Interview with Sonia, a 16-year-old worker at Legumex/Tierra Fria

February 27, 2007

February 27, 2007
El Tejar, Guatemala


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

NLC:  You work at the Tierra Fria factory?

Sonia: (nods head) Uh huh.

NLC:  How many years have you worked there?

Sonia: About five years

NLC:  On and off, or steady?

Sonia: Yes.  When production ends we leave.  When the season begins again, we start work again. I have worked 3 years like that, better said, two years, going in an out.

NLC:  When you started work for the first time how old were you?

Sonia: I was 11 or 12, around there.

NLC:  Do you work in preparation?

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:  Could you explain what exactly you do at work?

Sonia: You want me to explain the whole factory?

NLC:  Yes

Sonia: In preparation you prepare what is broccoli, melon, and squash, all that and there is another part of the factory that works on the soybeans and the squash too, but when in season, they do pineapple and mango.

NLC:  In your area you work on broccoli, melon and tayo?

Sonia: Tayo and pineapple.


NLC:  And how many people are in your section?

Sonia: When we began we were 150, but some of them resigned and some were fired so now we are 85.

NLC:  Over what period were people fired?  During the last month or year?

Sonia: The people aren't fired, they leave because they do not like the work.  They pressure a lot, they scream a lot, they ask for a quantity they are not able to meet.

NLC:  So what is you job?

Sonia: My work is to break up broccoli.

NLC:  And how do you do it?  With a knife or fingers, how exactly?

Sonia: We grab a knife and with the hands break it apart. 

NLC:  And how many broccolis do you do a day? Does she know?

Sonia: Like, thousands"

NLC:  So it's by pounds?

Sonia: Yes, by pounds.

NLC:  So what is your goal for those 85 workers, is there a production that a certain amount of pounds needs to be produced?

Sonia: Like what we were saying yesterday, we have to put out 45 thousand.

NLC:  Pounds?

Sonia: Pounds.

NLC:  Yesterday?  And can that goal be met?

Sonia: Yes, but pressuring them a lot.

NLC:   So, these 85 people can actually do 45 thousand pounds of broccoli a day?

Sonia: Yes, those from my group.

NLC:  All 85 people?

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:   What are the hours?  When do you start?  When do they leave?

Sonia: From 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

NLC:   And you always work from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. or once in a while?

Sonia: Sometimes.  Because when we make the production goal we sometimes leave at 6, 5, 6:30 p.m.  

NLC:  What's most common?  At what time do you leave?

Sonia: 6:30 p.m.

NLC:  And you work from Monday to Friday?

Sonia: No, Monday to Saturday, and sometimes Sundays.

NLC:  When was the last time you worked on a Sunday?

Sonia:  Eight days ago.  But since I can't work when I'm studying, I couldn't work and they said only five showed up for work, the rest went on a trip and the others went to work, and for instead of going on a trip they went to work.  They only produced 2,000 pounds among 5 people.

NLC:  So you didn't work last Sunday?

Sonia: No.

NLC:  So, on Saturday do you get out early or is it always at 6:30 p.m.?

Sonia: If we're working on melon, we leave late, because we start, if its cantaloupe, we leave late, it's like a harder melon and since it's hard we leave really late.

NLC:  When you work on that melon at what hour do you get out?

Sonia: At 7 p.m.?

NLC:  And doing all of this work and working six days a week and sometimes seven, you must make a lot, how much do you make on average?

Sonia: If we work on Sunday then maybe we make 700 Q.  They were pressuring a lot with the melon, but we only made 800 Q.

NLC:  So, that means working on Sunday? And if you work from Monday to Saturday, how much can you make?

Sonia: Well" the same, but only if you really hurry up.  If you are really pushing, then you can make the same, 800 Q.

NLC:   So, working Monday to Saturday, but working hard you can make the same 800 Q.

Sonia: Yes, at least with the melon, we need to do overtime when working on cantaloupe, they ask us for 50 baskets a day.

NLC:  So, you are paid on a piece rate?  Not like a regular salary.

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:  Do you know the piece rate?

Sonia: No. 

NLC:  How much do you earn per pound or basket?

