Reports

November 1, 2003  |  Share

AAA Honduras


We're here because we trust in the Honduran worker.

(Road sign on the way to the Choloma Free Trade Zone)

 


AAA Honduras / Alejandro Apparel

Choloma Free Zone
Choloma, Cortes
Honduras

AAA Honduras / Alejandro Apparel

Km 1, Carretera a Ticamaya
Choloma Free Zone
Choloma, Cortes Honduras

Phone: (504) 669-3565; -66; -67; -68
Fax: (504) 669-3570

Email: [email protected]
[email protected]

Honduran-owned

· Owner/General Manager: Jorge Alejandro Faraj Richmajul
· Chief of Personnel: Francisco Garcia
· Manager of Human Resources: Noemi Sanchez
· Legal Representative: Cynthia Gonzalez

The factory is actually broken up into three plants: Plant A is the warehouse, plant B houses the cutting and pre-assembly departments, while Plant C —where the vast majority of the workers are located—contains all the sewing lines and related operations.

Note: for years this factory was known as AAA. However, at this moment only 35 workers are officially under contract with AAA. Everyone else has been shifted over to Alejandro Apparel. It is the same three plants, the same owner, the same machinery, the same work, only with a new name. What concerns the workers is that Alejandro Apparel appears to have no official activity, no assets, no bank account, and does not own the machinery. Further, the manufacturer of record for exports remains AAA. The workers fear that this might be a maneuver by management to pave the way for more mass firings in which the "new" company has no responsibilities to pay severance or any other benefits. Either this is a new company and therefore the workers are new, with no security, and no claim to a severance, or it is a moot point since the new company has no assets to pay with. AAA/Alejandro Apparel does have a history of illegally hiring workers on personal contracts, without any legal rights, which roll over every two months. Such workers have no right to social security health care or any other benefits.

Number of Workers: Approximately 860 (down from 1,115 workers in early July 2003). The workforce is more or less equally divided between men and women. "Older" workers, who reach 35 years of age, face special pressure and discrimination as management looks for ways to fire them so they can be replaced by younger workers.

 Number of Workers

August 2003

Approximately 860

Day Shift #1:   630 sewers (42 modules with an average of of 15 workers each)
                     25 cutting department 20 pre-assembly
                     5 cleaning garments
                     24 inspection
                     15 final auditors
                     10 parking
                     5 mechanics
                     10 maintyanance
                     3 material suppliers
                     3 drivers
                     15 managemant personnel

Night Shift# 1: 24 workers
Night Shift# 2: 24 wo

 These Labels were Smuggled out of the AAA Plant by the Workers

 

Nike T-shirt: 100% Cotton; RN 56323; CA 05553
Adidas T-shirt: 100% cotton; RN 88387; CA 21356
Gildan T-shirt: Activewear, ultracotton, heavyweight, 100% pre-shrunk cotton; RN 93846; CA 25181
Hanes Beefy-T:100% pre-shrunk cotton; RN 15763; CA 21356
Fruit of the Loom T-shirt: Best, 50% cotton/50% polyester; RN 13765; CA 18345

 

 


 

 

The AAA factory—surrounded by barbwire, locked gates and private armed security guards—is in what is known as a bonded area, which means it receives all the same tax breaks available in the export processing zones. Namely, 100 percent exemption from all corporate, state, municipal and even sales taxes as well as all import and export duties and tariffs. Maquila companies like AAA often claim that they are not making a profit. However, by November 2002, AAA was evidently doing well enough to go to a seven-day-a-week, 24-hour a day production schedule, with two day and two night shifts. During peak production there were over 1,115 workers, but with recent mass firings of union organizers and layoffs on Day Shift #2, the factory is currently down to around 860 employees. AAA's owner, Jorge A. Faraj, who is of Palestinian decent, also has investments in banks and supermarkets in the San Pedro Sula area.

Day Shift #2 ran on 12-hour shifts Friday through Sunday. The company always classified this as a "seasonal or temporary shift." The shift first operated in 2000, was shot down, and reopened again in November 2002 in response to large new orders. Despite the fact that the shift was running full time for 10 months, the company illegally hired the workers on personal contracts which they rolled over every two months. The company did this to prevent the workers from gaining any legal rights or access to social security, vacation, Christmas bonus, or any other benefits—which only kick in after a worker has been employed for more than two months.

In August 2003, the factory fired the 240 workers in Shift #2 without paying a cent in severance or any other benefits. Of course, these mass layoffs have had a chilling effect, leaving the workers inside the plant even more frightened and concerned about losing their jobs.

SUMMARY: WORKING CONDITIONS AND VIOLATIONS

  • Hours: Dayshift #1—11 hours a day, 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., four days a week, Monday through Thursday.
  • Wages: Sewers earn 75 cents to $1.20 an hour. Average wage is 86 cents an hour, $6.88 a day, and $37.70 a week. Workers must borrow money each week in order to survive, and live in one-room huts lacking indoor plumbing. Told that the U.S. companies say their wages are adequate, one AAA worker responded: "That is a lie, because we have never had a good wage. If we earned a good living, we would not be living the way we live."
  • Excessively high production goals: A module of 15 workers must sew 3,456 t-shirts in the 10 ½ hour shift. Each worker in effect must sew 230 t-shirts per day, 22 per hour and one shirt every 2.7 minutes. Supervisors stand over the sewers threatening them.
  • Sewers work through lunch, taking just 10 minutes so they can race back to their machines in an attempt to reach their production goal.
  • Management says it will now increase the daily production goal by an additional 500 shirts, while lowering the piece-rate to just 5 cents per shirt.
  • Paid 6 cents per shirt: The workers are paid just 6 cents !!If the average wage is 86 cents an hour and each worker makes 22 shirts an hour then they make 4 cents per shirt — the 6 cent figure is correct for the 1.20 an hour wage!! for each t-shirt they sew. Their wages amount to 3/10th to 6/10ths of one percent of the shirt's retail price.
  • Total cost of the t-shirt is only $2.13: The total landed customs value of the t-shirt is just $2.13. This includes all materials, direct and indirect labor, shipping costs, and profit to the AAA company. Nike and other companies mark up the retail price of the shirt by 369 to 839 percent.
  • Nike spends 36 times more to advertise the shirt than they pay the workers to sew it. Nike spends $2.18 to advertise the shirt, while the workers are paid just 6 cents to sew it.
  • Workers actually earn less money—not more as one might think—sewing high-end Nike and Gildan shirts: Quality control demands increase, slowing production down, but workers continue to earn the same low piece-rate.
  • Extreme heat in the factory: Workers report that they are dripping with sweat all day.
  • Drinking water is filthy and unsafe: Water contains bacterial levels 1,400 percent in excess of allowable standards. The water is contaminated with fecal matter (see water test below).

 

 
 water test
  • Bathroom visits monitored: Workers run to the bathroom. If workers spend "too long," management uses the public address system to order them back to their workstations.
  • Speaking prohibited during working hours.
  • Workers report being exhausted at the end of the day, many suffering repetitive motion wrist and back pain.
  • Workers have no idea that Nike's Code of Conduct supposedly upholds their right to freedom of association.
  • Before audits, the factory is cleaned and supervisors threaten and coach workers to lie if they are questioned.
  • In an amazing show of unity and resolve, the workers shut the plant down for two days with a peaceful sit-down strike. Not a single machine ran. The strike was over the loss of 34 cents a week in wages—which speaks volumes about how inadequate wages really are at AAA—and maltreatment on the part of line supervisors.
  • Despite assurances from the owner that there would be no reprisals, the firings started within four days. Forty-two of the leaders of the sit-down strike have been fired.
  • The owner says he will never accept a union, and if they insist on organizing, he will shut the plant down.

The Chief of Personnel is saying that the fired workers were terrorists, who were making bombs in their homes to set the factory on fire. He also tells the workers inside the plant that "being involved in unions is dangerous," and that in the past, "trade unionists were usually killed."

The fired workers are fighting for their reinstatement and for their rights to be respected.

On July 29, the workers organized a legal union which is inscribed with the Ministry of Labor. Of the 70 founding members, to date 30 have been fired.

This is a watershed struggle to reverse the concerted systematic attempt by the companies to rid the booming maquila sector of unions and to roll back labor rights gains in preparation for the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

Sit-down "strike" over the loss of 34 cents a week
Without consulting the workers, AAA management decided to switch from cash wage payments to direct bank transfers. The workers were given debit cards. However, now when the workers wanted to withdraw their pay, the bank charged them six lempiras (34 cents) for each transaction. On top of that, the workers had to keep a minimum balance in their accounts, so if they earned 655 lempiras a week, or $37.70, they had to leave 55 lempiras, or $3.17 in their account.

This was something the workers could ill afford. They were already forced to borrow money each week, just to purchase enough food for their families to survive. As the workers put it: with 34 lempiras, you can almost purchase a bag of beans.

There was also the treatment by the supervisors, which was getting worse. The supervisors often stood right over the workers, shouting and threatening them to go faster.

To block the workers and make sure they never even thought of attempting to exercise their legal right to organize a real union, the owner had created the shell of a yellow union, which he called the "Collective Pact." The owner hand-picked a few of the workers, made them officers in the "union" and gave them a contract to sign. Finally, management was saying that they would soon be increasing the daily production goal for each worker from 230 t-shirts to 263 shirts per day, while at the same time lowering the piece-rate to just five cents per shirt.

This was too much. So, after lunch, at 12:30 p.m. on Monday, July 7, the workers shut the factory down with a peaceful sit-down action. Not a single machine ran. As the workers put it, even the maintenance staff stopped working. Everyone stopped working. It was an incredible show of unity. And the workers were very well organized. There were 42 production teams, or modules, within the factory. Each module elected a team leader. The strike went into the next day, Tuesday, July 8, when at 2:45 p.m., over the plants public address system, the owner called the workers to a meeting. The 42 leaders went, and in orderly groups of 10 went in to negotiate with the managers.

Before long an agreement had been reached. They had actually won some of their demands. The workers would now be paid in cash again, which was a big victory. The workers would also be paid for the two days they were on strike. And management committed to stricter oversight of the supervisors to guarantee better treatment. Verbally he told the workers there would be no reprisals against them. He gave his word.

However, the owner would not budge on his decision to increase the production goal or lower the piece-rate, claiming that the U.S. companies were paying less and less.

Still, the sit down action showed real unity and support among the workers, and good leadership and organizing. It also spoke volumes about the below subsistence wages at the plant—that the workers went out primarily over the loss of just 34 cents a week in pay.

When asked why they did not simply meet with the owner rather than organize a sit-down protest, the workers responded that the owner never met with the workers. He refused, and the supervisors prohibited it. The "collective pact" which the company created was, of course, useless. Every problem was dealt with by the supervisor taking the workers to the personnel office where they were threatened and received a warning. The workers had no voice. If they had not stopped working, the owner never would have listened to them.

In the course of the meeting, one of the demands was to get rid of the "collective pact," which none of the workers wanted. It was at this point that the owner, Mr. Jorge A Faraj, said he would never accept or allow a union at his factory. But the cat was out of the bag, and the owner knew these workers wanted to exercise their legal right to freedom of association. He would not let that happen.

Despite giving his assurance that there would be no reprisals, in less than a week the firings began. The sit-down action ended on July 8. On Monday, July 14, the company fired five of the most important and outspoken leaders, who management believed led the action.

