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Interview with Ingrid, worker at Legumex/Tierra Fria

February 23, 2007  |  Share

February 23, 2007





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

NLC: How long did you work at Tierra Fria?

Ingrid:  Two and a half months.


NLC: What was your job?

Ingrid:  At the beginning it was doing broccoli and then beans and also squash.  And afterwards the pineapple began.  And we started doing pineapple.

NLC: What exactly was your job, what did you do all day?

Ingrid:  I'll explain.  At the beginning we did that, broccoli, beans, and squash, but when the pineapple began they gathered a group of us and we did that.

NLC: Did you have to wash them or cut them?

Ingrid:  No.  Cut them.  Peel them and cut them.



NLC: Did you work slowly or did you work fast?  What kind of a pace was it?

Ingrid:  No, they pressured us a lot, they would tell us to hurry because they wanted the product now - that it wasn't for tomorrow, that if we didn't finish we wouldn't leave.

NLC: What exactly did you do with the broccoli?

Ingrid:  Make them little.  Cutting them and making them tiny.

NLC: Was there a method?

Ingrid:  Yes, that we finish the product because if no, then they would not let us leave on time.

NLC: Were you working standing or sitting?

Ingrid:  Standing.

NLC: Was there a production goal, of pieces, of boxes, pounds?

Ingrid:  Yes, pounds.  2,500 pounds a day.

NLC:  Each person?

Ingrid:  No, for 110 people.

NLC: 110 people in your section?

Ingrid:  Uhuh.  It was two factories.  The first factory we were 110 to 130 people.

NLC: So the 110 people were cutting broccoli?

Ingrid:  Yes, everyone at the same time.

NLC: Could you demonstrate the speed?

Ingrid:  You grab the broccoli by the head and one would cut it up and make it into small pieces, 30-50 pieces, really little.  For each broccoli you got like 30 little ones.

NLC: Did you do it with your fingers or knives?

Ingrid:  With fingers.  You had to do it by eye.  Look at it and do it with fingers.

NLC: Would you work constantly or for a while and then rest?

Ingrid:  No, we entered at 7 a.m. and they would give us a five-minute break at 9:30 a.m. and then we continued until lunch - 1:30 p.m. or 12:30 p.m. — we only got a half an hour and then until we finish the goal.

NLC:  And what time did you leave?

Ingrid:  There is a group of us from San Miguel acd (?), we left at 6:30 p.m.  And the group from San Jacinto, if there was a lot of work, would leave at 11 p.m. or 9 at night.

NLC:  Did you always leave at 6:30 p.m. or would you at times have to stay later?

Ingrid:  One time we left at 7 p.m. and there were no buses, they got buses to bring us home because we started to complain.  If we didn't leave at that time something would happen to us because the road is dangerous and they drove us home, we were twelve, here from San Miguel, and six from (?) and they brought us back.

NLC:  How many days a week do you work?

Ingrid:  From Monday to Saturday, all day Saturday.

NLC:  And Saturday was also to 6:30 p.m.?

Ingrid:  Yes, and sometimes the San Jacinto group always stays until 11 p.m. or 12 p.m..


Ingrid's home


NLC:  Did they yell at the workers or tell them to hurry?

Ingrid:  Yes, they yelled at us, they said, "Hurry Girls!"  They never stopped screaming.

NLC:  They never pushed or hit you?

Ingrid:  No.  There was one time that I brought a cell and they scolded me, I was crying.  My cell sounded and I didn't answer.  A girl, her name is Jenny, said, "I want to see the cell!  I want to see the cell!" she told me, I told her, "I already turned it off."  "Give it to me or I will take it from you", she said and she took it, she started to scold me.  I asked for my cell back and she said that she didn't want to return it, but next time she would fire me.

NLC:  Were there workers that were younger? 10, 11 or 12 years old?

Ingrid:  The smallest is eleven.  She is eleven and there are ten girls who are 13 and the others are 14, 15, 16 year-olds.

NLC:  This is in factory one?

Ingrid:  Yes.

NLC:  So there is one 11 year old?

