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Interview with Maria, worker at Legumex/Tierra Fria

February 23, 2007  |  Share

February 23, 2007

 

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

NLC:  We understand that you worked at Tierra Fria for a little while?

Maria:  Three months I worked there and in those three months it wasn't nice.  They treat you badly; they don't let you leave early, you don't get permission to go to the bathroom, if you want water you have to buy it or drink from the tap.  Another thing, if you get cut they just give you some cotton, at times they just tell you to keep working, that they can't do anything for you because they don't have a first-aid kit, so keep working.  If you get sick, you have to go to work. For example, if you have a fever you have to go to work because they don't let you be absent even one day or they will deduct the bonus from your pay, they don't give benefits like in other factories. You only get a half hour for lunch, 15 minutes for a snack with the threat that if you don't fill 8 boxes you can't have lunch or a snack.

NLC:  When did you enter the factory?

Maria:  I entered on the 3rd of September, 2006 and they asked me to leave on the 15th of November.

Maria

NLC:  They fired you?  Why?

Maria:  They said you do not hurry in your work.  You want to drink water all the time.  And since I cut myself, they said, that I keep cutting myself and so, simply, they said, "Come here, Maria." And they started to make up my papers and had me sign my pink slip.

NLC:  How old were you when you entered?

Maria:  I was thirteen.

NLC:  What was your job at the factory?

Maria:  Make broccoli, make it in the style of Cut 55, clean it, and we had to take everything we had done out to the trucks and load it in the freezers. 

(Confusing explanation of Cut 55)

NLC:  Were you in factory one?  In preparations?

Maria:  Yes, preparations.

NLC:  What were your work hours?

Maria:  In that time, they had changed the time in Guatemala, we entered at 6:30 in the morning and they told us that we would get out at 5:30 p.m. and we would leave at 9 p.m. 

NLC:  How often did that happened, working until 9 p.m.?

Maria:  In the month that I entered, they told us that we would get out at 5:30 p.m. but we would leave at 9:30 p.m.  In fact, one time they told us we would leave at 11 p.m. if we did not take out the work to the trucks.

NLC:  During your first month you were working every day from 6:30 a.m. until 9:00 at night?

Maria:  Yes, that's it.  During the first month and afterwards they said more work would be coming and that we would be entering sooner and leaving at 5:30 p.m. and we would leave at 9 or 9:30 p.m., in fact at 10:00 p.m. we left one time.

NLC:  And that happened in September in October?

Maria:  That was from October to November.

NLC:  And when did this new work schedule begin?

Maria:  When the hours changed?  Is that what you're asking.  In September.

NLC:  No.  When did they make the work hours longer?

Maria:  At the end of September and beginning of October.  They would tell us that we would enter at 6:30 in the morning and leave at 4 in the afternoon and they added four hours and we would get out at 8:30 p.m. or later.

NLC:  How many days a week did you work?  Five days, Monday to Friday?

Maria:  There you work every day, there is no rest.  From Monday to Sunday.

NLC:  You worked on Sunday?

Maria:  Yes, and if we didn't show up they told us they would deduct 34 quetzales.

NLC:  On the month of September you were working from 6:30 in the morning until 9 at night and often 7 days a week?

Maria:  Yes.

 

Maria

 

NLC:  You probably earned a lot of money including the overtime pay, where they pay more, right?

Maria:  No, they don't pay overtime hours.  On the second week, it's almost monthly that we receive our pay, they tardy 10 days in paying . . . they don't pay overtime, all we get is Q450 [$58.44] per month, that's it, really.

NLC:  When you say that they deduct a day if you don't show up on Sunday, is that to say that they pay you six days or they take a day away and pay you five?

Maria:  Yes.  At the factory they take away Saturday if you don't show up Sunday.

NLC:  What exactly did you do, cutting the broccoli, what was the operation?

Maria:  They give us the broccoli you had to cut it into little pieces and then once it was cut, we had to chop it and when the stem is left cut it in half and take out the heart.

NLC:  Did you use a knife or fingers?

Maria:  With a knife.

NLC:  Did you cut yourself?

Maria:  Yes, you cut yourself too much .  Inspects her fingers for cuts.

NLC:  Is the rhythm of the work normal or was it too quick?

Maria:  Too quick, because if not then we would have to work into the next day and not leave until the night of the second day.

NLC:  You had to stay until you finished your production goal?

Maria:  Yes, our production goal was filling six trucks per day.  We had to make 8 boxes per hour, worse when the stem was tough, the broccoli was too old, we got a bigger knife and you got bigger cuts.

NLC:  Did you work standing or sitting?

Maria:  You work all day standing.

NLC:  How do you feel working standing all day?