The five fired workers were:

· Martha Iris Alberto
· Milthon Migdonio Sandoval Miranda
· Jose Leonardo Ayala Bejarho
· Jose Danilo Alvarado Pineda
· Marlin Jamileh Ramos

It did not end there. Over the next 10 days, by July 24, management fired 13 more of the most outspoken workers. The activists knew they could wait no longer, so on July 29 they went public that they had organized a union—the SITRALAPA union of Alejandro Apparel—and presented their legal documents to the Ministry of Labor. Within a week, management responded by firing 17 more of the union leaders.

Of the original 70 founding members of the union, 30 had now been fired. Among those fired were eight team—or module—leaders, and even two pregnant women, who by law cannot be fired.

Management had now fired everyone they suspected of playing a lead role in initiating the sit-down action and in organizing the union.

Management hoped that these targeted firings, along with laying off 240 workers from day shift #2, would be enough to frighten the rest of the workers into silence.

 


 

Fired Workers Fighting for Their Reinstatement
 

 NAME

STARTED WORKING ON

 DATE OF FIRINGS

 1

 Mayra Concepción Gutiérrez Cruz 

March 15-2000  July 23-2003

 2

 Alester Adalid Sosa Mencia

 April 37-1999   July 24-2003
 3  Franklin Roldan Paz Paz

 Frebruary 28-2000

  July 23-2003

 4  Milton Migdonio Sandoval

 February 14-2000

  July 14-2003

 5  Pedro Orlando Gálvez Ramirez

 May 27-2002

  July 23-2003

 6  Calixto López Machado

 January 9-2001

  July 23-2003

 7  Carlos Hernán López López

 January 9-2001

  July 23-2003

 8  Ruth Mabel Carcamo

 February 14-2000

  July 23-2003

 9  Rosa Fidelia Sánchez Molina

 January 15-2001

  July 30-2003

 10  Alex Manolo Lara Ramírez

 February 9-2001

  July 30-2003

 11  María Isabel Hernández Ochoa

 January 9-2001

  July 31-2003

 12

 Eugenia I. Ramírez Romero

 May 15-2000

  July 13-2003

 13  José Daniel Rosales Guevara

 May 30-2000

 August 5-2003

 14  José Leonardo Ayala

 August 30-1999

  July 14-2003

 15  José Danilo Alvarado Pineda

 November 14-2000

  July 14-2003

 16

 Marlin Yamileth Ramos

 April 30-2001

  July 14-2003

 17

 Fernando Emilio Macias Maradiaga

 February 13-2001

 August 5-2003

 18  María Araceli Hernández Sorto

 January 15-2001

 August 5-2003

 19  Amado Sergio Domínguez

 January 17-2000

 August 5-2003

 20  Victor Nazario Medina Velásquez

 April 4-2000

 August 5-2003

 21  Mario Rolando Cruz

 February 22-2000

 August 5-2003

 22  Rosa Emerita Rodríguez

 January 19-2001

 August 5-2003

 23

 Alma Graciela Sarmiento

 April 26-2000

 August 5-2003

 24  Geovany Misael Vázquez Romero

 February 20-2001

 August 5-2003

 25

 María Juanan Liceth Lara Aldana

 January 9-2001

 August 5-2003

 26  Juan Bautista Ramírez

 May 24-1999

  July 31-2003

 27  Glenda Maribel Zavala Moreno

 November 23-1999

  July 21-2003

 28  Daniel Méndez

 November 23-1999

  July 21-2003

 29  Wilmer Salvador Rodríguez Ayala

 January 19-2000

 August 5-2003

 30  Esaid De Jesús Caballero Raudales

 May 18-1998

  July 31-2003

Note: since the factory now uses two names, 30 of the fired workers have placed a suit against Alejandro Apparel demanding their reinstatement, while another seven have filed a similar suit for AAA. In total, 37 workers are fighting for their immediate reinstatement.

However, of the 42 activists fired, 37 have refused to accept their severance pay, and have announced that they are going to fight for reinstatement—and yes, to help build a real union to represent the workers and to win respect for their rights.

The workers say they formed their union because they were tired of the disrespect shown by the managers; all the maltreatment and violations of the law; the constant threats; the harassment of moving a worker from module to module as a form of punishment; and the one-week suspensions without pay for failing to reach one's production goal.

The owner, Jorge Faraj, is saying that if the fired activists continue with their legal suit demanding reinstatement, he will shut the factory down.

To prevent further firings and reprisals for the time being, the new union is avoiding holding any large public meetings.

However, the lines are now clearly drawn in what has become a critical movement for the defense of basic labor rights in Honduras.

Chief of Personnel, Francisco Garcia, showed pictures of five of the fired activists to workers still inside the plant, saying the five had made death threats against him. He claimed the fired workers were terrorists and had the ability to make bombs in their homes to attack him and blow the factory up. Someone had seen the fired workers, he said, carry weapons in following the factory's head of Human Resources, Noemi Sanchez. Francisco Garcia said he reported all this to the police. Later on he told the workers in the plant that "being involved with unions is dangerous" and in the past, "trade unionists were usually killed."

As ridiculous as these claims may appear, it could be an attempt to lay the groundwork to bring trumped up charges against the fired activists, tying them up in lengthy court proceedings they cannot afford. Or it could be much more serious. It could be meant as a signal to the vigilantes and criminal gangs in Honduras—which are out of control at this moment—that these fired unionists are an acceptable target.

The Independent Workers Federation of Honduras (FITH) is accompanying the AAA workers in their struggle for justice. Everyone involved sees this as an important, watershed moment, knowing that the outcome of the struggle at AAA will have ramifications far beyond this single factory. For the last year, there has been a concerted campaign by the companies to wipe out the few remaining unions in the maquila, and to roll back any labor rights gains the workers have won. The FITH union federation sees this as a conscious strategy to destroy the labor movement in preparation for passage of the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas.

Asked if a victory by the AAA workers could favorably impact the survival of the maquila unions in Honduras, the president of the FITH, Israel Salinas responded:

"Yes, because this is a very strategic company, and so a favorable precedent for the workers will uphold the future of the union movement in our country. Each failure is one more frustration and in the place of injecting spirit in the interests of the workers, it injects frustration.

We are optimists, and we think that as with the AAA struggle, we are going to also advance in a positive manner in other maquila companies""

 

 WORKERS' DEMANDS
  • Immediate reinstatement of fired workers, with back wages, to their former jobs.
  • Cease all reprisals against the workers for organizing the peaceful sit-down action.
  • Fulfill the agreement signed between the AAA company and the workers.
  • Respect the workers' legal rights to freedom of association and to organize a union.

 


 

 

Agreement

In the municipality of Choloma, Cortes, the 8th of July, 2003 at 2:00 in the afternoon, the undersigned labor inspector, using the authority conferred by labor law in accordance with Article 376 of the Labor Code in force, met with representatives of the workers whose names are attached and Mr. Jorge Alejandro Foraj Rishmawy as legal representative of the companies AAA Honduras Apparel Manufacturer SA de CV and Alejandros Apparel SA de CV. to put an end to the work stoppage that began July 7 of this year (2003) agreeing the following.

First: The companies will give the workers freedom to decide if they want to receive their pay by check, through a debit card or in cash.

Second: The companies are obligated to pay severance when it is obligatory to pay said right and when it is approved by the Government and published in the official daily "La Gaceta"

Third: The workers, in General Assembly, will name a new leadership of the Collective Pact of the companies AAA Honduras Apparel SA de CV and Alejandros Apparel SA de CV.

Fourth: In relation to the deduction of Social Security payments, these should continue to be paid because it is an obligatory deduction authorized by law and demanded by clients and this cannot be eluded.

Fifth: The companies through their representatives commit to watch that middle management gives better treatment to the workers.

Sixth: Every production module will be free to elect its own leader.

Seventh: The companies commit to recognize the workers wage for the days Monday, ? and Tuesday 8th of July based on the minimum wage leaving the workers the option of replacing the production for the days they did not work due to the work stoppage on July 11th and 12th of this year. In good faith and to confirm we sign this agreement, together with the undersigned who truly, ending this document at 2:15 in the afternoon.

 

 


 

Choloma, Cortes

July 14, 2003


Sr Milton Migdonio Sandoval

Dear Mr. Sandoval,

This is to notify you that the company has decided to terminate the labor relation with you, unilaterally and with no responsibility on our part for the following cause:

You, without any justification participated and incited a tempestuous work stoppage in the company on the days of Monday, July 7, 2003 from 1:00 in the afternoon approximately until leaving time and on Tuesday, July 8, 2003 from starting until 2:30 in the afternoon, not following the orders and instructions issued by the company, in that not just once but various times the administrative personnel required you to work, you roundly refusing, and in addition failing to observe good manners of conduct, which is not unknown, the way in which you addressed your immediate supervisors and the Labor Inspector when you were ordered to start working.

This tempestuous work stoppage on the aforementioned days, stopping the production has caused the company grave economic damages.

Article number 97, numbers 1 and 3, article 98 number 5, article 112 line 1 of the Labor Code in force serve as basis for this letter of termination.


Francisco Garcia

Department of Human Resources

 

Fired Workers Describe Their Sit-Down "Strike"
Not a single machine ran
Owner says point-blank he will never accept a union

Martha Iris Alberto, Marlin Jamileh Ramos, Milthon Sandoval Miranda, Leonardo Ayala Bejarno, and Jose Danilo Alvarado Pineda were fired on July 14, 2003, just days after organizing the sit-down action. This interview was done on July 18, 2003. (By the first week in August, the owner had fired 32 more of the most active strike leaders.)

And how many of you are currently fired?

Jose: Let me see, we are 5 people. 2 females and 3 males fired.

Marlin: All of us. Marlin makes a circle with her left index finger.

So, you are all of them? And who wants to tell us why you were fired?

The workers remain quiet for a few seconds and turn their attention towards Martha. She has been chosen to explain why they were fired.

Yes, Why?

Martha: The problem of getting fired was for, for a stoppage of work that we did to defend our rights because they were paying by means of a card and for us, the poor, it is not to our advantage because every time you make a transaction they discount 6 lempiras and if you take out, at least, if we earn a salary of 576 lempiras we only take out 550, the 26 remains there. And also because of the bad treatment that they give us — the heads of production, because of the collective pact in the factory that does not benefit us in anything, which is why we carried out the work stoppage, but the team elected a leader to represent them, so that we would talk with the owner of the factory and we went and the owner — we arrived at an agreement with them. They signed a document that told us that they would pay us for the two days that we had stopped work and that they would not take retaliations against us, but the truth is that it was not like that, because already by Monday they had fired us without rights to anything - saying in the letter of dismissal that the firing was for the initiation of the work stoppage that we had made and the work stoppage was the whole plant- nobody worked so the truth is that they have only fired us until now.

And on what day were you fired?

Martha: Monday, the fourteenth of June"July.

And the price of each transaction of the bank, that the bank charged, the 6 lempiras? .

Martha: 6 lempiras

. . . that is 34 cents of the dollar in the United States.

But your wages are so low that you need those 6 lempiras.

Martha: That's right. At least for us, 6 lempiras buys us one pound of beans, one pound of sugar.

Martha continues.

Martha: And the truth is that we succeeded - the end of the cards, now they pay in cash, but they fired us.

And so, how was the work stoppage? That is to say, was everyone sitting down?