Ingrid:  Yes.

NLC:  And are they all girls?  Or girls and boys?

Ingrid:  All girls.

NLC:  And there are ten 13 year old girls?

Ingrid:  Yes.  Plus the ones from San Jacinto who are older than 13 because - we asked them if they wanted to stay with us, that they go with us, they told us they were scared because of the hour they got out and the hour they got in, they get in at 6 a.m. and leave at 7, 8 p.m. at night — they cannot make the quota, they're afraid they won't meet the target.

NLC:  Why?  What are they afraid of?

Ingrid:  We are afraid that they tell the truth, that they will tell Olga or Elvis, Elvis, the manager, they can say that we talked.  We have some co-workers that are afraid of speaking here.

NLC:  They are afraid of being fired or hit?

Ingrid:  I can't remember exactly what happened to a 13 year old girl, but the manager, Elvis, the supervisor, called her and asked her if she wanted to work and if not that she leave because the door is open.  In other work they could not receive 13 year olds, only in that factory.  That is what Elvis said, so they were afraid and said they would do everything he said otherwise they would have no income.  And there is a woman that spoke to Elvis about the start time and exit time and he said, "You either want to work or you don't, the punishment is that you stay at a table." And they left her at a table all alone, that's what they do.  Sometimes they tell them to go home.

NLC:  When did Elvis tell the 13 year-old girl that there are no factories willing to hire 13 year olds?

Ingrid:  A month ago.


Ingrid's home


NLC:  How old were you when you started at Tierra Fria?

Ingrid:  Two months ago.  When I was 15, in December I turned 16.

NLC:  What were the wages at the factory?

Ingrid:  Daily, we earn Q34.20 [$4.44] a day.

NLC:  And what about overtime?

Ingrid:  There are no overtime hours.

NLC:  But you work more than 8 hours?

Ingrid:  Yes.  We work more than 8 hours.  The day is supposed to be 4-5 hours and they let us leave at 6, 6:30 p.m.  Just a short time ago, one time we left at 5 p.m., we asked for permission because the roads are dangerous and we have no bus and we found a man and he said a ton of stuff and we got scared, we call them gang members, we bumped into one, he said a ton of stuff and the next day we asked Olga if we could leave earlier to come back with the others and she told us if we didn't finish the 5 boxes we could not leave early and we ended up leaving at 5:30 p.m.

NLC:  Even working Saturdays, you didn't get overtime pay?

Ingrid:  No.

NLC:  Do you get paid every two weeks?

Ingrid:  No, every 3 weeks.  Right now, we were supposed to get our money, like a week ago, last Friday, up to now they have been saying they'll give us the check.  [Note: The workers are paid twice a month, but one week's wages is always withheld by the company.]

NLC:  So they pay you every three weeks?

Ingrid:  Yes.

NLC:  How much do you make?

Ingrid:  That is not clear or fixed.  The first two weeks was Q547.20 [$71.06].  Right now we are getting Q513, Q507 [$66.62 - $65.84].

NLC:  Every three weeks?

Ingrid:  For three weeks.  They only pay for 15 days.


Ingrid's kitchen


NLC:  Do the workers know what the minimum wage is and that they should receive overtime pay?

Ingrid:  Yes.  They complain that, the complain that, that the factory has to pay overtime hours.  A little time ago, they said they would pay overtime, but that you had to work from 6 p.m. or 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. and they would only give an extra 6 quetzales [78 cents U.S.], only 6 quetzales extra, and that doesn't add up because it's like three hours of work or more and you're paid only 6 quetzales, no, it's not just that they do that to us.


Ingrid's kitchen


NLC:  So if you work until 11 p.m.?

Ingrid:  11 or 10 at night.

NLC:  And they are willing to pay 6 quetzales?

Ingrid:  Yes.  Q 6 for three or four hours.  To them, the day is over at 6 or 7 at night, all day long. 

NLC:  Do the workers know that the legal minimum wage per day is more than 50 quetzales? 

Ingrid:  They don't know.  There are some that know, but even if you explain it, since they can't find other work, they're little, they say they are here and are better off, even if they are mistreated, they choose to stay.

