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Interview with Ana, worker at Legumex/Tierra Fria

February, 24 2007 Share

February 24, 2007

 

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

NLC:  Where do you work?

Ana:  In Legumex.

NLC:  And what is your job?

Ana:  Processing.

NLC:  What is processing?

Ana:  We cook the broccoli, we freeze it and we seal it.

NLC:  How old are you.

Ana:   15.

Ana

NLC:  How long have you worked at the factory?

Ana:  Almost a year and a half.

NLC:  What are the hours in the processing plant?

Ana:  From 7:00 in the morning until 5:00 at night, and then at night it is from 5:00 at night until 7:00 in the morning.

NLC:  These shifts alternate...or how does that work?

Ana:  Yes.

NLC:  When was the last time you worked at night?

Ana:  Right now I'm working at night.

NLC:  So you worked last night?

Ana:  Uh huh.

NLC:  Until when?

Ana:   Until 7:00 in the morning.

NLC:  You worked the whole night?  You don't get a chance to sleep at night?

Ana:   No.

NLC:  Can you describe, what did you do last night?

Ana:   When we began, we cleaned all the machines, and afterward, they made steam to pre-cook the broccoli and then we started processing . . .

NLC:  So when you first get their you wash all the machinery, then cook the broccoli?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  And then what happens, you freeze it?

Ana:   We freeze it and then we put it in a box and we seal it.

NLC:  How do you freeze it, in a machine?

Ana:   There a big machine called Tuny (?).  It looks like a big room.  On the other side, there's another machine where they put out cold to put it there.  And it has like vibrators on the belt [maya].  And they carry the broccoli and on the other side it's frozen.

NLC:  It freezes that fast?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  How long does it take to go through?

Ana:   On belt #1 about 15 minutes, and on the other it's 17.

NLC:  Are you sitting down all night, or standing?

Ana:   Standing up all night.

NLC:  Is it cold, or is it comfortable in the factory?

Ana:   On the side where they cook it's a little warm but since there are turbines to pull the air out, it's still cold...and on the other side, the cold [side], it's cold [she laughs].

NLC:  So they go from warm to cold?

Ana:   No, there are about 20 [workers].  They put 13 on the "hot" and the others on the cold.

 

Ana

 

NLC:  Are there any minors who work on these night shifts?

Ana:   There are three of us.

NLC:  What ages?

Ana:   Two who are fifteen, and one sixteen.

NLC:  It has to be exhausting.  That's 14 hours, from 5:00 o'clock at night to 7:00 a.m.

Ana:   Yes.  Too much.

NLC:  What do the workers feel like when they come out?

Ana:   One feels really tired, wanting to sleep.  [Laughs] I don't want to go back again.

NLC:  What breaks are there during the night?

Ana:   Half an hour for lunch and 15 minutes snack.

NLC:  When is the lunch and the snack?

Ana:   The lunch is from 12:00 p.m. to 1:00 p.m.  They let us out three at a time...  and the snack is at 9:00 p.m.

NLC:  Does the company give them food?

Ana:   No you have to buy it.

NLC:  What is your exact job?  Do you work in the cooking, or the freezing?  What do you do?

Ana:   Before I was in the freezing of broccoli, but now they've passed me to where it's cooked.

NLC:  So, are you constantly putting broccoli in the machines to be cooked?

Ana:   No.  There is a person who empties...grabs the boxes of broccoli and pours them out to pass through to be pre-cooked....  There are others who are classifying and taking out the bad.  And I am moving product so that on the other side it will all come out orderly.

NLC:  So it comes out of the machine?  So they are evenly spaced?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  Is there a production goal?  That you have to do a certain number of pounds?

Ana:   Whatever "Preparation" does.  Sometimes they don't do much and we get out at 3:00 in the morning.  But most of the time we always get out at 7:00 a.m.

NLC:  Do they give you a quota of how many pieces you have to do?

Ana:   I think so....  Today we had to do...I think it was 56,000 pounds, but we didn't finish.

NLC:  56,000 pounds?  And they didn't finish it?

Ana:   It's a lot!

NLC:  So you couldn't finish it...

Ana:   No, we still have, I think 15,000 pounds left.

NLC:  Does management get angry?

Ana:   No, because they know it is a lot.

NLC:  And is it true, we've heard, that they workers sometimes faint because they are tired?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  Did you ever see that happen?

Ana:   Yes.  Sometimes.  Like when you have a headache.  And you tell the supervisor...and they don't say anything.

NLC:  You say, "I feel dizzy.  My head hurts.  Can I sit down?"

Ana:   Yes, but they don't understand.

NLC:  Have you had that experience?

Ana:   Yes.  I've had a headache.  But I didn't faint.