Jose: Yes.

Martha: Yes. Everyone was seated at their work station. We did not get up until they called us through the loudspeaker that we go to the management to speak with the owner of the factory. With her left arm raised and hand open flat, she pokes at the air.

So, you just stopped working?

Group: Yes, that's right. All nod their heads.

And just sat there?

Group: Yes. Seated.

And all the workers did this?

Martha: Everyone. Everyone at the plant. Every single one at the plant.

Marlin: Everyone. And they fired only us. She points at herself and then makes a sweeping away motion with her left hand.

So, not one machine was running?

In a somewhat defiant tone, Martha explains the mentality of the workers while making matter of fact gestures by shrugging her shoulders and raising both her arms by her side.

Martha: No. Not one. Everyone — including the janitors had stopped. Because we all wanted to be paid in cash. Everyone wanted the removal of the pact because it did not benefit us in any way — they take away one lempira and if we have a problem, no matter how grave it is, they never help us in anything — there are never any reserves — the factory never has a cent to lend us. So that is why we told them to terminate the pact because it does not benefit us in any way.

How long did the strike last?

Martha: It began Monday at 12:00 and it ended Tuesday at 2:45.

And when you met with the owner, what happened?

As Martha explains the situation she is calm and composed.

Martha: He met with us, and told us to tell him why the work stoppage. So we told them that we wanted, that in the first place they pay us in cash. And that the collective pact did not benefit us in anything. That we wanted him to get rid of the collective pact. And that we wanted — him to increase the price of the dozen because what we earned did not meet our needs — everything was expensive and what we earned was not enough for food. And he said that it was impossible
because they paid them very little for the product and since they were being paid cheaply, because of that, they were lowering the price of the dozen. So, instead of increasing the price of the dozen they lowered the price of the dozen and increased our production goal.

That is to say that his response was that he was going to have to lower the price per dozen?

Group: Yes.

And increase the production goal?

Martha: Yes, that's right.

So, that was the response to the strike?

Martha: That was the response he gave us on the price of the dozen. And with regard to the card, he did agree to pay us in cash. With regard to the collective pact, he said that he could not change it, so some co-workers asked that he permit us to organize in a union and so he said, "No. Not a union."—that he did not want a union in the factory, that he wanted to have the collective pact, that he preferred to change the leadership that was in place, but that he would not accept that the collective pact be removed. Her left hand cuts across the air to emphasize the points of disagreement between the workers and management.

But the collective pact, isn't it something by the workers? Who negotiated the collective pact?

Martha: There are workers, but they select them, the owners of the factory. Her face is stern.

So, the owner chose the workers that would negotiate the collective pact?

Martha: Yes. They choose them.

So, it is not a real negotiation?

Martha: No.

The owner actually said that he would not accept a union?

Martha: Yesterday he said he wouldn't.

Leonardo: He said that if we formed a union he would close the factory.

Martha: Yes. Because he says that unions bankrupt factories.

But you have a legal right to have a union?

Martha: But they do not permit it. She shakes her head gently.

But it seems to me that if everyone stopped working, everyone was participating, so you had a good amount of power together?

The workers silently nod in agreement.

That is a sign of power and unity. If you had the freedom to exercise your right to organize in a union would the people be willing to affiliate themselves?

Martha: Yes, they are willing.

Jose: Yes, there are plenty of people.

Martha: They are willing because what we did — the work stoppage - was for all the maltreatment toward us, they humiliated us there, so we were all in agreement — because all of us who went to the meeting with Don Jorge — everyone spoke to him about a union, that he allow us to organize in a union — that for us it would be better, so the owner said no, that he does not permit that in his factory because that bankrupts factories.

So, what prevents the workers from organizing in a union? Is it the risk of being fired?

Martha: That is the risk. That they fire us.

Marlin: To be fired.

Martha speaks passionately with hands flaring and dancing.

Martha: In my case, in my case I was organizing the union. I was organizing a union group and so, in any case, if I saw anything happening to my co-workers, I would go over to them and tell them that that was unjust. And so they have been looking for a way of retaliating against me because they noticed that I was organizing them - that I spoke with them, that we form a union in the factory for our benefit. And so I think that they fired me more for that because, in addition, one time the boss called me personally and asked me if I was in a union, that what a union was for me — he called me various times and I told him, "No." Because I knew that if I told him, "Yes, I am in a union. Yes, I am forming a union," he would fire me. And what I wanted was to introduce a union into the factory.

So, now all of you are fired?

Group: Yes.

And you were fired about a week after the work stoppage?

Group: Yes.

Leonardo gives the exact figure.

Leonardo: Like four days after.

But during the negotiation we thought that they said there would be no retaliation?

Leonardo: He said that he would not take any retaliatory measure against us, but he only, he only spoke.

As Leonardo speaks he makes as if he is holding an imaginary pen and writes in the air.

Leonardo: He did not sign a paper.

Marlin: It was not written. But he said it. He said it to me.

Are you worried that you could appear on a black list as union agitators?

Group: Yes.

Martha: Yes. Because they say — another thing they do is that if a person enters a union, they send word to other factories so that one cannot find work in any place. That is to say, it is as if one were a criminal or something. Her arms are raised at the end of the statement in a show of exasperation.

One last question. Why are the factories so afraid of unions? Why do they hate unions so much?

Martha: The owner of the factory said because they go bankrupt. We answered back that if the factory bankrupts it is because of the bad administration of those listening to us. Because, we, the only thing we have asked of him, is that he give us the opportunity of organizing in a union because the factories that have unions are better.

But it seems to us that you were fired illegally. What reason did they give for your dismissal?

The workers nod their heads.

Martha: In the dismissal letter, what it says there - it is for the initiation of the work stoppage. There they accuse us having answered rudely and in no moment did we do that. They brought in a labor inspector and what they say is that we answered rudely and that is a lie.

Marlin: He is the labor inspector here at the Ministry of Labor, here in San Pedro Sula. Marlin points.

So he was present?

Marlin: Yes, he treated us badly there.

Leonardo: They always work in favor of the factory and not the worker!

The workers appear distraught.

Group: The factory!

Marlin: Not the worker!

Martha: And it just so happens that on the day of the work stoppage, one my co-workers went to the Ministry to request an inspector because they had not paid him in three weeks, because he did not want to take the pay card and when he went they told him that there was nobody available. But when the factory called him, then yes, he ran, and labor inspector arrived right away.

Martha raises her index finger as she explains how the Ministry plays favorites — Jose looks at her and nods in confirmation.


 Martha Iris Alberto Invites us to Visit her Humble Home

-This is how the maquila workers live—with great dignity in the midst of abject poverty-

Holding her baby boy, Martha invites the camera crew into her very modest one room home and proceeds to point out her belongings. The home is cramped but neat and immaculately cleaned.

This is my house.

This is my dining table - my small dining table. Places hand on table, an inexpensive plastic one, the kind you would see in Home Depot for less than $20..

This is the table where we put things on, to cook, to chop. Lightly taps the small table.

Here is where we store our food — our china. Motions toward small glass cupboard.

Here is where we cook. Here is where we cook — there are the pots. Waves hand toward a tiny stove in the corner of the room.

Here is the living room. Indicates the entire space — approximately 5 feet wide, 10 feet deep.

Here is where we sleep. Pulls aside an old sheet that divides the small room in half. The space has enough room for one full sized bed and a bookshelf.

Here, this is the bed where we sleep. Points at the bed.

This is where we store our clothing. Points at a bin.

Here we have a division. Touches the sheets hanging on a wire.

We have a television. Points at television and scratches forehead.

This is the little that we have. Her oldest son has breached the division and her younger son begins to cry and call out her name.

No, no. Not here. Baby boy begins to cry.

How long have you lived here?

3 months. Baby continues to cry.

My love, now, now. Gently strokes baby boy's head. The camera man sweeps across the room and briefly stops the camera on a gray cement wall with three pictures. One is a family portrait, the second a cartoon of Tweety with the words "I love you" written above his head, and the third a young girl wearing a maroon graduation outfit.

I should get my sister. Calls out to sister.

Here I will present you my family. She is my oldest daughter, come — Estelle, she is 8 years old. Her daughter appears a little shy and brushes away a strand of hair from her face. Martha places her hand on top her young son's head. He is my youngest son —Jose, he is six years old. Looks at the baby boy she is holding. He is my little one — Andres, he is 1 ½ years old. And she is my sister. She is the one that takes care of them while I work. The family stands together and makes an effort to look comfortable in front of the camera.

Martha is now alone save for her baby boy who is lovingly bounced in an attempt to quiet his crying. With a welcoming smile she prepares for the more formal interview. The interview takes place in the "living room," which is actually the half of the room where her bed is not located.

How many people live in this house?

Five.

And where do the people live, where do the people sleep?

My sister, we drop the mattress here on the floor. Points at a mattress covered by a pink sheet with flower prints resting against the wall.

I sleep there. Waves to the other side of the partition. I sleep there on the bed with the small boy.

And the rest?

They also sleep with her here on the floor. Points to an open space on the floor that is occupied by the film crew. Her son coughs.

Do you have a fan?

Yes, we have a fan — there it is. Parts sheet to reveal a metal fan. And begins to point out her belongings once again.

Let me see, this is our dining room table where we sit down to eat.

There is our china closet where we store our food and the dishes.

This little table is to put things on.

That is the stove, where we cook.

And do you have a refrigerator?

No, no. Over there is the division where we have a television where we entertain ourselves watching movies. Martha walks toward partition.

The mirror, where we put the little things, things for shining shoes.

This is a very clean house. Martha smiles and nods in acknowledgment. The baby continues to cry and the room feels crowded with 8 people.

Mm-hm.

Well — maintained.

We live poorly, but . . . She smiles and rubs the sweat off her neck.

And how much does this house cost?

500 lempiras [$28.77]. She rocks her body back and forth — the child is now quiet.

500 lempiras per month?
And how much do you spend on food per week?

800 lempiras [$46.04] because I have to buy milk for my child.

And you buy powdered milk?

Yes, powdered.

What would be a typical meal for you, a daily meal?

Beans, rice, eggs, and tortillas.

Do you have a shower? Martha seems confused by the question.

Sorry?

A shower, that's to say, how do you bathe?

No, out there, in the sink. Rubs the sweat off her brow and nose using her t-shirt.

There is no bathroom.

How long have you worked at AAA?

3 ½ years.

And during that period of 3 ½ years, the label Hanes was always in the factory? It was always produced?

Yes, yes.

And has your life improved?

No, from the time that I have worked at AAA, I have not been able to buy anything. What I have, I already had.

And how much money have you been able to spend, save?

Nothing, we just work to eat. While rocking her child she raises her left hand and brings the fingers together to physically demonstrate a lack of money.

And the conditions at work, the treatment, has it improved?

No, it is terrible. She says this while nodding, with eyes closed, and lips firmly clamped together.

In what sense?

They treat you bad, they try to humiliate you, they grab you, they go around scolding you. She looks away from the interviewer and nods her head.

And do you think the people in the United States care about you? As this question is being asked the cameraman points the camera toward the ground — the children are barefoot.

No, that's to say, the others have never told us, explained anything to us. They just tell us that the States sends the product to Honduras because in Honduras the pay is cheaper.

And can you get help from the Ministry of Labor in Honduras?

No, they do not listen to us. As she says this her eyes open wide and her head tilts backward in an expression of disappointment.