NLC:  The supervisors tell the girls that nobody else will hire you except this factory?

Ingrid:  Yes.  One time they told a girl, they had fired two girls, so they said,  "Look here, this is you when you leave, you won't find work elsewhere, because only here will you find work."  So they say that, it's like a threat.


Ingrid's home


NLC:  Are you allowed to use the bathroom whenever you want?

Ingrid:  Only during breaks and lunch.

NLC:  But if you don't feel good and you have to go?

Ingrid:  They don't give permission.  You have to beg for permission.

NLC:  Are the bathrooms clean? Is there soap and towels?

Ingrid:  No, there are no towels or soap.

NLC:  Can you talk to each other?

Ingrid:  No, you can't, because they separate you.  For example, if you're at one table they tell you to go to another table, the laziest one has to go they say.

NLC:  When you finish the day, having worked standing all day, how do you feel?

Ingrid:  You get tired.  Your feet get swollen.  Some have swollen feet.

NLC:  Do your hands get cut or is there damage?

Ingrid:  Yes.  We get a lot of cuts.

NLC:  From a knife?

Ingrid:  Yes, from a knife.

NLC:  You had pains when you left?

Ingrid:  I don't know what I have, they told me that I have, that I needed some exams to see what I have because my arm hurts, my ribs hurt, I don't know what I might have.  I think it's from being in the cold.

NLC:  Is it cold in the factory?

Ingrid:  When I made peas and broccoli, the place is dry, but there are four freezers and we are here in the middle.  In the factory where we make pineapple, it is full of water, you get wet, it's wet and it's cold, there are freezers everywhere.

NLC:  The ground is wet?

Ingrid:  It's wet.  Where we work.  There you also make melon, little balls of melon. 

NLC:  Is the factory colder than here?

Ingrid:  Much colder.  Really cold.  They don't care that it's cold, they take away our sweatshirts at 9 a.m. when we go out for a snack, they take it at 9 a.m. and they say if we don't take it off, they will take them off and throw them out wherever, or they say, "We will give these away!"

NLC:  Why do they take them away at 9 a.m.?

Ingrid:  Because they say the sweatshirts make us sleepy, because of the sweatshirt, but it's so cold.  And they have sweatshirts, everything, but we have to, you have to go with nothing.

NLC:  So you work in a t-shirt?

Ingrid:  Yes.  There are some that like those little shirts, oh god, it's just too cold with that, they take their sweatshirts, they say, "You are too heavily clothed, take off your sweatshirt, I don't care."

NLC:  The supervisors walk around in sweatshirts?

Ingrid:  Yes, all day long. 

NLC:  Do the workers know who owns the factory?

Ingrid:  One time he entered, but I didn't even pay attention who he was, there, a ton of people enter and leave, so, one time, they scolded us because they said we didn't sit well with the owner for behaving badly, but we didn't even know who he was. 

NLC:  Are they North Americans, Guatemalans?

Ingrid:  Yes, they are Gringos.  Sometimes they are from Guatemala.




NLC:  How many arrive and with what frequency?

Ingrid:  Three, two, sometimes one, but they do come in.

NLC:  How many times per month?

Ingrid:  Like three times per month.

NLC:  Are there holidays?

Ingrid:  No, we have them, but not on our day off.  They told us that on our day off we would have to work, but they would eventually give one.

NLC:  So you have to work on Holidays?

Ingrid:  Yes.

NLC:  And you too?  You have worked on a holiday?

Ingrid:  No.

NLC:  Does the factory give sick days?  To rest at home without preoccupation?

Ingrid:  One time my mother was very sick and I went to ask Olga for permission, that girl, and she said, "Yes, yes, I will give you permission."  So I thought I was going to get my day, but when I got my check I didn't get the day, it was like I had been absent.

NLC:  Do you know anyone that works on the night shift?

Ingrid:  Yes.  There is one studying with us, her name is Luisa.

NLC:  That must be very tough?

Ingrid:  Yes.  They tell me that many faint.  They say that they get headaches, like spinning, dizziness.

