:  Do they yell at the workers to go faster?

Gladis:  Yes, they scream at us.  "Hurry up!  If you want to leave at 5:00 or 5:30 you have to hurry.  If not then you'll leave at 7:00 or 8:00."

NLC:  What time do you usually get out?

Gladis:  I get out at 6:30, and there's no bus to my house.  It leaves us there at the Bimbo [store] and from there we have to walk.

NLC:  When do you enter the factory.

Gladis:  Sometimes I go in at 6:30, something like that, because if we go in at 7:00 they chastise us.

NLC:  But you actually start work at 7:00?

Gladis:  No, at 6:45.

NLC:  You actually have to start at 6:45?

Gladis:  Yes.

NLC:  So you are working from 6:45 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.

Gladis:  Yes.  There's just a half hour for lunch and fifteen minutes snack break.

NLC:  When was the last time that a supervisor screamed at you to go faster.

Gladis:  Well, they don't scream just at me, but at everybody—every day, every day.

NLC:  Do you work five days a week...or what?

Gladis:  From Monday to Saturday, all day.... Like two weeks ago I asked permission to leave earlier on Saturday, and the big boss said yes, but then I didn't get paid right.

NLC:  You mean you didn't get paid for the hours you worked on Saturday?

Gladis:  For the whole day I didn't get paid.

NLC:  Is it almost every night you get out at 6:30, or sometimes do you get out earlier or later.

Gladis:  When the supervisors yell, "Hurry up.  Hurry up.  We are almost at goal," they give all of us permission to go, but at 5:30.

NLC:  And how often does that happen, that you can leave at 5:30?

Gladis:  Well most of the time, because they always give us a high goal.

NLC:  Most of the time you can leave at 5:30?

Gladis:  Well when the older women [last señoras] go, the señoras walk really fast and I say to the supervisor, "I'm going now" because the señoras walk really fast and I can't catch up with them.  So sometimes they say OK, go.  But sometimes they say no, because there is a lot of work, so I have to stay, and they don't let me go.

NLC:  So, most of the time you can leave at 5:30 but sometimes you work until 6:30?

Gladis:  Yes.  Now and again I leave at 5:30.

NLC:  On Saturdays you work until 6:30?

Gladis:  No.  Saturdays I leave at 5:30.

NLC:  Have you worked on Sundays?

Gladis:  These last two Sundays I haven't come in.  But those from San Jacinto have been working, but I haven't come. 

NLC:  So, you haven't come in these last two Sundays.  But, before?

Gladis:  Before, yes, I've come in to work.

NLC:  What do you get paid? What is your daily wage?

Gladis:  Q34.20 [$4.44]

NLC: And do you get paid by the hour or by piece.

Gladis:  Supposedly they pay by day, working from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the afternoon, that ends the day.  That's what the supervisor said.

NLC:  So they aren't paying you so-much a pound.

Gladis:  No.  They pay you for overtime or anything like that, just the day.

NLC:  So working from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 at night you only get Q34.20, or do they give overtime?

Gladis:  No.  No more, just Q34.20 for the whole day.

NLC:  And how much do you get paid for the 15-day period?

Gladis:  Well, this 15-days supposedly I'll get 513 [$66.62], and the one to come I earn 547 [$71.04].  [Note:  Workers are paid twice a month for work from the 1st to 15th, and for the 16th to 30th or 31st.  the Q547 would be for a 16-day pay period.]

NLC:  Why the difference?

Gladis:  They haven't told us why.

NLC:  Do you get tired at work?  Is it relatively easy, or hard?

Gladis:  Yes.  Well the supervisor says it's easy, but it isn't.  You have to be standing all day, the whole day and apart from that you have to be moving your hands the whole day.

NLC:  When you leave the factory, how do you feel.

Gladis:  Your feet can't bear it, from standing all day.  Also your back, sometimes your back hurts.

NLC:  Why back?

Gladis:  Because, for instance, when you're doing pineapple, you have to pull it out, and peel it and make really straight rounds with a knife you have to take out the heart.