Maria:  It feels terrible, you have to be standing all day, you get very tired and when you stop for a bit because you're tired, that's when they tell you, "You have to work harder, the work is for today and not for tomorrow," they say,  "and that is why you get paid."  And when the lady supervisor arrives to check on our work we have to tell her that we are treated well because, if not, the supervisor said it was good to be her friend to be able to get more work, we had to be like that, in order to get more work, we had to do it fast.

NLC:  How many breaks did you get?

Maria:  There you got, if you work for one year, you get one day of paid rest, that's it.

NLC:  Did you get lunch break?  How much time?

Maria:  Half an hour and for snack, 15 minutes.

NLC:  When?

Maria:  From 10:00 a.m. to 10:15 a.m.

NLC:  And those are the only breaks all day?

Maria:  Yes, those are the only ones.

NLC:  Can you use the bathroom when you need to?

Maria:  No, for example, if all three trucks have not left from 6:30 until 12:30 p.m. they do not give you permission to go to the bathroom, no, not now, no permission from 12:00 p.m. until 9 at night, if all four trucks have not left you don't get permission. 

(Confusing interaction between interpreter and Maria)

The goal is six trucks, but since they exploit us too much they make us fill eleven trucks. 

NLC:  Can you talk to each other while you work?

Maria:  No, because they say, "You are not here to fool around, you are here to work, so you better hurry otherwise we will fire you."  So you hurry with the threat of being fired.  Some workers have fathers who have died, only the mother is alive, and they have the responsibility of helping their mother, that's the pressure, and that's when the eleven trucks come out by force.

NLC:  Is the temperature inside the factory nice like here?

Maria:  The factory is cold.  There is no ray of sunshine.  It's cold!  There is one cold room here, there is another, one behind, all that creates a lot of cold and while you do your work you start feeling feverish. 

NLC:  And you wear jackets and sweatshirts?

Maria:  Depending on the table you are at, if you are on the top one, the middle, or the small.  The small is for those that just enter, those that enter on that day, the second is for those that have a month experience and the third for those that have a lot of time, those that have been there a while can cover themselves, but the ones that just enter cannot because they say that they could take something in their clothes, so you can only wear your blouse.

NLC:  So you're cold?

Maria:  Too much cold.

NLC:  What were you paid?

Maria:  On my first two weeks, I got Q150 [$19.48].  On my second I got Q150.  On my third I got Q175. because they take Q40 for social security, but don't give us a card.  On my fourth it was Q175.  On my fifth it was Q200 [$25.97]. and on the last, when I got fired I got 132 quetzales [$17.14].  At the factory there is this thing that if you don't get along with someone they fire you without having done anything.  There was a co-worker that got fired with me because we didn't sit well with the supervisor, they fired us, they told us that even though we did hurry, but the supervisor said she didn't like us and that she was in charge and she started writing up our termination papers.

NLC:  During the first couple of weeks that you earned 150 Q. and 175 Q., were you working 6 or 7 days a week?

Maria:  7 days.

(break in tape — end of a sentence)

NLC:  When you were working there, were there other girls that could have been 11 or 12 years old?

Maria:  The majority are 11, 12, 13 year-olds.  They only take minors because they can take more advantage of the minors and those that are older aren't told as much as the young ones.

NLC:  When you asked for a job did they ask your age?

Maria:  Yes.  They asked, they asked for a photocopy of our birth certificate.

NLC:  You gave them a copy?

Maria:  Yes.  Those of us who were 13 said we were 13.  Since we were minors we started that very day.  They told us to come right on in, they gave us our knives . . . there were four girls that were older and they did not receive them like us because they were coming from another factory that did the same, but they weren't as easy to exploit.  Maybe that's why they didn't get the job.

 

Maria

 

NLC:  Do the workers know they are not getting their legal minimum wage nor their overtime pay?

Maria:  They know, but, to say it like this, they need it, and if they say something, like, "You are not hurrying," even if they are hurrying, the majority of the girls on the night shift will faint from working from 6:30 p.m. until 12 at night, they cannot withstand the sleep and fatigue because all we have is the night for rest.

NLC:  The workers know they are not receiving minimum wage nor overtime pay, that they are not give their bonuses and benefits?

Maria:  We all know that is not given, they rob us to say it mildly.  Besides being robbed of your fifteen days wage in front of you, they rob you more by not paying sick days, they always do that when someone gets sick, you have to be there, even if you are sick, as the supervisor says, "Even if you have your intestines hanging out you have to keep working because today we need to produce what we produce every day."

NLC:  Do North Americans visit the factory?

Maria:  No.

NLC:  You never saw a North American visitor?

Maria:  No.

NLC:  Do you know who owns the factory?

Maria:  No.  The person that runs the factory is called Don Lorenzo.

NLC:  And he is always present?

Maria:  Yes, he tells us that if we don't hurry we don't earn the right to go to the bathroom. 

NLC:  Do you have a union at the factory?

Maria:  No.

NLC:  Do you know what a union is?

Maria:  No.  The owners.