NLC:  But have you asked to be able to sit down.

Ana:   Yes.  A little while ago my throat hurt because of the cold, and every time I coughed, bits of blood came up.  And I said to her...well since the supervisor wasn't there I walked over to see her, and called her, and she went nuts.  And she told me that if I was absent, they would suspend me for another day.

NLC:  So you don't get a chance to rest during the night, during those 14 hours you don't get a chance to rest....

Ana:   [Nods in assent.]

NLC:  And is the work fast, or is it comfortable and slow.

Ana:   Well, if the product passes slowly, they can't say anything to us because it's the machines. [Smiles.]

NLC:  So you are working slowly?

Ana:   Those of us who are fast have to do it really fast.  If not then they chastise us.

NLC:  You are standing working on your feet all night?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  And when you place the pieces, what exactly are you doing?

Ana:   Moving them.  Moving them.

NLC:  But why would you move it.

BB:  She is putting them equidistance on the tray.

NLC:  So you're arranging them on the tray.

Ana:   It's that they put them on in handfulls, so you have to move them like this.  [She makes a circular motion with her arm.]

NLC:  And it's all night you are moving your arms like that.

Ana:   Just with one.

NLC:  Why?

Ana:   Because it wouldn't fit.  It's only a little place like this.  [Gestures to indicate about a foot & a half.]

 

interview with Ana

 

NLC:  So 20 people work this night shift?

Ana:   Uh huh.

NLC:  And every other week you are working during the day.

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  You [the workers] must make a lot of money working all those overtime hours...

Ana:   No. [Laughs a little.]

NLC:  Does the company pay overtime, or not?

Ana:   Yes, but the pay is very little.

 

Ana

 

NLC:  Is it every two weeks you get paid?

Ana:   Three weeks, some times it's up to three weeks...

NLC:  But for a two-week period, right?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  What is the pay?

Ana:   It should be more, because we are working days, we are working nights, and we do too many hours of overtime...

NLC:  But each pay period, you're being paid for one week working days and one week working nights, right?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  And how much do you get...generally.

Ana:   850.

NLC:  And in the day shift you work from 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  With the same half hour for lunch and 15 minute break?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  Do you work five days a week?

Ana:   No.  From Monday to Saturday, or sometimes from Monday to Sunday.

NLC:  Are you working a six day week now, or a seven day week?

Ana:   Six days.

NLC:  So you go to work tonight and won't have to go to work Sunday at night.

Ana:   Today yes, but Sunday no because we can't because if we work till dawn [on Monday] we have to be working day shifts.

NLC:  It must be hard switching hours back and forth.

Ana:   Yes.  [Laughs]

NLC:  It's very upsetting, to keep switching how you sleep and how you eat your meals.

Ana:   Yes. 

NLC:  Does it make you sick...having to switch when you eat and sleep like that?

Ana:   Yes.  [Sadly]

NLC:  Do they pay Social Security?  They deduct money.  Do you get Social Security?

Ana:   No.

NLC:  So what happens if you get sick?

Ana:   One has to pay.

NLC:  You've worked for more than a year, do you get a paid vacation?

Ana:   Yes...?

NLC:  But do you get it?

Ana:   Just one time.  When there's no product, then fifteen days.

NLC:  And how often has that happened?

Ana:   Just one time, when they were fixing up the plant.

NLC:  But say this year, can you take a vacation....say, I want to go on vacation for 15 days, I want to go to the beach with my family at such and such a time?

Ana:   No.  They'd scold you.  They'd fire you.

NLC:  Do you get paid sick days?

Ana:   No.  [Sadly]

 

Ana

 

NLC:  So it's clear from your wages they are not paying the correct overtime?

Ana:   Yes---because we compañeras who are working days and nights, we're working more hours than those who are working just days.  They'd have to pay us Q 1,200 or Q 1,100, but that's not how it is.

NLC:  And what is your daily wage?  Do you know what it is?

Ana:   Q 34.20

NLC:  That's for the day shift...

Ana:   This 15 Day [pay period] we hoped to make  Q1,100, but what we got was Q 890.

NLC:  So you get between Q 850 and Q 890?

Ana:   Q 890 or sometime Q 900.

NLC:  So the day shift is for six days...but they're working nine hours.  So for the day shift for nine hours you're earning Q 34.20.

Ana:   Before they didn't deduct lunch, but now they deduct it.  Before they paid that half hour, but now, no.  They told us, now they were going to deduct lunch and the snack for those who agreed, and that those who disagreed could go. 

NLC:  So now they are deducting lunch and break time?

Ana:   And when we had our [Christmas] party for the whole plant, and according to [what we thought] they wouldn't deduct it, but they deducted that too.

NLC:  So now they are not paying for the party?