Sonia:  .80 Q. per basket

NLC:  .80 Q for broccoli?

Sonia: Cantaloupe.

NLC:  And what does 80 per basket mean?

B: 80 quetzales.

Sonia: One eighty (1.80).  One quetzale and eighty.

NLC:   1.8 Q for a whole basket?  How many cantaloupes are in each basket?

Sonia: Well, when it's small, it's about 15.

NLC:  What do you do with the cantaloupe?

Sonia: Balling them, but your lungs get tired because you are there spooning and spooning trying to produce 50 baskets a day.  You get tired.

NLC:  The production goal is 50 baskets?

Sonia: When it's honeydew, they are white melons, the cantaloupe is an orange melon the honeydew is a white melon, we need to produce 30 or 40 baskets of honeydew per day.   Is like a white melon.  What we are not in agreement with is the broccoli. 

NLC:  Excuse me?

Sonia: The broccoli.  We are not in agreement.

NLC:  In what sense?

Sonia: We were being paid 15 Q for 100 pounds, now they are paying only 12. 

NLC:  So the production target per day is 1,500 pounds?  No, I'm sorry.

Sonia:  No.  We get 15 Q. for 100 pounds.  For us to earn 45 Q. per day, to make a nice salary and all that, we have to do at least 300 to 400 pounds per-day. There was one day where we had to produce 400 pounds in one day and by midday I only had 150 pounds so they were asking for another 250 pounds from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. and we ended up leaving around 8:30 p.m. That was on the 17th of this month.

NLC:  Your personal production goal is to process 400 pounds of broccoli?

Sonia: Per day, yes.

NLC:  And now you are paid just 12 quetzales per 100 pounds?

Sonia: They give us two cuts.   The 20-40 natural, the 20-40 split, and the 15-30, that is to say, three.  Those are the names of the cuts.  The two 20-40 cuts are being paid at 12 Q and the 15-30 cut at 15 Q. 

NLC:  Does it have to do with the size of the broccoli?

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:  Does it have to do with the size of the head and how it's processed?

Sonia: Yes.  The head must be made tiny, everything cut.  The 15-30 has to be cut small too, but even smaller.

NLC:  When did they cut the price from 15 Q to 12 Q?

Sonia: When Elvis Barrios entered, the new manager.

NLC:   Was it a year ago or was it 5 months ago? 

Sonia: About a month ago.

NLC:  And who is Edward Varios?

Sonia: Elvis Barrios.

NLC:  And so the price was actually lowered just a month ago.

Sonia: Yes.  Elvis is the new plant chief.  He lowered the price of the broccoli, but he raised the melon by .30 Q.  They paid us 1.50 Q for the melon, but since they were too full, he raised it by .30 Q and they are paying us .15 Q more.  .15 Q to get to the 1.8 Q that they are paying now per basket.

NLC:  This depends on the size, but how many cuts on average do you make on each broccoli?

Sonia: One? 

NLC:  On one broccoli?  

Sonia: When it's a little broccoli, a little head, you get two.  When it is 20-40, when it is 15-30 you get as small a size as possible.

NLC:  So you start with a broccoli of what size?

Sonia: A big one like this (size of her head).  You grab a knife and you start cutting it like this (makes cutting motions in the air) until you get the right cut.

NLC:  What do you mean?


Sonia cutting broccoli


Sonia: Getting them small.  Getting them small, to the quantity they ask of you.  You keep turning the head until you get the right amount.  I can show you.

NLC:  Great, that would be great because we bought some broccoli.  Can you work slowly or do you have to work very fast?

Sonia: Those of us that are fast, like me, and some others, we do it fast.  There are others that don't have the speed and they are slower, they do it better.  We do it fast and with quality, at least I have speed and quality, but there are others that fill up the baskets, but they don't do it well, they don't check on them, they don't tell them anything if they do the broccoli badly, but we are scolded, so we have to make the broccoli at the quality they want.


Sonia cutting broccoli


NLC:  Do they ever yell at you?

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:  How often, once per month?

Sonia: You hear it in the plant.

NLC:  It's an every day thing?

Sonia: Yes.  When they are rushing us, yes.