NLC:  No.  It is an organization composed of workers.

Maria:  No.  There's nothing like that.

NLC:  The companies in the U.S. that buy the broccoli, pineapple, and squash tell us that the factory is very good and the American companies assure us that the workers receive their legal wages and are well paid, they get one day off per week and overtime is voluntary and they pay extra for overtime, that you are treated with respect and dignity, is that true?

Maria:  No.  That's not true.  If you don't want to do overtime they tell you you are going to be fired and that everything they ask us we need to say, "Yes."  That we have the right to go to the bathroom, that we have the right to get water, everything a person asks us we have to say, "Yes."  And, not to mention, they don't pay us overtime and don't do anything for us.

NLC:  Did you know that the president George Bush is coming to visit Chelatimango on March 11th.  He is coming for a visit to talk about the agro export businesses, the factories like Tierra Fria, and he is going to say these factories are very good and that they help the town.  What would you say to Bush if you could meet with him?

Maria:  I would like to tell him that everything people tell him are lies, that the girls here in Guatemala are treated badly if we don't get the job done, we would get hit if it was possible.  They take away our wages, it is not truthful for him to come here and say we are treated well at the factories because that is not true.  If he took one day to be like a Guatemalan and work in an export factory he would see all that he has been told is like being in a rose garden and it's not like that in Guatemala.

NLC:  Have they ever hit anyone at the factory?

Maria:  One time when I was working, the supervisor pushed a girl because she was dragging the broccoli boxes because the loaders are sometimes occupied, unloading the work, and on that day we were all carrying our own product and the supervisor pushed the girl, everyone said it was on purpose because she threw her and then told her to pick up the broccoli and stepped in the product that was already cut and said she wanted it washed.  She started to cry and she said she did not pay her to cry.  They push and then they tell you that, they're not good to us.

 

Maria

 

NLC:  Have you ever heard of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA)?

Maria:  No.

NLC:  Have you ever heard of the World Trade Organization?

Maria:  No.

NLC:  How about the International Trade Organization?

Maria:  No.

NLC:  Have you heard of the global economy?

Maria:  Yes. 

NLC:  Do you know where the product goes?

Maria:  To the United States, Europe, to Taiwan.

NLC:  When you were working at 6:30 in the morning at what time did you wake up?

Maria:  My mom would wake up with me at 4 in the morning.  She would wake up to make my lunch and I woke up to bath and at 5:30 a.m. we were leaving the house for the highway.  The bus only waited 10 minutes and then would leave.

NLC:  At what time did you get home after work?

Maria:  My mom would go wait for me, we left at 8:30 p.m. and arrived home at 9:30 p.m. because first they have to drop off those from (?) and then drop off the people from Chelatimango.

NLC:  When you arrived at 9:30 p.m., what would you do and at what time did you go to bed?

Maria:  When I arrived my mother would serve dinner and from there I would go see my baby cousin and then go to sleep.

NLC:  At what time?

Maria:  At 10:15, 10:30 p.m.

NLC:  Did the hours vary in the sense that some days you would leave at 4:30 p.m., other days at 6:30 p.m., at 8 p.m. some other days?

Maria:  The majority of times we got out at 8:30 p.m. 

NLC:  So the majority of time you were working from 6:30 a.m. until 8:30 p.m.

Maria: Yes.

NLC:  Did you take a company bus or public transport?

Maria:  Factory bus.

NLC:  So you must have been exhausted?

Maria:  Every day.

NLC:  Did you ever get a chance to play or relax?

Maria:  No.  There was no time, just work and work.

NLC:  Do you think it would help the young Guatemalan workers if young people in the United States stood up for their rights, demanding better conditions?

Maria:  Yes.  Because, like they say, all of us together, it can be done.  If ten people get up and the rest don't then nobody will listen, but if everyone got up, if the whole factory stood up together, then they would have to listen, "You told us we would get out at 5:30 p.m.", but since only one complains, "Look it's 8:30 p.m., you said we would leave at 5:30 p.m.", then, of course, they don't listen to one.  But if the whole group were to come, then yes.

NLC:  Do you think the young people in the U.S. who are your age know about your situation as a young worker here?

Maria:  Probably not.  Over there, everyone has their things, here some have and some don't, some have nothing.

NLC:  Would it help if young people in the United States stood up to say the young workers of Tierra Fria should be treated better.

Maria:  I think so.  They would be giving their support to the young workers of Tierra Fria because they do not have the confidence, the young people can help in some way, maybe they could get treated a little better, maybe five minutes of rest, but there you work all day and only get lunch and a snack.  If they let you go to the bathroom, well, you don't get permission because they say you will go talk in the bathroom or will look in the mirror, though there is no mirror.

NLC:  Up to what year did you go to school.

Maria:  Only to fifth grade.  CEADEL is supporting me now to go to sixth grade.

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