Does the manager or the owner listen to you?

No, no. Her demeanor becomes dead serious.

Only because of the work stoppage — we did it so that they would listen to us.

And with regard to that, they even fired us without rights to anything.

We arrived at an agreement with him, but it did not help us because they fired us anyway.

Is there insurance, is there insurance for the unemployed in Honduras — that is to say, insurance that gives you something if you are unemployed?

No, one has to watch how one eats — but - I am worried, because one works and they have not given us anything at the factory.

You mean that you do not have any savings, and now you are fired?

No. Her head shakes.

And now you are fired?

And the factory has not even given me a dime.

And my little boy is even sick this week. The small boy clings to her shoulders as he gets rocked back and forth.

You were fired for asking for your rights?

Yes, for that. Beads of sweat trickle down the side of her face.

Let's go outside to continue the conversation, perhaps you could show us where you wash, where you bathe, where the bathroom is?

Yes.

The film crew and Martha's family step out of the house and into the front where a "pila"—a large concrete sink— holds water for both washing and bathing.

Is this the water?

This is the sink. This is the sink I use, and the girls next door use it. We wash here.

So it is really for the two houses.

Can you drink this water?

No, only from the tap.

In the morning when we come get it, we collect water in clean jugs to drink.

And we bathe out here because we do not have a bathroom. She smiles as she says this and flicks her wrist at the water. A little naked girl washes herself with the water as the interview proceeds.

So there is no bathroom?

No, there is no bathroom.

So, you just bathe here?

Here, outside.

In public?

Yes, yes. She grins.

And during the time that you were working at the factory could you take the kids to the movies?

No, during my time at AAA, I have never taken them. She closes her eyes, sucks in her lips, and shakes her head from side to side.

The wage at that factory is too low and it does not meet our needs, it is barely enough for the food. Her shoulders shrug.

And to earn a little more, since my job is from Monday to Thursday, I had to work Fridays and Saturdays, to at least buy them a chicken drumstick, some other type of meat, so they could eat better.

And do you or your children have bicycles?

She smiles and places her hand on her chest.

No, not even toys, nothing, because we are not going to buy them, everything is for food, right. There have been weeks where the factory pay is not enough - see, they may need a book or a pencil and we need to borrow the money to buy it. Her two boys play in the dirt beside her.

Do you have to borrow money every week?

Yes, because she is in second grade, they ask for many things. He is in first grade. And with the two in school, and the baby who is on a bottle, it is a big expense.

So, could you show us your bathroom?

The bathroom? Mm-hm. Martha directs the film crew toward the bathroom. As the crew makes its way to the bathroom area they pass by a makeshift tent made out of sheets. The bathroom is a gray brick outhouse with a tilted piece of sheet metal functioning as the roof. There is a large opening above the door for ventilation.

This is the bathroom that we use. We use it, only I and my family. The small boy begins to cry.

What's wrong? She comforts the child.

Inside there is a sink to throw water in the toilet because there is no lever to flush and since there is no water all day long, so we have to put water in the sink. Her little girl attempts to jimmy open the door, but it appears to be jammed.

Inside there, there is a sink to throw down the toilet because there is no flushing lever.

Is it occupied? She asks her little girl.

No. Her daughter tries to open the door, but it does not budge.

Maybe it's occupied

It's just that it gets stuck and you cannot open it. Her oldest son and daughter now both attempt to open the door, but fail.

Just leave it alone.

He is strong, the little guy.

Yes, he is the oldest.

The interview continues. Her three children stand beside her in the front yard.

At what time do you get up to go to work?

At four in the morning.

And what do you do in the mornings?

I make breakfast, to have breakfast here. To have breakfast out there is too expensive and we do not have enough.

So you make the breakfast here. Are there other chores that you must do — at what time do you leave for work?

At 6:25 the bus passes.

And between breakfast and leaving, what do you have to do? The little boy coughs and looks off into the distance.

I need to prepare the bottle for the child, one has to leave breakfast prepared because at 7 in the morning they go to school and so one has to leave them their food so they can go to school.

And at what time do you start work?

At 7:00 in the morning.

Until what time do you work?

Until 6:00 in the afternoon.

So you are working from 7:00 in the morning until 6:00 in the afternoon?

6:00 in the afternoon. She says this simultaneously with the interviewer.

How many breaks do you get during the day?

Only two. Two.

And when are the breaks and for how long?

In the morning, ten minutes. During lunch, we have a half-hour, but we only take about 10 minutes to return to work and meet our production goal. She frowns.

That is to say, the factory gives you a production goal?

Yes, too high, we even have to work during the times given to us for break, to be able to complete it"no, because the goal is not met, just a little, just to get close to the goal to earn a little. She raises her eyebrows.

Is it correct that you make shirts?

Shirts. The boys coughs and she wipes his nose.

And what is the production goal for the t-shirts that you make?

288 dozens a day. [ie: 15 workers must sew 2456 shirts each day]

And if you cannot meet the goal?

Then we only earn the minimum wage, they pressure us, they threaten us with punishment, they harass us, if not punish — and they make us work all day long without a right to pay.

You mean, you might have to work until 7 at night to meet the quota, that is, more time?

No, what we do — because they do not give us more time - well, what we do is that, that we do not eat in peace because — in ten minutes — to be able to complete, if we do not complete it, at times they make us come in on Friday to finish.

And when you get home are you tired?

Her stern face loses its composure and she smiles — the crew does not even understand. Her head tilts to the side and backwards.

Yes, very.

That is to say, stressed out.

Very, very. Her hand waves across her body.

Let's see, one would like, let's see, you don't even want to eat, all you want to do is go to sleep.

At what time do you get home?

At 7:00 because the factory bus leaves up until 6:30.

So you leave the house at 6:30 in the morning and return at 7:00 at night?

And return at 7:00 at night. She says simultaneously with the interviewer.

In my case, often times I arrive really tired and I just fall asleep because mine is the first operation. What is left, is what I do, so I need to have accumulation to be able to propel [the work] forward so that we meet our goal.

Yes, the supervisor forces us, when they see that we have gotten ahead in our work they say, "Come on! Come on! Get up and help the others!" - so that the production goal is met.

So you are constantly working?

Yes, in the factory one does not even have the time to, not even go to the bathroom, because you go to the bathroom on the run. Her head shakes side to side quickly and she snaps her fingers.

And does the factory have air conditioning, is it cool inside?

No, a lot of heat, one sweats a good deal. Touches her brow.

The workers are actually sweating while working?

Yes, in my case, I have been working and I need to have something to dry myself off because I sweat in streams. She makes as if she has a towel in hand and wipes her face.

And when you arrive at home do you have other chores to do if you are not too tired?

At times, yes, at least when the children are sick one has to attend them and stay up, stay up because they are sick.

And in general, when do you go to bed?

At 9:00 or at 10:00 at night.

At times, when I have to get up, I get up without a desire to go to work I am so tired.

And if you tried to organize a union in your factory, what would happen?

They fire us without a right to anything, we do not have, we do not have an opportunity of forming a union because they tell us that if one forms a union, it bankrupts the factory.

But that is against the law, right?

Yes, but that's how it is.

Here they just do whatever they want with you and you cannot"look, if you go to the Ministry of Labor, there one goes to beg and beg. And there they tell you at the Ministry of Labor that it is legal that the company is doing the right thing.

They don't help you in any way. She mutters this in a low voice.

And have any representatives from the North America companies, like Hanes or Gildan, or Nike, come to visit the factory?


Americans, no, no I haven't seen any.

Does anyone come to monitor the work?


Yes, yes. She waits a second and continues.


But the problem is that when they know they are going to have visitors, they clean up the appearance of the factory, they put little cups to drink water, in the bathroom they put toilet paper, they put soap to wash the hands, they fix things up. But when no one is coming, it is a disaster.

So, in general, there is no toilet paper in the bathrooms?

Almost never. One has to, sometimes, it is one's turn to take it and no, they only put one roll a day and nothing more. The production supervisor says to the others, that we don't even pay for the water that we drink.

Is there anything you would like to tell the people, the people of North America, that buy the shirts by Hanes and Nike that you make?

Well, what I would like to tell them is that, perhaps they should come more often, and that they help us, because we do need the help, because we do not earn enough to make a living.

The North American companies tell us that the wages are very good according to Honduran standards, norms. One of her children hands her baby boy a pack of chips.

That is a lie because we have never had a good wage, if we earned a good living we would not be living the way we live.

And the North American companies tell us that, that they respect your rights in the factory, that they have codes of conduct and that they monitor the codes to assure that the rights of men and women workers are well respected.

That is a lie because they have a code of conduct in favor of the factories, in favor of us nothing. When we demand, as we did recently, that they raise the price of the dozen, because the pay did not meet our food needs because everything goes up, they told us that those from the United States are paying them very little and because of that they cannot raise our wages, so they are lowering the price of the dozen. As she says this, her boy hands her a chip and she smiles.

 


 

AAA FACTORY WORKING CONDITIONS

Hours

In July, the AAA factory was operating around the clock, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, using two day and two night shifts.

Day Shift #1

11 hours a day, from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., four days a week, Monday through Thursday.

7:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. 

 Work (2 hours)

9:00 a.m. to 9:10 a.m.

 Break (10 minutes)

9:10 a.m. to 12:00 noon

 Work (2 hours and 50 minutes)

12:00 noon to 12:30 p.m.

 Lunch (30 minutes)

12:30 p.m. to 6:00 p.m.

 Work (5 ½ hours)

This schedule fits within the legal regular 44-hour workweek. Note that most workers take just 10 minutes for lunch, choosing to work through the other 20 minutes in order to meet the excessively high production goals.

Day shift #2 ran on a 12-hour shift, 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. three days a week, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. In August, management shut this shift down, laying off over 240 workers. There are two night shifts, running from 5:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.

Wages

Sewing operators earn between 75 cents and $1.20 an hour. The average wage is 86 cents an hour, and $37.70 a week.

Sewing operators earn between 75 cents and $1.20 an hour. Many workers earn just the base wage of 75 cents. The very highest production wage in the AAA factory is $1.20 an hour, which only a handful of the fastest and most experienced workers can earn.

The average wage, including all attendance and production incentives, appears to be 86 cents an hour.

Average Production Wage

$.86 an hour
$6.88 a day (8 hours)
$37.70 a week (44 hours)
$163.37 a month
$1,960.40 a year

In this case, the average production bonus adds $5.95 a week to the workers' wages, amounting to an additional 11 cents per hour in incentives, raising the wage from 75 to 86 cents an hour. This amounts to a 15 percent increase above the factory's base wage.

Production modules or lines made up of the fastest and most experienced workers can earn between 800 and 900 lempiras per week, or $46.04 to $51.79. On average, then, these workers could earn $48.91 a week. Note that this is not the average for the factory as a whole, but rather just for the fastest production teams.

High End Wage at AAA

$1.11 an hour
$8.88 a day (8 hours)
$48.91 a week (44 hours)
$211.94 a month
$2,543.32 a year

Here the production incentive adds 36 cents an hour over the base wage, an increase of 48 percent, raising the hourly wage from 75 cents to $1.11.

The very highest production wage in the factory was $1.20 an hour; $9.60 a day (8 hours) and $52.69 a week (44 hours). Less than a handful of workers are able to earn this wage.

As the workers will explain later, these wages are well below subsistence levels, and are barely sufficient to meet basic food needs.