NLC:  But how does that affect the back?

Gladis:  Because you are working all day with a knife.

NLC:  That's the hardest, the pineapple?

Gladis:  No.  Melon is harder.

NLC:  Why?

Gladis:  Because you have to split it and clean it out the inside very well and then make balls and balls all day long with your hands.  [She indicates the twisting motion necessary to make melon balls.]

NLC:  Is the floor wet or dry?

Gladis:  Damp, always soaked.  It's never dry...because every so often they put disinfectant down, they pour it on.

NLC:  It's like water?

Gladis:  Yes.  I don't know what it is, but they pour it [on the floor].

NLC:  Your feet get wet?

Gladis:  They've given us boots, aprons, masks, gloves....but those doing melon, they haven't given us anything, just gloves and hair nets.

NLC:  Why not?

Gladis:   They say the pineapple is more...more sweet and it leaves [burns] on ones hands, like this one.

NLC:  That's from pineapple?

Gladis:  Yes, see how it's burned there.... and you get these holes [blisters] as well.

NLC:  Is that with gloves or without gloves.

Gladis:  With gloves, because you have to cut it really straight, and Quality Control is there, and they tell you, "that's no good" or if it's good.  They go around measuring the pineapple.

NLC: But that's with gloves?  How does the pineapple get to the skin?

Gladis:   It's that cutting and cutting all day long, with the knife, rubs the's blisters. 

NLC:  When you are sorting the peas, what do you think about? 

Gladis:  What do I think about?   Well—about what time we'll leave, because they always say to us that if we don't hurry up we won't leave until 7:00, or they say if we hurry up we can get out at five.  So they always say, "if you want to get out early you have to hurry up.  And if you don't hurry you won't even earn your day's wage."

NLC:  Are there children working in the factory who are 13 years old or less?

Gladis:  13 and 14, yes, there are a lot.

NLC:  Any younger than that?

Gladis:  No.

NLC:  Are there 13 year-old workers that work next to you?  In your section?

Gladis:  No, there aren't because the 13 year old are from San Hacinto and they are kept apart and the ones from (?) and (?) are in another part.

NLC:  When you have a chance, what do you do for fun?

Gladis:  When we go for lunch we mess around with other girls, we make jokes, only for a while because at home nobody says anything.

NLC:  When you get home, you arrive so late you can't really go out or do much?

Gladis:  When I get home all I do is go take a bath and now that I'm studying I do my homework and then I go to bed at 9 or 9:30 p.m.

NLC:  When do you get up?

Gladis:  At 5:30 a.m.

NLC:  Do you have social security?  Can you go to the clinic?

Gladis:  No.  I don't know what you're talking about.

NLC:  Some workers were fired last Friday?

Gladis:  Yes, they were fired because a girl was saying they weren't going to pay the Friday and they got bothered — they were going to strike and the boss arrived and fired them right away, some he suspended until this Thursday.  He supposedly grabbed one girl by the hair because she answered him back.

NLC:  Are you normally paid on Fridays?

Gladis:  They are always behind 8 days.

NLC:  But you are generally paid on Fridays?

Gladis:  Yes, we get paid on Fridays.

NLC:  How can you live without getting your pay every two weeks?  You have to wait an extra week?

Gladis:  On Friday we get paid and the next week we have already finished our two weeks and they won't pay us for another two weeks. 

NLC:  Can you speak to each other at work?

Gladis:  No, you can't.  They don't let you.

NLC:  Why?

Gladis:  I don't know.  If we talk we won't hurry.  They say that if they put on the radio we won't work quickly.  They punish us with no radio for a week.

NLC:  You had music and now no?

Gladis:  Yes, we have music, but they turn it off for three hours and then put it back on as punishment.  If we talk it seems like a market in there and they yell at us.

NLC:  Can you use the bathrooms whenever you want to?

Gladis:  If one supervisor doesn't give me permission I ask the other and get permission.  There are four supervisors so if one says no then you go ask another supervisor until you get a yes.  When the work is normal then they let us go, but if not, then no.

NLC:  Are the bathrooms clean?

