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Update on the Situation at the Arnecom Auto Plant in Nicaragua

July 15, 2005  |  Share

Arnecom Auto Parts Workers in Nicaragua Under Attack 

Thousands of auto parts workers in Nicaragua, paid just 41 cents an hour to manufacture automotive electrical systems for export to the U.S., are the target of a systematic, illegal campaign led by the Yazaki Corporation to deny these workers their fundamental rights to freedom of association and to organize.

  • On July 6, in the latest attack to destroy the independent union, four of the newly-elected union leaders were fired.
  • Since then, there have been more firings and threats that workers will be fired for involvement with the union.
  • Nicaraguan Congresswoman Alba Palacios has denounced the "union repression" and the "complicity" of the Nicaraguan Ministry of Labor and Nicaragua's Free Zone Corporation in "violating the rights of the workers."
  • The independent Nicaraguan Center for Human Rights (CENIDH) will file a suit before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

The Arnecom workers are appealing for international solidarity. Please write a letter to Yazaki, with cc to the Nicaraguan Ambassador and the NLC. We will get your letter to the union so they can use it with the Nicaraguan press and to let their members know that people in the U.S. support their struggle.

Click here to read the original report,.

Click here to see a model letter to Yazaki North America or click here to see one to the Nicaraguan Ambassador.

Brief Background on Arnecom
  • Arnecom is a joint venture led by the giant Japanese multinationalYazaki corporation-with operations in over 30 countries with 90,000 workers-and the Xignux industrial consortium of Mexico. Five thousand workers at Arnecom's plants in Nicaragua manufacture automotive electrical systems for export to Toyota, Nissan and Ford in the U.S.
  • When Arnecom first broke ground for its plants two-and-a-half years ago, company representatives told the community in Leon and Viega that they would be paid $50 a week. Instead, the workers found themselves earning just 37 cents an hour and $18.72 a week. The situation was made even worse when the workers did not receive any pay increase in 2003 or 2004, despite a combined inflation rate of 14 percent, sinking workers deeper into poverty.
  • Seventy percent of the Arnecom workers are young women 18 to 25 years of age. To get a job at Arnecom the workers have to parade naked before management to show that they are fit. Often abuses include mandatory pregnancy tests, workers dripping in sweat all day from extreme factory heat, needing permission to use the toilet, constant speed ups, pressure to meet high production goals, exposure to dangerous chemicals, wages docked for arriving even a few minutes late, and an atmosphere of repression, intimidation and fear.
Anatomy of Worker Rights Denial
  • After repeated requests to meet with management were ignored, in early February 2005, in a spontaneous action, the Arnecom workers walked off their jobs to protest their below-subsistence level wages and poor working conditions. Workers stayed in the factory two days without food or water.
  • Management responded quickly by hand picking what it called a "commission of workers" which was then locked behind closed doors with Arnecom's leaders. After two days, management and its "commission of workers" emerged to announce a three-cent-an-hour wage increase. The workers were shocked and angry, but management prohibited a vote on their offer while letting it be known that if the three cent increase was not accepted, those fighting against it would be fired.
  • Despite the threats, the workers organized. More than 800 workers dared sign a list of demands calling for higher wages and better working conditions, which 300 workers then marched over to present to the local Ministry of Labor office in Leon.
  • Arnecom feared that the next step would be for these workers to organize an independent union. Management quickly moved to turn its hand-picked "commission of workers" into a company, or yellow union. There would be no dues. Management would pay the "union" 14,000 cordobas a month, or $850. Next, the Arnecom workers were told that if they refused to affiliate with this "friendly" union, they would be fired.
  • A group of committed and brave Arnecom workers refused to back down, and went on to call for a workers assembly on May 29 in order to organize an independent union and elect their new leaders. On May 30, management began its systematic illegal union-busting drive. On May 31, management retaliated by firing three of the newly elected union leaders. However, management's action was so blatantly illegal, and because the workers fought back, the three union leaders had to be reinstated on June 1.
  • Arnecom management then shifted tactics. Management had its company union submit a suit to the Ministry of Labor calling for an investigation to declare the independent union null and void due to incorrect founding procedures. When asked by the CST Labor Federation to stop the investigation, a Ministry of Labor official responded that they could not, as they were under "too much pressure from the company."
  • It turns out that this is a well-known and effective tactic that has been used repeatedly by companies to block union organizing drives. While the Ministry of Labor is carrying out its investigation, the legal status of the union is frozen, leaving it in a state of limbo, paralyzed and unable to act. Even if management loses this first attempt to challenge the legal status of the real union, it can file a second, third, fourth complaint, and so on. All management has to do is threaten or bribe a single worker into submitting the challenge. So this delay tactic can go on for months, for even a year or longer.
  • Management is using this period of delay, when the independent union is frozen without its legal recognition, to go on the offensive.
  • Management has told the workers, and supervisors are enforcing this, to stay away from and not speak with the independent union leaders or members since "they are only looking to close the factory." If a worker is seen approaching or talking with a unionist, supervisors race over to listen to everything they say so they can report back to their managers.
  • Yanileth Flores, Arnecom's personnel manager, is calling one at a time all the union members and leaders for meetings that last up to two hours. The unionists are told: "If you don't resign from the union, we're going to fire you and your whole family." This is a serious threat, as many couples work at Arnecom, along with brothers, sisters, and cousins. The personnel manager explains: "We want a friendly organization to work with the company, which we have now"If you don't resign from your union, its very possible that we will not need your services any more."
  • On Sunday, June 12, supervisors visited the homes of about two dozen of the union's founding members telling them they had to quit the union.
  • The fear tactics are having an effect. Management is also spreading rumors that in the near future, they will stop hiring full time workers and rather rely on lower paid temporary workers, who can be rehired every six months.
  • After Marta Maria Caballaro, International Affairs Secretary of the independent union, denounced to the Ministry of Labor inspector the threats management was directing against the unionists, he responded, "They were going to lose their jobs because unions are good for nothing."
  • Union leaders and activists are being denied overtime. By working grueling 16 hour shifts three or even four times a week from 2:00 p.m. straight through to 6:00 a.m. the following day, or some weeks, the workers could actually double their weekly wages. The supervisor told Marta Maria Caballero that "you're getting into things that you shouldn't get into, and that's why you won't get overtime again."
  • Former Nicaraguan Ministry of Labor General Inspector, Emilio Noquera, who is now-how appropriately-working for the Free Trade Zone Corporation is said to be consulting with and managing Arnecom's illegal anti union drive.
  • On June 23, a poster mysteriously appeared near the workers' locker area reading:

Workers: you don't have to follow persons not belonging to the company who are trying to harm the company and want to put the workers against management. These people are saying things based on lies, but thank God they haven't gotten what they wanted and that they have been defeated. These people are just looking to get fired.

Of course this came from management.

  • Management continues to give resignation letters to the unionists telling them: "We know that you were taken in by lies at that meeting (e.g. the assembly held to organize their union) and that you were bought off"so you must resign from the union or be fired."
  • According to Nicaraguan law, the Ministry of Labor has three days to reject a union legal registration if they have reason to believe that the founding process was incorrect or incomplete, which was not the case with the Arnecom independent union. So the Ministry of Labor could immediately approve the legal recognition of the union, but they are not. Probably this is because the Ministry of Labor is under too much pressure from the Arnecom company and the very powerful Japanese Yazaki Corporation.
  • On Wednesday, July 6 at 1:00 p.m., four workers who are leaders of the new union were called one by one to Arnecom's personnel office and fired by chief of personnel, Yamileth Flores. They were told that they were being fired under Article 45 of the Nicaraguan Labor Code-firing for no just cause. When the workers refused the severance payments offered, indicating that they would dispute the firing, Ms. Flores responded, "If you don't sign now, this money is going to the courts and it's going to be a nightmare for you to get it, if you ever get it at all. The union is asking for international help. These illegally fired leaders are fighting for reinstatement, and for the Arnecom workers' right to form a union. It is feared that more firings may follow.

The fired union leaders are:

Jose Luis Sandoval, General Secretary

Marco Antonio Cadenas, Secretary of Organization

Sergio Ramon Mayorga, Secretary of Conflicts

Guillermo Alfonso Aragon, Secretary of Youth

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