 CAN YOU LIVE ON THESE WAGES?
AAA WORKERS RESPOND

Question: They also tell us, those of us in the United States, that perhaps the wage does not seem like a lot, but the cost of living is very cheap in Honduras and that one can live well on the wage that you earn.  What would be your response?

Group: That no.

Marlin: No. It is impossible...

Martha finishes Marlin's thought.

Martha: ... that with the Honduran wage we can live well here.

Marlin: You have already seen the conditions in which we live, right?  You have gone to our homes and seen the conditions, and there is the response: It is not true what they say.

 
Minimum Wage in Honduras

(82.3 lempiras a day, 10.3 lempiras an hour)

59 cents an hour
$4.74 a day (8 hours)
$26.05 a week (44 hours)
$112.88 a month
$1,354.60 a year

 

Minimum Wage plus the Attendance Bonus

In Honduras, as in many Latin American countries, it is common to pay the workers the base wage for all seven days, rather than just for the five and a half days that are typically worked. What is known as the "Seventh Day's Pay" functions as an attendance bonus, and is paid only when the worker has a perfect weekly record for attendance and punctuality. For example, a worker taking a sick day will lose not just that day's pay, but also the Seventh Day's pay — amounting to the loss of two days' wages in all.

75 cents an hour
$6.03 a day (8 hours)
$33.15 a week (44 hours)
$143.66 a month
$1,723.12 a year

SERIES OF PAY STUBS OR WORKER "A"


Check #1: After deductions for Social Security this worker earned $39.53 for the week of May 5-11, 2003, or 90 cents an hour. His production incentive averaged $6.19 per week. Note, however, that after the deduction for food, the worker was left with just $27.62 for the week. In fact, cafeteria food costs for this worker averaged $13.34 each week, or $1.67 per meal (breakfast and lunch). These extremely modest meals at the factory cafeteria absorbed 35 percent of his total wage. Sixteen working hours out of a total of 44 went to pay for food alone. This is another example of how rapidly costs are rising in Honduras, eating away at the real purchasing power of the workers wages.

Check #2: Here the worker earned $38.13 for the week of May 19-25, 2003, or 87 cents an hour. The production incentive for the week totaled $6.39.

Check #3: During the week of May 26-June 1, 2003, the worker earned $38.87, or 88 cents an hour. The production incentive was $7.15 for the week.

 

Check #4: For June 2-8, 2003, worker A earned $38.33 for the week, and 87 cents an hour. The production incentive was $6.59 for the week.

 

Check #5: For the week of June 9-15, 2003, the worker earned $34.82 for the week, and 79 cents an hour. The production incentive for the week was just $2.96.

 

PAY STUB FOR WORKER "B" 

For the week of June 30 to July 6, 2003, worker "B" earned $37.70, or 86 cents an hour. The production incentive came to $5.95 for the week. Note that for the week, worker B also spent $9.21 on cafeteria food, or $1.15 a meal, absorbing nearly 25 percent of his total wage. Eleven working hours out of a total of 44 went to pay for extremely modest factory meals at breakfast and lunch.

 

A SERIES OF PAY STUBS FOR WORKER "C"

These pay stubs are very interesting in that they cover a three-and-a-half year period of working at the AAA factory. Also, worker "C" is one of the most experienced and highly paid sewing operators in the factory. In nominal terms, the wages for worker "C" soared from 548.85 lempiras in January 2000, to 941.35 lempiras in July 2003. This was a 72 percent increase. However, as we shall see later, inflation rates averaging 9.10 percent per year seriously eroded any real gains in purchasing power.

Check #1: For the week of January 10-16, 2000, worker "C" earned 548.85 lempiras, or $38.62, which amounts to 80 cents an hour. (The exchange rate at the time was 14.21 lempiras to the $1.00.)

 

Check #2: For the week of May 21-27, 2001, worker "C" earned 774.00 lempiras, or $50.03, which amounts to $1.14 an hour (The exchange rate at the time was 15.47 lempiras to the $1.00).

 

Check #3: For the week of May 30-June 6, 2003, worker "C" earned 916.03 lempiras—after deductions for Social Security—or $52.68, and $1.20 an hour. (The exchange rate is currently 17.39 to the $1.00.)

 

Check #4: For the week of June 23-29, 2003 worker "C" earned $52.69, or $1.20 per hour. His production bonus for the week was $21.47. Note that worker "C" had cafeteria food costs of $7.42 for the week, or $1.86 a day, which absorbed 14% of his total wages.

 

INFLATION SERIOUSLY ERODES ANY REAL WAGE GAINS

Nominally, worker "C's" average weekly wages soared in the three-and-a-half year period from $38.62 in January, 2000 to $52.69 in July, 2003. This was a wage gain of $14.07 per week, or an impressive 36% increase. However, annual inflation averaged 9.075% for that same period. In fact, the compounded inflation rate from January 2000 through July 2003 totaled 36.4 percent. This means that in January 2000 dollars, the $52.69 weekly wage in July 2003 was really worth just $38.63. Inflation absorbed $14.06 [52.69 — 38.63], lowering the real purchasing value to just $38.63. This left the worker with just a one-cent a week increase in wages over the course of three and a half years.

However, it is more complicated. During that same period the Honduran currency, the lempira, lost 22% of its value to constant, slow devaluations. The devaluation would work in the opposite direction of the inflation rate. In real purchasing power terms for the Honduran worker, the combined impact of the currency devaluation and the compounded inflation rate for that three-and-a-half year period would have resulted in a real loss of 14.38 percent [inflation of 36.38 less 22% devaluation] in purchasing power. This means that the impressive nominal gain from a January 2000 weekly wage of $38.62 to one of $52.69 by July 2003 was really not what it seemed. In fact, in January 2000 lempiras, the July 2003 real wage was actually worth $46.07 [x + .1438x (the inflation/devaluation net) = 52.69/1.1438] and not the nominal 52.69. So over three-and-a-half years, the real wage gain amounted to just $7.45 a week [46.07-38.62], or less than sixteen cents an hour.

 

ADEQUATE OR BELOW SUBSISTENCE WAGES?

Nike, Hanes, Adidas, Gildan, Anvil, Fruit of the Loom, and other companies like to tell the American people that while the wages they are paying in Honduras may not sound high to us, in fact, given that the cost of living there is so much lower, these are indeed subsistence level wages or better. So, can you live adequately on 86-cent-an-hour wages?

The workers say: "No. It's impossible that with the Honduran wage we can live well. It's a lie. You have already seen the conditions in which we live, right? You have gone to our homes and seen the conditions and there is the response—it is not true what they say."

 


 

A Visit to Martha's Home

Martha worked at the AAA factory for more than three and a half years before she was fired on July 14, for helping to organize a sit-down strike.

Martha lives with her three young children and her sister in a one room hut, measuring perhaps 10' x 11'. There are cinder block walls and a tin roof, which leaks. One bare light bulb hangs from the ceiling. The room is divided in two by an old sheet hung on a string. There is one bed and a mattress propped up against the wall, which they lay on the floor at night. There is no refrigerator, no indoor plumbing, no shower. The bathroom is an outhouse and the only source of water is a large outdoor sink shared with another family. There is no privacy. You bathe standing outside by the sink, which is where you also wash dishes, wash clothes, and get your drinking water. A broken broomstick tied to the ceiling is used to hang clothes on. There is no wardrobe. There is one plastic table and three chairs—the kind you can buy at Home Depot for less than $20-25. They have a television and a propane stove with four burners.

The house was absolutely immaculate. Martha and her family have tremendous dignity. Martha's younger sister, who suffers from epilepsy, cares for the children while Martha is at work.

Some examples of Martha's expenses, which would be typical for other workers:

Rent:
10' x 11' hut, no indoor plumbing, an outhouse, a shared outdoor sink, roof leaks.
Cost: 500 lempiras, or $28.77 a month—$6.34 per week

Food:
(Children's Food)
Three boxes of powdered milk
Cost: 34 lempiras ($1.96) each, or 5.87 per week.

Two boxes of Nestle's children's cereal
Cost: 19 lempiras each ($1.09) or $2.19 per week.

(Typical Supper)
Rice, beans, eggs and plantains, with perhaps a little meat once a week
Cost: $37.98 per week.

(Excluding the children's milk and cereal, this means Martha can spend $5.43 a day on food, or $1.09 per person each day.)

Round Trip Transportation to Work:
Cost: 18 lempiras ($1.04) a day or $4.14 a week.

(The AAA factory provides free buses to transport the workers, but Martha and many of the others must use public transportation to get to the pick-up points. At AAA, the workers are on a four day schedule, 11 hours a day.)

(Note: AAA actually has six company buses which have the capacity to carry approximately 375 workers. The rest of the workers — the vast majority—have to take whatever public transportation they can find. Up until January 2003, when management terminated the practice without warning, the company provided a 50 percent subsidy toward the cost of their transportation. Losing this subsidy has resulted in significantly lower wages for many workers. Round trip bus transportation from neighborhoods like Naco and Corfadia now cost 100 lempiras a week, or $5.75. This is a lot of money to lose when the average daily wage is just $6.88)

Lunch at Work
Typical lunch: Rice, beans, a tiny piece of chicken, two small tortillas, a sort of cole-slaw, and a soda.
Cost: 24 lempiras ($1.38) a day, or $5.52 a week.

(Lunch is traditionally the big meal of the day in Latin America.)

If we stop here and consider just the round trip expenses to work, lunch at the factory, rent, and food, Martha needs to spend $62.04 each week to keep her family alive. Yet the average weekly salary at the AAA factory is just $37.70, which barely covers food costs, if we leave out the milk and children's cereal. The wage falls 40 percent short of providing even these basic necessities.

And we have not even begun to consider daycare expenses, school fees and notebooks for the children, medical costs, clothing and shoes, and emergencies.

Day Care
The least expensive day care available:
Cost: 150 lempiras per child a week, or $8.63.

A Movie Ticket
Cost: 35 lempiras, or $2.01.

For the AAA and other garment workers, movies are out of the question, as they cannot possibly afford to spend that sort of money on entertainment. Only one AAA worker we spoke with had seen a movie. It was seven years ago, the day he got married. After the wedding he and his bride went to the movies. That was their honeymoon.

Christmas Toys
Even the cheapest tiny plastic toys cost 50 lempiras each, or $2.88.

This is beyond the reach of most garment workers' families. As Martha explained, if you have children, every cent goes for food. There is nothing left over for toys.

It is little wonder then that Martha and the others often have to borrow money each week to purchase food. In the little neighborhood stores, the workers can get up to 100 lempiras a week, $5.75, on credit. If your child gets sick, you may have to sell some of your possessions to go to the doctor or purchase medicines.

Many of the workers cannot even afford a bike. No one has even gone on vacation. No one goes out to eat, even at the cheapest fast food restaurant. No one has a single cent in savings.

When you ask the AAA workers if they are better off now than they were three or four years ago—and many had been at the factory over three years—they all respond: "No, we haven't gone forward an inch. At best, our living conditions are the same. Nothing has improved."

Meanwhile the maquila sector in Honduras producing for the U.S. market has been booming. So exports were going up while wages remained, at best, stagnant.

 

INFLATION EATS AWAY AT ANY REAL WAGE GAINS
COMPOUNDED INFLATION RATE OVER THE LAST NINE YEARS SOARS 222.3 PERCENT!