NLC:  When you quit you said it was because of arm and rib pain?

Ingrid:  Yes.  After I left I got some pains, but every so often they hurt and this arm hurts, I don't know why.

NLC:  Do you think the pain is related to the work or is it something else?

Ingrid:  I don't know, I say yes, because of the cold, it takes a toll on you, and they always say take off your sweatshirts, it was so cold that day, I put on five sweatshirts, they took all my sweatshirts.

NLC:  During lunch, do you have it outside or inside the factory?

Ingrid:  Inside, there is a dining room in the middle of the two factories, there is a dining room and there we eat.

NLC:  Do you have to bring your food or does the company provide it?

Ingrid:  No we have to take it and if we don't take it we buy it.

NLC:  What do you talk about during lunch?

Ingrid:  We talk about our personal things, about our future, sometimes about our studies.  When there are problems at the factory we talk about the factory, why they do that.

NLC:  The factory workers don't really have much opportunity to go to school because you are working six days a week?

Ingrid:  No. No. Elvis told us that those that go study on Saturday, we will give permission, so it's like they give us permission, but they take our day, so there are some that talk to him, for many it's better not to study, there are some that have not even graduated first grade.  There are some that want to study, like where I study, there's a girl and she studies on Sundays so she doesn't miss Saturdays and gets her full pay.

NLC:  Have you ever thought about the American people that are buying the broccoli, or maybe you didn't know that the product went to the U.S.?

Ingrid:  I knew it went there, there are some that return the product and we get scolded because we don't do it so well, one time they showed us a photo to show how the product arrived.  They scolded us telling us that we have to do it well.

NLC:  So they send the product back?

Ingrid:  Yes.  They always send back photos.  A month ago all of the products we sent were returned, all of it. 

NLC:  Why?

Ingrid:  Because if they find one bad box all of it is returned.  If it has some spots, it has to go out really clean.

NLC:  How do you clean the broccoli?

Ingrid:  Sometimes there are worms.  You can't see them.  If we see it is bad at the beginning we toss it out, we do the best we can.  The good we do and inside you find the worms.  When you ask me if we wash the product, no, we don't wash it.

NLC:  It is washed later?

Ingrid:  No, it's not washed.  Later they package it and, maybe that's why they return it.

NLC:  When you cut the broccoli, do you put it in the green and yellow boxes?

Ingrid:  Red.  Red.  Red boxes.

NLC:  You don't put them in little cartons?

Ingrid:  No, first you put them in that box and then they get processed, if that passes, then it gets packed, but I don't know how.

NLC:  Do you know who President George Bush is?  Have you heard of him?

Ingrid:  Yes.

NLC:  He's coming here on the 10th or 11th of March and he's going to talk about how good the agro factories are and how good they treat the workers, that it gives a lot of work.  If you had a chance to meet him, what would you say about the real conditions in the factories?

Ingrid:  I would tell him to help the girls because they sometimes, in their houses, they have no money and they fight to help their family, like me, I have nothing, but I want to help.  I would tell him to help the girls.

NLC:  Should factories pay the minimum wage and obey laws?

(Tape cuts and Bush visit question is rephrased.)




Ingrid:  They should pay the minimum wage, that girls like me leave earlier, on time, at 4 p.m. you're tired and you can't go on, so I say, that they leave at 4 or 5 p.m. and that they not allow them to leave at 11 p.m. because they are little girls.  And I know that if I get tired, and I'm 16, and they are 13 or 14 - they must get more tired than me.

NLC:  Are there girls on the night shift who are 12 or 13?

Ingrid:  I say no because I don't think they could do it.

NLC:  You don't think there are girls who are 13 that work in processing?

Ingrid:  No, I don't think so.  I only see older people, like 17 and 18.  Only Louisa, she's 15, but that age and up.

NLC:  Is there a union at the factory?

Ingrid:  What is that?

NLC:  An organization that represents the voice of the workers to speak with the owner.

NLC:  Does the company still owe you back wages?

Ingrid:  Yes, I'm picking that up today.

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