Gladis:  Before, but now there is a girl that does the cleaning and does not keep it clean.

NLC:  Do you have toilet paper and towels?

Gladis:  No, you have to bring your own paper.  The soap, there is some, but no paper.

NLC:  All the workers bring their own toilet paper?

Gladis:  Yes, all of us.

NLC:  Is there a cafeteria?

Gladis:  Yes, a big one.

NLC:  What do you eat for lunch?

Gladis:  I make my own at my house.  My mom buys chicken or pasta, soup, beans, eggs. 

NLC:  You bring lunch?

Gladis:  Yes.  Always.  Buying lunch with what one earns is impossible.

NLC:  Do you ever go out to Pollo Campero for fun on a pay day?

Gladis:  I have never gone to have fun because they don't pay until 4 p.m. and by the time you cash the check it's too late.

NLC:  So on pay days they let you leave at 4 p.m.?

Gladis:  Not until 5 p.m. to go cash in the check.  If we hurry we can leave at 4:30 p.m., if not, then at 5 p.m. 

NLC:  Even getting paid you can't go to Pollo Campero to buy some chicken?

Gladis:  It has never occurred to me to go there because, I don't know, I could go use all of my money there, but I need to help my parents out. 

NLC:  What is your dream?  If you could continue working, would you want to be the boss?

Gladis:  To be a secretary.

NLC:  What grade in school did you go through?

Gladis:  Last year I did not study.  This year, a teacher came to the factory and encouraged us to go to school, so now we go.  I finished primary school.  At the age of 14 I started studying.  At 15 I had graduated 1st through 4th.    At 16 I graduated from primary school.

NLC:  What is the worse thing at the factory?

Gladis:  I don't like the hours.  When we leave and how little they pay.

NLC:  Do you know what a union is?

Gladis:  No.

NLC:  Have you heard that our president George Bush is coming to Chimaltenango?

Gladis:  No, I had not heard anything.

NLC:  It looks like he is coming to applaud the agro export industry, plant like yours, saying they are helping the town and that it's a great success.  The North American companies that buy the products tell us that plants like Tierra Fria treat the workers well that you are paid well, that you get paid sick days, that you receive paid vacations, that the workers are happy with the work.  We want to ask, if you had the opportunity to speak with George Bush what would tell him?

Gladis:  That he help the minors.  Just imagine that for working and helping out their parents they cannot study. 

NLC:  Why do they hire minors?  Why not hire your older brother or your parents?

Gladis:  Why do they hire minors?  The boss has said it's because we have nothing to do at the house, we don't ask to go see our children, like the older women, we don't have those preoccupations.

NLC:  At night, to rest, do you watch television?

Gladis:  For an hour, I have nothing to do over there, at 9 p.m. my father tells me to go to bed.

NLC:  Do you study every night now?

Gladis:  Yes, now I have homework, I don't watch T.V.  My mother tells me to do my homework and not watch T.V.  She sends all four of us to go to our room and study.  We are four sisters.  The smallest ones are in school.

NLC:  Where do you do your homework?  At a desk?

Gladis:  My mom moves everything around at the house, in the kitchen on a table or in a bedroom where there's a desk, a big table where all four of us do our homework.

NLC:  Do you have a bicycle?

Gladis:  I don't know how to ride a bike.  I don't have one.

NLC:  If you have Sunday off, what do you like to do?

Gladis:  I would like to go for a walk or something, but they don't let me leave.

NLC:  They don't let you leave?

Gladis:  Only the four of us, we tell our mother we are going to Church.  "You going? I want to see you back here at 5:30 p.m.," she tells me.  She doesn't let me leave because of my sisters because, you know, what happened.

NLC:  You have to take care of your sisters?

Gladis:  No, well, it's just that they got pregnant and they don't want to see me like them.

NLC:  You basically stay at home on Sundays?

Gladis:  I clean my room and help my mother wash the clothes.

NLC:  Thank you.  We would like to thank you for being so well spoken.  We have learned a lot.

Gladis:  Thank you.  I was nervous.

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