(1995 — 2003"compounded inflation rates of 222.27 percent)

Beginning of 1995 

 -

 index of 100

1995 inflation rate

 -

 26.88%, index at end of 1995 becomes 126.88

1996 inflation rate

 -

 25.3%, translates into an index of 158.98 (126.88 + .253(126.88)

1997 inflation rate

 -

 12.8 %, index of 179.33

1998 inflation rate

 -

 13.7 %, index of 203.90

1999 inflation rate

 -

 11.7 %, index of 227.75

2000 inflation rate

 -

 11.1 %, index of 253.03

2001 inflation rate

 -

 9.7 %, index of 277.58

2002 inflation rate

 -

 7.7 %, index of 298.95

2003 inflation rate

 -

 7.8 %, index of 322.27

The compounded inflation rate for the period beginning January 1, 1995 and ending December 31, 2003 is 222.27 percent. [322.27 — 100= 222.27 divided by 100 = 222.27 percent]

 

An Interview with Milton Sandoval
AAA Worker
(July 18, 2003)


Milton lived outside of town in a dangerous and crime-ridden area. He shared a tiny one room shack, 9' x 10', with his wife and seven month old son. The walls, made of rough wooden planks, were rotten in many places, sometimes right through. They tore colorful ads from newspapers and magazines to plaster over the holes. The tin roof also leaked. Here they used plastic coffee can lidsto try to block the water. The room had just enough space for two beds, one queen and the other single. The only other pieces of furniture were a fan and a tiny table. There were very few dishes. There was no T.V., not even a radio. Milton had worked at the AAA factory for 3 ½ years, and his wife worked at another maquila plant where she also sewed Nike garments, yet they could not even afford to purchase a chair, let alone a table to eat on.

So, what is your name?

Milton Sandoval.

Milton is a handsome man with a kind disposition. He wears a bright yellow soccer jersey and patiently fields the questions.

And how long have you worked at triple AAA?

3 ½ years.

And you live here?

Yes, Yes.

And how many people live here?

Three. My wife, my son and I.

That is to say, you all live together in this one bedroom home?

Yes.

And when it rains, does the water leak through [the roof]?

Yes.

He raises his left arm and points at the ceiling.

From up above.

One can see small gaps between the makeshift metal sheets that serve as roofing.

And do you pay rent for this home?

Yes.

And how much does it cost to rent?

350 lempiras [$20.14].

Per month?

Per month.

And after having worked 3 ½ years at the factory, do you have savings?

No. I do not have savings.

Do you have to borrow money to eat each week?

Yes. In the middle, that is to say from Thursday, one needs to borrow money to eat.

And during the past 3 ½ years that you have worked at AAA has your life improved?

No. Everything continues to be the same — because of the cost of living, how expensive everything is, no, everything stays the same. I have not been able to raise my standard of living.

So, your wage is not better now than before?

The wage goes up, but with that, the basic food basket goes up, the rent goes up, public services, everything goes up, so you are always left in the same position.


Palms turned upwards, he raises his arms to show the fluctuating cost of living.

So you cannot buy more with the wage that you earn now than before, 3 ½ years ago?

No, you cannot buy more. Sometimes even less.

So, after having worked 3 ½ years in the factory, do you think that your family is moving backwards?

Moving backwards, perhaps no. But it stays on the level where it was — normal — because what you earn only serves to, to continue living - to not fall, perhaps, to a life of crime.

He lifts his right arm and brushes an imaginary plain.

And do you have a radio or a television?

No, we do not have.

And do you have a cabinet or a place to put, a closet, a place to put your clothes?

No, we do not have. We keep them in the suitcase, and in the basket under here.

He looks behind his back and then lifts up a cover to reveal a plastic laundry basket on the bed.

Do you have a dining room table?

No, we eat as we are now.

The film crew and Milton are sitting on the two beds that occupy most of the space in the home.

So, the only furniture you own are the two beds?

The two beds.

And how old is your child?

7 months.

So, is it expensive?

It is expensive. Just for the care of the child one pays 150 lempiras [$8.63] per week.

The cameraman pans across the room towards the small table on which a few red buckets and the baby formula sit.

While you are working?

While I work.

And what does your wife do?

She also works in a maquila.

So both of you are working in a maquila?

Both of us are working in a maquila.

And you live here?

That's right, this is how we live.

So this is what you can afford, even earning two salaries?

Two salaries.

So, you are earning two salaries for three people?

Two for three people.

So, you, your wife, and your 7 month old child?

Milton simply nods his head.

And you still do not have enough to even buy a chair?

Yes, no we cannot even buy a chair.

So all the money goes to buying food?

The food, clothing, and care for the child — the milk. And the baby's clothing.

Do you think that it is just, that the clothing that you are making is sold at a good price in the United States, but that they pay you so little?

It is unjust. Because they make extreme profits and one is left with little money, which is not even enough to live comfortably.

And do you have any hope for the future? That is to say, that these jobs could improve?

Perhaps with the help of organizations like the one you are representing, and with good treatment from the people that come to invest here, in this country, things could get better.

And right now, if you tried to organize yourselves in a union or demand your rights, what happens?

What happens is that the factory fires you, if not, they try to make you commit errors to quickly fire you without rights or any pay.

But that is illegal, no?

But that is how it works in this country. Everything is fixed with money.

His index finger makes a few circles — money lubricates the wheels.

So, where do you go for help? Can you go to the Ministry of Labor?

Yes. One goes to the Ministry of Labor, but there, they do not listen to you, they do not pay attention.

So, do you feel trapped or isolated?

Yes. We do not have avenues, we do not have a place to get help — to be able to raise ourselves out of situations like unemployment - and they do not let us organize, like a union in the factory.

His facial expression is one of concern and quiet desperation.

Have you heard of the World Trade Organization?

Yes, I have heard people talk. But we do not stay up to date on that issue, only what is on television, nothing more.

And the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas?

The same. Only what we hear on the radio, on television, in the news — only like that can one remain informed, nothing more.

So, do you think that the FTAA is a good idea, bad idea, or you do not have enough knowledge to be able to respond?

I do not have enough knowledge to be able to answer the question.

And if you could send a message to the North American people, that is, the people that buy the clothing that you make, what would you like to tell them?

I would like to tell them that buying that clothing, maybe they think that the poor, we the workers, earn good incomes for our betterment, but it is not like that. I think that they should help us get better incomes to be able to have a more adequate life, more comfortable.

I see here, on the wall, a photo of a Christmas tree. It is a photo of Christmas, right?

Yes, that's right.

Were you able to celebrate Christmas last year?

Yes, we celebrated it, but not here. We went to the family and there we celebrated it because they live better than we do.

The interview is momentarily interrupted while the film crew prepares to continue the conversation outside Milton's home.

So, Milton, where do you get your water?

Of course, we get our water from over there - water that comes from a pipe from some tanks from over there. But it comes every 8 days.

Milton points down a steeply sloping hill toward a concrete "pila.". He then points out into the distance in the direction of the water tanks.

So, that is to say, only once a week?

Yes. Only once a week.

So where does your water come from? Or where do you get your water?

The water we get from the sinks. And the water runs — it comes from tanks that are over there and we drink it here. We have tanks to store it because the water comes every 8 days, it does not come with frequency.

And can you store enough water to last you all week?

Consuming little it lasts. It can last the 8 days, but if we consume a little more we are left without water in 5 or 6 days.

And so, if you only have enough for 5 or 6 days what happens on day 6 or 7?

One has to go down, buy below or ask, to be able to get through the other days.

He points in the direction of the store and feigns drinking from a cup.

And so, more or less, how far do you have to go to ask for or buy the water?

About 400 meters.

And so, you have to carry it in buckets?

Yes, 20 liter containers - four-gallons.

He touches his right shoulder to show where he carries the buckets and then makes as if he is hugging the air to demonstrate the size of the buckets.

And about how long does it take you to get down and return with the water?

About 45 minutes.

And do you have a shower where you can bathe?

No. We bathe in the sinks, in the open.

He points, for the third time, in the direction of the concrete sinks at the bottom of the hill.

And where do you cook your food?

The kitchen — we cook in the back, back there is an oven — a kitchen.

Milton turns around and points behind his home. He makes a circle with his hands and fingers to represent the oven.

And where is the bathroom?

There, in the front.

He points toward a wooden shack a few feet away.

And do you pay for the water or does the municipality give it?

The owners of the houses pay for the water.

The interview pauses for a few moments while the film crew makes its way to the kitchen behind Milton's home.

So this is where you cook your food?

Over there is where we cook, using firewood - firewood.

The kitchen consists of a crude mud oven placed on top of wooden planks — the ashy remains of the wood used to cook the last meal spill out onto the dirt floor. A large piece of rusting sheet metal is precariously balanced on two wooden posts and the side of a small bank to shield the oven from the elements. There are no tables or chairs in sight.

You cook with wood?

With wood.

And what do you cook, that is to say, what do you eat for lunch, for breakfast, for dinner?

Rice, beans, plantains. The food that one is able to afford with what one earns in the factory. We cannot eat meat every day, once or twice per week. We cannot drink sodas every day for the same reason.

So, usually you are drinking only water?

Only water or maybe fruit drinks, or orange.

He points upwards towards the trees and the cameraman follows his finger to display a canopy brimming with oranges.

And where is the bathroom?

Here it is.

Milton walks the film crew towards a wooden structure that resembles an outhouse. A piece of sheet metal protects the toilet from the rain and small gaps above the walls ventilate the inside.

May I open it?

Charlie opens up the bathroom door to reveal a single toilet with a missing handle and no toilet seat. The toilet sits on top of stained and crooked tiles that are in need of repair. It's an outhouse without running water.


 

Production

Production at AAA is organized around a modular system of small assembly units or lines of 15 workers each. There are a total of 42 modules in day shift #1.

The 15-member modules correspond to the 15 steps it typically takes to sew a T-shirt. For example, one person sews the lower hem on the shirt; another the sleeve hem; someone closes the sleeve; another closes the shoulders; while two operators sew the collar, one the top stitch and the other the bottom; someone sews the ribbons, or reinforcement, under the shoulders; at least four people are involved in sewing or attaching the sleeves; and two others are in charge of inspections.

Management arbitrarily—with no input from the workers—sets a daily production goal or target which each 15-worker module must meet. For T-shirts, the production goal is 288 dozen finished shirts per day, or 3,456 units. In effect, this means that each worker must complete 230.4 T-shirts per day, or 22.3 shirts an hour, and one T-shirt every 2.67 minutes!

The pace is relentless. Supervisors stand over the workers for 20 minutes at a time shouting at them to go faster. They return every hour. If a you fall behind on your quota, they threaten to take you to the personnel office so you will lose your job. This is why the workers choose to work through the better part of their lunch
break, as they race to meet their quota.

The company also arbitrarily assigns a piece-rate, what the workers will earn for each completed shirt. The piece-rate for each module is just 12.50 lempiras, or 72 cents for each dozen finished T-shirts.

With these company rates, we can precisely calculate what the workers earn for each shirt they sew, which is shockingly little.