NLC:  Do the girls cry for being yelled at?

Sonia: One, yes, because of what happened on Friday, a girl asked for permission to go to the bathroom and she was told yes by a supervisor.  When she returned the other supervisor asked her who had given her permission and she said it had been the other supervisor that had given permission.  The supervisor spoke with the other supervisor and she said she had not given permission and then they started scolding her and she began to cry.

NLC:  When do you get lunch and when do you get the morning break?

Sonia: We don't have a break at 10 a.m., we get our break in the morning when we enter, so we have a little time to eat and change clothes before entering, at the minimum they give us 15 minutes, in the morning.  So in place of getting a break at 10 a.m. we get it in the morning.  So we go from 7 a.m. until 12 or 12:30 p.m. when we get out for lunch.

NLC:  So, you are saying you don't get a 15-minute break?

Sonia:  In place of the 10 a.m. break we get it at 7 a.m.

NLC:  What do get dressed into during those 15 minutes?

Sonia: Our hair net, apron, the mask, and nylon gowns — for the melon work.

NLC:  Not for the broccoli?

Sonia: No.  For the broccoli they only give you enough time to put on a hair net, gloves and an apron.

NLC:  And this happens between 7 a.m. and 7:15 a.m.

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:  What time is lunch?

Sonia: 12:30 p.m.

NLC:  And you get a half an hour?

Sonia: Yes, just a half and hour.

NLC:  Are there any other breaks during the day?  At 10 a.m. you just keep working?

Sonia: Yes. 

NLC:  Do you ever go to Pollo Campero (restaurant) to buy fried chicken?

Sonia: No. We always bring our lunch.  And they also come to sell lunch.

NLC:  But on a pay-day, can a group of girls go to Pollo Campero to enjoy themselves? 

Sonia: They never do it.

NLC:  Why?  Is it too expensive?  Too little time?

Sonia: Not enough money.

NLC:  And when you work in preparation, what is the environment like, is it cold or hot?

Sonia: It is cold, the cold, it's just cold.

NLC:  Can you wear sweatshirts?

Sonia: Yes, but at times they will take them away from you and not return them.   If they see we are still wearing sweatshirts at midday they will take them away from us and sometimes they don't return them.

NLC:  So, you can't wear a sweatshirt?

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:  Why?

Sonia: They tell us we are lazy for wearing sweatshirts. 

NLC:   If you feel cold, you have to move more, right?

Sonia: Yes.  When we do melon, nobody goes in with a sweater.

NLC:  And, is the ground wet when you are doing the melon?

Sonia: Yes.  The water rises by an inch.

NLC:  So you stand in water?

Sonia: Yes.  Damp.

NLC:  So your feet get damp?

Sonia: Sometimes your feet start splitting and bleeding, getting infected from all the stuff you throw around.  The ones that are not strong get infections. 

NLC:  Bleeding?

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:   Do you get boots when it's wet?

Sonia: No.

NLC:  Are you working in sandals?

Sonia: Sneakers.   And it's even more damp because once water gets in, you have to walk around with wet shoes.

NLC:  So your feet are wet the 12 hours? 

Sonia: Yes

NLC:  That must be hard, and it must make you colder?

Sonia: When we use gloves, people start to get rashes and allergies from the disinfectant.  The gloves rub up against you and you get allergic reactions on the hands.

NLC:  And can you talk to each other while working?

Sonia: Yes.  But so long as they don't see you, otherwise they scold you.

NLC:  When you get out of work are you tired?

Sonia: Yes.  Some girls ask for permission to leave because they can't stand it anymore.

NLC:  Are you on your feet all day?

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:  When you go home, do your hands hurt, your legs?  How do you really feel?

Sonia: You feel a lack of motivation, you get home and want to do nothing, you just want to go to bed because your hands hurt, your back . . . your feet, of course.

NLC:   How old are you now?

Sonia: I'm going to be seventeen in November.  I'm 16 going 17.

NLC:  Does the factory pay social security, so you can go to the doctor if you get sick?

Sonia: No.

NLC:  But do they deduct social security from your salary?

Sonia: No.

NLC:  So, you don't have access to social security.