Workers paid just 6 cents for each T-shirt they sew
Wages amount to only 3/10ths to 6/10ths of one percent of the retail price

We know that each 15-member module must sew 3,456 T-shirt per shift. We also know that the company pays 12-50 lempiras (72 cents) per dozen finished garments. This means that if the module reaches its assigned goal of 288 dozen T-shirts per day, they will collectively earn $207.17 (12.50 lempiras x 288 dozen = 3,600 lempiras. 3,600 ÷ exchange rate of 17.3774 = $207.17). If we divide the module's total pay of $207.17 by the 3456 shirts produced, we see that the workers earn just six cents for each T-shirt they sew! ($207.17 ÷ 3456 = $0.0599437.)

If these T-shirts then retail for $10 to $18, this means that the workers' wages to sew the shirt amount to just 3/10ths to 6/10ths of one percent of the shirt's retail price. ($0.06 ÷ $18.00 = .00333; or $0.06 ÷ $10.00 = .006).

Management insists it will soon raise the production goal even higher, while at the same time actually lowering the piece-rate.
AAA management now wants to increase the production goal to 330 dozen T-shirts per module, per shift, while lowering the piece-rate to 10.50 lempiras, or $.60 per dozen.


Instead of the 3456 T-shirts, the workers would now have to sew 3,960, or an increase of 504 per day. Each worker would have to increase their production by 33.6 T-shirts per shift. This means they would now be required to sew each T-shirt in less than 2.4 minutes! (This is actually lower than the 2.5 minute rate in the U.S. using better machines.) Also, the pay per shirt would drop to just 5 cents!

Whether it is true or not, management is claiming it needs to lower the rates and increase production because the U.S. companies are slashing the prices they are willing to pay.

Sewing high end Nike and Gildan Shirts, the treatment is harsher and the workers actually earn less
One would imagine that workers sewing high-end Nike and Gildan T-shirts would have it better, but it is actually just the opposite. "A T-shirt is a T-shirt," the owner says, so the high production goals and the low piecerates remain exactly the same no matter what label you are sewing. What changes is that the treatment is harsher. Supervisors increase their quality control checks, they become stricter, applying more scrutiny and pressure on the workers. For the slightest defect, a garment is rejected. As a result, production actually drops, and the workers earn less instead of more while working on Nike and Gildan shirts. The pressure on the workers is enormous. If too many of your shirts are rejected, you will be suspended for two days without pay.

U.S. companies mark up the retail price of the T-shirts by 369 to 839 percent. Total Cost of production is just $2.13 per T-shirt.

We know from a review of shipping records that the total landed U.S. Customs value of Anvil T-shirts entering the U.S. from the AAA factory is just $2.13 per T-shirt! This landed customs value represents the total cost of production, including all materials, direct and indirect labor, shipping costs and profit to the AAA factory.

In two shipments alone, on May 12 and 19, 2003, Anvil shipped to the U.S. 127,039 T-shirts made at the AAA plant, with a total customs value of $271,503.

This means that T-shirts retailing for $10.00 carry a mark-up of 369 percent above the $2.13 true cost of the garment, while T-shirts selling for $20.00 carry a mark-up of 839 percent! ($10 ÷ 2.13 = 4.69; $20 ÷ $2.13 = $9.39)

Nike spends 36 times more to advertise the shirt than it pays the workers to sew it. In fact, Nike's advertising costs often exceed the product's total cost of production.


Nike's advertising budget for its just-completed fiscal year was $1.1686 billion. This means Nike is spending more than $3.2 million a day on advertising, all 365 days a year.

Given that Nike's total revenues for the year were $10.697 billion, we can calculate that Nike's advertising budget of $1.1686 billion actually accounted, on average, for 11 percent of the retail price of all the goods Nike sold. Think of it. When you purchase a Nike product, 11 percent of the cost you are paying is for advertising
to get you to purchase the product. ($1.1686b ÷ $10.697b = .109245582)

On a $20 T-shirt then, Nike is spending $2.18 to advertise that shirt, or 11 percent of the retail price. Since the AAA workers in Honduras are paid just six cents for each Nike shirt they sew—soon to be lowered to five cents—Nike is willing to spend 36 times more to advertise the shirt than they pay the workers to sew it!

In fact, since the total landed customs (the total cost of production) of a T-shirt made at AAA is just $2.13, this means Nike often spends more to advertise the shirt than the total cost of production involved in making the shirt! —including all materials, labor, shipping, and contractor's profits.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Extreme factory temperatures: The factory is very hot, and workers describe dripping with sweat as they work. Even the drinking water is hot.

Speaking during working hours is prohibited.

Bathroom visits are monitored. In theory, workers can use the bathrooms whenever they need to, but they have to go running. If the supervisors think you are spending too long in the toilet, they will use the plant's P.A. system to call you out, embarrassing you in front of everyone in the factory.

Drinking water is filthy and unsafe: Triple A drinking water—according to an August 22, 2003 lab test—contains bacterial levels more than 1,400 percent in excess of allowable Honduran and international standards. The drinking water is also contaminated with fecal matter. The lab's analysis concludes that the factory's water is definitely unsafe for drinking, and may not even be acceptable to wash with.

Workers are searched as they enter the plant. Food, candy, and make-up are not allowed on the shop floor and will be confiscated. (Evidently management fears that sweets or lipstick may soil the garments.)

Mandatory pregnancy tests were the rule until recently. But under pressure, the factory has ended this practice.

Workers report being exhausted from the long shifts, and many complain of repetitive motion wrist and back injuries.

Excessive lint from the cut fabric hangs in the factory air.

Crude treatment. The workers describe management's attitude as often crude and downright nasty. For example, a family member phoned the factory office and begged them to pass on a message to one of the workers that her youngest child was very sick and that they were rushing her to the health clinic. The managers and supervisors ignored the call, and never let the woman know her infant was seriously ill. They didnot want her to be distracted from her work or fail to meet her production goal. 

 

U.S. Corporate Codes of Conduct
"If they respected all of our rights we would not be out of work now"

Hanes, Nike, Adidas, all of these North American companies have codes of conduct that say they respect all of the worker's rights, are you familiar with these companies' codes of conduct?

The workers shake their heads.

Group: No.

So, are you familiar with Nike's code of conduct?

Milton: Yes.

Marlin: Yes. They gave it to me once.

Martha: But I ask that you imagine, we had worked with Nike for a year and it was not until there was not much Nike product that they gave us that paper. And they forced us to sign it.

So, you received the code of conduct?

Martha: Yes, but when there was almost no work in the plant. When there was work in one whole area, never did they show us that.

As Martha speaks she smiles at the deviousness of the situation. Arm raised and finger pointing to the sky she sets the record straight.

Martha: When there was no more work, when there were just four groups working with Nike, then they called us to give us that contract.

And Nike is no longer in the factory?

Martha: Yes, there is Nike, but little. Not like before.

According to the Nike's code of conduct, you have the right to form the union.

With eyebrows raised they look surprised to hear that.

Group: We did not know that. We can't.

What response would you give to the fact that all of the companies tell us that they respect all of the worker's rights? They say worker rights are guaranteed because of their code of conduct.

Martha: No. Perhaps some, but not all.

Leonardo: If they respected all of our rights we would all not be out of work now.

Jose: In this crisis.

Codes of Conduct Meaningless: Nike's Code of Conduct was finally posted after Nike's work had been in the factory for nearly a year. Even then, no worker knew that Nike's code supposedly supported their legal right to freedom of association and to form a union.

Managers standing right next to the code would tell the workers that, "if any of you make any noise about a union, the factory will be closed, and everyone will be fired and thrown out with no pay."

Corporate Audits are a Sham: Before North Americans came to visit the AAA plant, it was always mopped and cleaned, and toilet paper was put in the bathrooms. Even bottled water was put out. Supervisors would threaten the workers and coach them on what to say should anyone ever approach them. If anyone said anything negative about the factory-or in other words told the truth—they would be fired the minute the auditors left. It was all explained. If anyone approaches you, you are to say that you are treated well. When the supervisors got to pick the workers who would be interviewed, they always chose the newest most humble workers who were the most afraid of being fired.

  

AAA Workers Discuss Factory Conditions

Group Interview / July 18, 2003 with Martha Iris Alberto Lorenzo; Marlin Jamileh Ramos, Jose Dalelo Alvadavo; Milton Sandoval; and Leonardo Avala.

These workers were fired on July 14 for organizing for better working conditions and respect for their rights.

Sitting on the exposed roots of four trees, the five fired AAA workers quietly wait for the questioning to begin. The interview takes place in a working class neighborhood where the chirping of birds and distant barking of dogs creates a hypnotic hum. The workers appear to be quite comfortable sitting in a relaxed, but attentive manner. Wearing receptive smiles they sit lined up side to side, in a line, with two female workers on the left and three male workers on the right.

So, at the AAA factory, what kind of clothing or garments do you make?

Martha & Marlin: Shirts. Sweatshirts.

And the clothing is made for what companies? That is to say, what labels do you produce?

Marlin: Nike, Hanes, Adidas, and Gilden.

Leonardo: And Fruit of the Loom.

And it is all t-shirts or sweatshirts?

Group: Yes.

And is it a decent factory or good to work in?

The workers shake their heads.

Group: No. No.

No?

Group: No.

Jose: There is a lot of sacrifice that they require of the worker.

Could you explain the production process of the shirt? That is to say, is it made in a production line? How is a shirt made?

Jose: The operations?

Martha takes the initiative and begins to list the operations.

Martha: Rolling of the bottom hem, rolling of the sleeve, sewing the sleeve, sewing of shoulder, attaching collar, attaching of accessories . . .

Jose helps her complete the list.

Jose: Reinforcing of the collar . . .

Martha: Reinforcing the collar, attaching of the sleeve, and inspection.

So, you are talking about 12 or 13 operations to make a shirt?

Group: Yes.

Jose: 15.

And it is done in a module?

Jose: Yes, by module.

Marlin: Module.

And there are 15 people in the module?

Group: Yes.

And how many t-shirts do you have to make in a day?

Jose: We have to make — to reach 1,100 — we have to make 288 dozens.

Martha: Dozens. She says along with Jose.

Jose: Daily.

288?

Jose: Yes.

And is it possible? Is it easy to do it?

Martha: No. No it is not.

Jose: It is pretty difficult - to reach that goal. He nods.

And how many breaks do they give you per day?

Jose: There are 2 breaks. The one at 9, which is . . .

Martha joins in briefly.

Martha: 10 minutes.

Jose: 10 minutes. And the one at midday, which is for lunch, where they give you a half-hour. But most of the time you only take 10, to see if one can meet the production goal.

That is to say that you do not take all of your time to have lunch, you run back to the job to see if you can reach the goal?

Group: Yes. Yes.

Jose: To be able to earn a little more.

And the supervisors pressure you to work more? Or is the atmosphere okay?

Jose: They pressure quite a lot.

Martha: They pressure you — in fact, when one has one of the first operations they force you to go help the others.

Do they treat you rudely or aggressively? Do they yell at you?

Martha: Yes.

Jose: They scream a lot.

So, with what words, what do they say?

Jose: No, the truth is that they do not maltreat you in the . . .

Jose finds it difficult to find the exact words to describe the treatment. His right hand moves in a circle as if trying to tease out the correct phrase.

Jose: . . . in the sense — yes, bad expressions, no, just that you should hurry — that you not lose time.

Marlin: Morally. Marlin states in a low voice.

Excuse me?

Marlin: They hurt people's morale.

Leonardo: Another thing is that the machinery is bad, it is almost always bad.

So that is why it is more difficult to reach the production goal?

Group: Yes.