Sonia: No

NLC:  Some workers were fired on Friday because they asked for their wages?

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:  Do you know what happened?

Sonia: What happened is that they did not know if they were going to get paid, but since someone told them they weren't going to get paid they got angry and went out to demand their pay and all that, but when they left and re-entered to speak with the boss he mistreated them, he treated them like men, the supervisor said some terrible things, that they were almost crying and because of them we also got scolded because they didn't want us to do the same thing.

NLC:  How many were fired?

Sonia: Ten

NLC:  You were supposed to get paid on that day and they did not receive their wages?  So they were just asking for their pay?

Sonia: They were demanding their pay, but they didn't know they were going to be paid that night.

NLC: In reality they were going to be paid that night?

Sonia: Yes.  But since they didn't understand that they went out like crazy people and, well, the boss mistreated them.

NLC:  They left the factory?

Sonia: The were in preparation.  They left preparation and went outside, to the parking lot.

NLC:  Do you think other processing plants could be better, do you have a sense of what work is like in other plants?

Sonia: Well in Teresa and Alusa it's more complicated, because there you produce 1,005 or 1,004, but you work from 7 a.m. to 10 at night.

NLC:  Alusa or Mil Teresa?

Sonia: Is it not the same thing?

NLC:   In Mil Teresa the workers in preparation are working from 7 in the morning until 10 at night.
Sonia: When there is too much production.   They really demand more of you than us.

NLC:  And are they working six days, seven days, or five days?

Sonia: Minimum 7 days.  But now, this month, they are working one day on, one day off because there isn't much production.

NLC:  You may not know, but do you know if there are minors working in Mil Teresa?

Sonia: No.  There are no minors.  They only hire you with papers.

NLC:  Do they get paid more?  Are the wages better?

Sonia: Yes.  1000, 1100 Q.

NLC:  Do you get visits from North Americans?

Sonia: Yes.  Gringos.

NLC:  Do they come in once a year or once a month?

Sonia: Twice a year.  Sometimes from China.

NLC:  And, what do they do?

Sonia: They look all around the plant.  Sometimes they look to see if the plant is clean and in order.

NLC:  Do they talk to the workers?

Sonia: No

NLC:  Before the arrival of these people is the factory cleaned especially well?

Sonia: Not so well, but yes, it is cleaned.  Everyone starts to do cleaning, reception and processing and registration and everything. 

NLC:  Do they tell the workers what to say if these people ask you something?

Sonia: No.

NLC:  So you can say what you want?

Sonia: Yes.

NLC:  When the North American companies tell us that at Tierra Fria they respect all of the workers' rights, that they pay them correctly, that they pay sick days, that they have paid vacations, is that true?

Sonia: No

NLC:  Our president George Bush is arriving on the 10th or 11th of March.  What would you like to tell him if you had a chance?  He is going to say that these factories are a great success and a great benefit to the town.

Sonia: I would tell him that it's all a lie.  Well at least I would tell him it's all a lie, what they have told him is not true, they don't give us benefits, paid vacations, sick days, that its all a lie because we are not paid well.  I would love to meet him and speak to him and explain things.

NLC:   Yesterday when we met your co-workers, when you convinced them to talk to us, they were in agreement with all you have just said. 

Sonia: Yes, because they are being robbed of their overtime.

NLC:  They told us there were workers who were 13, but they did not know anyone that was 12. 

Sonia: There are twelve year olds, even ten year olds, but I think they fired them because they are too little to work.  Plus, the boss is always hiring minors to meet production goals.

NLC:  You think there are no more 10 or 11 or 12 year-olds?

Sonia: Yeah, thirteen and up.

NLC:  And how long ago were there ten or eleven or twelve year old girls working in the factory?

Sonia: Mid-November.

NLC:  Right now, in your section, there are 85 workers, how many are thirteen?

Sonia: I couldn't tell you.

NLC:  Is it one or ten? What do you think?

Sonia: Maybe ten.

NLC:  Before, there were 150 workers and then the number went down to 85, but has the production goal gone down?  The pounds or the amount?

Sonia: The amount that they have to put out has increased.  This week they are going to pressure us more.