Leonardo: Yes, because with one bad machine the production gets behind and then one has to work quickly to catch up for the lost time.

And in the factory, does it have air conditioning? Is it cool?

Martha: A lot of heat.

Jose: It has air conditioning, but it does not work well. A lot of heat.

That is to say it is hot, like right now or hotter, how is it?

Martha: It is hotter. Because one sweats a lot.

So, you are sweating inside the factory?

Group: Yes.

Jose: Yes. You sweat a lot. And depending on the pressure of the work — the movement — you sweat a lot.

So, what hours do you work? That is to say, what is the work schedule?

Martha: From 7 to 6 in the afternoon.

And can you go to the bathroom when necessary?

Martha: Yes, but quickly so as not to lose much time.

And if one spends too much time in the bathroom, what happens?

Martha & Leonardo: They call you on the loudspeaker.

And what do they say". (The interviewers chuckle at the thought of being called out of the bathroom over the loudspeaker.)..that you have to get out of the bathroom?

Leonardo: The name of the person and that they go back to present themselves at their workstation.

As Leonardo says this he raises his right arm and points into the air as if rebuking someone.

And so, upon leaving work, are you tired?

Martha: Very tired.

Is the work exhausting?

Jose: Yes. You leave very tired depending on the production goal, depending on the goal that they ask for — one leaves spent.

According to our calculations, in terms of U.S. dollars, you receive perhaps 5 or 6 cents of the dollar for each shirt that you make. And they sell the shirts from 10 to 20 dollars. So the wages, the worker's wage gets to be a very low percentage of the retail price of the shirt.

Marlin looks down to the ground as she is given this information. Martha can only manage a weak smile. The rest of the workers sit still in disbelief.

The wage can get to be less than 1 percent of the price of the shirt. Is there anything you would like to tell the North American people, who do not know about these stories?


The workers look shocked and upset to learn that they receive such little compensation for all of their hard work. They simply shake their heads in disapproval and remain quiet.

Any message that you would like us to deliver?

To break the silence Martha addresses the other workers.

Martha: What do you think?

Leonardo braves a response.

Leonardo: That they help us in that respect, right?

Martha: Right, I think the same, that they help us. Perhaps, those that send the product to Honduras pressure the factories.

Marlin: Pressure the factories.

Martha: Tell them to come speak with us, the workers — although, when people like that come, they send them to a chosen ones, whoever is the newest.

She smiles while she tells this and stabs at the air with her right index finger.

Martha: They threaten them, "You say that you are getting a good wage. You say that here we treat you well, or else we are going to fire you."

Jose: On that point, when they make a visit like that, for us the Hondurans, it would be better if they did not announce that they are coming.

Marlin: That they not announce — that they arrive without notice.

Jose: A surprise, because every time the North Americans come here to Honduras, they always try to clean up the factory — no, because the factory is dirty - they take care of the factory a lot more when they are told a certain visitor is coming.

So, how do you feel now? Are you afraid? What do you think you will do? What is your plan now that you are fired?

Martha: Well, we want to fight to see if they will give us our severance pay.

The cameraman pans across the group - every face is motionless in complete awareness of the seriousness of their predicament.

Martha: Because it has been, at least for me, it has been 3 years that I have worked at the factory and I think it would be unjust for them to fire me with nothing — with my hands empty— just like when I entered, this is how I leave. One works at a factory because one wants to move ahead. One says, " I am going to work because we want to move ahead, we want to move forward."  But we enter—and how can we leave as we entered? It has no logic.

We may have said this before, but in the past three years has the Hanes label always been there? Has it always been made?

Group: It has always been made. Always.

And the shirts for Nike and Adidas, people think that you have to earn a lot more making Nike and Adidas because it is a product that is a lot more expensive. And the quality has to be much better?

Martha: You earn the same.

Leonardo: The production goals for any shirt, it does not matter, the production goal is the same for every one [of] the labels.

Martha: The owner of the factory says that it is only a T-shirt, that the only thing that changes is the label.

As Martha speaks she pinches her fingers together to physically demonstrate the unfairness of working harder on a product and not being compensated correctly for the work.

Martha: But no, because they demand quality. If we, at least with Gildan, Gildan and Nike, for one bad stitch, they reject the work — one has to sew and sew it once again. So we work more, but we earn the same.

So, you can be working on an expensive shirt or sweatshirt for Nike or Adidas and you are working harder for less money.

Jose: For less.

Martha: That is how it is. That is how it is.

Jose: Yes, because the delay of the long sleeved shirts, gives — it is more work. So, because of the production goal".because one already has better experience with basic shirts and one earns less money with that long sleeve shirt.

Do you think the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas could help you? What do you think?

Marlin: We do not know anything about that.

Martha: We do not have the knowledge, none of that, so we can't give an opinion.

Do you think that the situation is better in El Salvador, Guatemala, or are they the same?

Marlin: The same.

The group sits in silence for a few seconds when Milton, after having been quiet throughout the interview, breaks the trance.

Milton: We do not know the other countries — the economic system nor the social in El Salvador, Guatemala, Nicaragua, Costa Rica. We are not up to date.

Marlin: We are not up to date.

 

Human Rights Ombudsman of Honduras:
Dr. Ramon Custodio

Comments on the firings and management's threats against the AAA workers who were struggling for their basic rights.

"These threats, and labeling people terrorists, is really dangerous because practically the manager is accusing them before the police, and the police can act and arrest them and treat them as if they were delinquents.  This creates a situation in which, to lead the fight for the rights of the workers makes some of the leaders vulnerable before the police.  And the owner of the factory is acting illegally, is acting unethically, and is really endangering the lives of the people and the security of these workers."

  

The wider significance of the struggle at AAA

An interview with Israel Salinas, president of the Unitary Confederation of Honduran Workers (CUTH) and one of the most important progressive labor leaders in Central America.

Question:

Could you comment on the importance of the workers struggle at the AAA factory? Is there something critical, even symbolic here? And, if the AAA workers win, could this help reverse the attacks against the unions in Honduras and the steady erosion of labor rights?

Israel Salinas:

"Yes, because this is a very strategic company and so a favorable precedent for the workers will uphold the future of the union movement in our country. Each failure is one more frustration, and in place of injecting spirit, it injects frustration regarding the workers' interests.

"But, when there is international cooperation, political, moral, and economic, we can overcome the great limitations that we have in this country to do effective work. We are optimistic, and we think with the struggle at AAAwe are going to advance in a positive manner with other companies as well.

 

Honduran Exchange Rate

(Honduran lempiras to $1.00 U.S.)
 1995   -

 9.59

 1996  -

 11.84

 1997  -

 13.14

 1998  -

 13.39

 1999  -

 14.21

 2000  -

 14.84

 2001  -

 15.47

 2002  -

 16.43

 2003  -

 17.3774 

                   (as of 07/19)

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit.

  Honduran Inflation Rate 

1995   - 

 26.88%

1996  -

 25.3%

1997  -

 12.8%

1998  -

 13.7%

1999  -

 11.7%

2000  -

 11.1%

2001  -

 9.7%

2002  -

 7.7%

2003  - 

 7.8%

(annualized estimate as of 08/03)

Source: Economist Intelligence Unit

 

 

 


 

 

 

  

 


 

 

Company Profiles

Fruit of the Loom

Fruit of the Loom is a Subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway

Fruit of the Loom
P.O. Box 90015
Bowling Green, KY 42102-9015
Brian Wolfson, Chrm

Berkshire Hathaway
1440 Kiewit Plaza
Omaha, NE, 68131
United States
CEO: Warren Buffet

Revenues and Profits

   Annual (ending 12/31/02)  Annual (ending 12/31/01)
Total Revenue:   $42.353 Billion $38.643 Billion 
 Net Income:  $2.830 Billion  $1,557 Billion

 

 

Executive Compensation
While Warren Buffet's salary at Berkshire is about $300,000, he is the second wealthiest person in the world, with a total worth of $30.5 Billion.

In Other News
In 1999, over 500 Jamaican workers from Fruit of the Loom subsidiary Gitano were laid off as a result of the company's decision to consolidate its overseas operations to a newly-constructed facility in Mexico, which, unlike Jamaica, enjoys trade advantages under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Since 1994 Fruit of the Loom has laid off about 16,000 U.S. employees, closed a dozen plants and shifted sewing operations to the Caribbean and Central America. The laid-off Jamaican employees received redundancy payments from a total pool of $1 million. -- Corporate Watch

 


 

Hanes

A subsidiary of Sara Lee

Sara Lee Corporation
3 First National Plaza
Chicago, IL, 60602
United States
Telephone: 312-726-2600
Fax: 312-726-3712

Revenues and Profits

  Annual ending (6/29/02)   Annual (ending 6/30/01)
 Revenue:  $17.628 Billion  $16,632 Billion
 Net Income:  $1.010 Billion  $2.266 Billion

 

 

Advertising
2002: $898,000,000 2,460,273 per day
2002: $939,000,000 2,572,602 per day

Executive Compensation
CEO: Steven C. McMillan

In 2002, C. McMillan raked in $17,304,615 in total compensation including stock option grants from Sara Lee Corp.

Per week: $332,781.05
Per Hour: $8,319.53

 


 

Nike 

1 Bowerman Dr
Beaverton OR 97005-6453
United States
Telephone: 503 671-6453 Fax: 503 671-6300
CEO: Phil Knight
Sold in: Niketown, Foot Locker, etc.

Revenues and Profits

   Annual (ending 5/31/03) Annual (ending 5/31/02) 
 Revenue:  $10.697 Billion  $9.893 Billion
 Net Income:  $474 Million  $663.3 Million

 

 

Advertising
Total advertising and promotion expenses were $1,168.6 million, $1,027.9 million and $998.2 million for the years ended May 31, 2003, 2002 and 2001, respectively.

2003: $3,201,643 per day in advertising.

Executive Compensation
Phillip Knight, CEO

Year: 2002
Salary: $1,350,321
Bonus: $1,377,327
Other: $572,856
Total: $3,300,504

According to Forbes Magazine, Knight is worth 4.4 billion dollars, is the 33rd richest person in America and the 45th richest in the world.

In Other News
Nike CEO Philip Knight canceled a $30 million gift to University of Oregon after the school joined the Worker Rights Consortium, an organization of students, universities and human rights groups which monitors factories in the developing world that produce college apparel.

 


 

Gildan

Gildan Activewear Inc.
725 Montee de Liesse
Montreal, Que., Can. H4T 1P5
H. Chamandy, Chrm & Chief Exec Officer

Revenues and Profits

  Annual (ending 9/29/02)  Annual (ending 9/29/01) 
 Revenue:  $425.8 Million  $357.9 Million
 Net Income:  $48.7 Million  $2.3 Million

 

 

Advertising
2002: $8,189,000
2001: $7,762,000

Executive Compensation
Gregory Chamandy:
Year: 2002
Salary: 500,000
Bonus: 819,000
Other: 17,751
All other: 39,392
Total: 1,376,143

In Other News
All the plants in Honduras and the main plant in Mexico, are certified by the WorldwideResponsible Apparel Production code (WRAP). WRAP is a monitoring group created and backed by the largest apparel trade association in the US, the American Apparel and Footwear Association.

Sources: www.multex.com, SEC 10-K filings, www.ecomponline.com, AFL-CIO Executive Pay Watch, www.responsibleshopper.org, Forbes Magazine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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