Ana:   They deduct it from us.

NLC:  Can you use the bathroom anytime you want?

Ana:   Yes.

NLC:  You, the workers, can talk at night, chat among yourselves?

Ana:   No.

NLC:  And what would happen if they saw you talking.

Ana:   They'd scold you.

NLC:  And you started working when you were 13 ½?

Ana:   I was 14.

NLC:  And did you immediately start working in processing, or did you begin in preparation?

Ana:   In preparation....I had five months in preparation when I asked for my transfer.

NLC:  And why did you ask for it?

Ana:   Because in preparation you earn very little and on top of that they rob you.  Like for instance, when you are doing melon and you have to do 20 boxes an hour and you do 20 and they only put down half.

NLC:  They only put down ten?

Ana:   Well maybe fifteen, and the other five they take away.

NLC:  To cheat the workers.

Ana:   Yes and part of the way they take away boxes is that they fill them up a LOT.

NLC:  They fill them?

Ana:   A lot, a lot!

NLC:  Like they combine boxes?

Ana:   Yes.  Like the small [melons], it's supposed to be 15 or 20, like that, but instead they put in 30.

NLC:  When they pack the frozen product, do they pack them in big boxes?

Ana:   They are small ones, 10 kilos.

NLC:  Always ten kilos?

 

Ana

 

Ana:   That is for melon.

NLC:  Are you working on melon now?

Ana:   Yes.  Melon and pineapple.

NLC:  And they put them in small boxes of 10 kilos.  Does it have a name on the box?

Ana:   Name of the melon, or the box?... Yes...it has the name of the factory, who it's for, and the address.

NLC:  And who is it for?  Have you ever looked?

Ana:   [Smiling]  No.

NLC:  Could you do it?  Read the boxes?

Ana:   [Nods]....Discussion of company names.  Ana thinks she recognizes the name Superior.]  It's the Control who knows more, because they are the ones who say, 'now we are going to move on to...green beans.  They make the change.

[Discussion of "superior"]

NLC:  So the night shift that you work, what do the workers get paid for the night shift?

Ana:   Q 34.20.

NLC:  That's all?  But where is the overtime pay, or the night premium?

Ana:   Before we worked from 5:00 to 11:00 or 11:30, but now from 5:00 to 1:00.

NLC:  To 1:00?  I thought you were working till 7:00?

Ana:   Well from 5:00 to 1:00 in the morning, and the rest is overtime hours.

NLC:  So 2:00, 3:00, 4:00, 5:00 and 6:00 is overtime, five hours of overtime?...and what are they paying for those hours of overtime?

Ana:   One overtime hour is worth Q3.50...something like that.

NLC:  And there is no night-time differential, they don't pay more for working at night?

Ana:   34.20....[break in sound]  They'd have to pay 40 for the day, but they're paying us 34.20.  And if they give us in increase, they increase us by one or two Quetzals.

NLC:  The North American companies tell us that a factory like yours, Tierra Fria, that the factory is very good, that the workers are treated with great respect, and that they are paid very good wages.  That they get vacations, sick days...good overtime pay.  What would you say to the companies?

Ana:   I'd say that they are paying Q34.20 a day and according to the laws it's supposed to be Q40.  And they have to increase, because it's only 34.20 that they are giving.

NLC:  What would happen if you went in tonight and said, "Look you're not paying us the minimum wage."?

Ana:  They'd scold us.

NLC:  In other words, what the U.S. companies are saying is not true?  It's not an excellent factory where all your rights are respected?

Ana:  No.  Those in preparation are the ones who have it the toughest because they enter at 7:00 a.m. and they only get out at 7:00 at night.

NLC:  How many people are doing that?

Ana:  The majority.  The only ones of us who don't work like that are those in processing.

NLC:  You've heard of George Bush, president of the United States?

Ana:  Yes.

NLC:  Do you know that he is coming here?

Ana:  No.  [Smiling.]

NLC:  He is going to come here on the 10th or 11th of March, to visit Chimaltenango, and they say he is going to praise the agro-export factories, like Tierra Fria.

Ana:  But what they do there is hide everything.  They chastise you.  On the day shift they don't let them go to the bathroom.  Us, they scream at us.  If what they are saying is that there they treat you well...it's not like that.

NLC:  So if you could talk to President George Bush, what would you like to tell him?...to tell him the truth about the conditions in the factory.

Ana:  That they should talk with the factory because it's too much what they make us do and they don't pay us the wage.  In preparation a lot of boxes come in and they don't pay them for them.  And to fire the people who treat us badly.  And to allow us to study.

NLC:  So you are fifteen years old.  What do you do for fun?

Ana:  There [in the factory] or at home?

NLC:  In your life.

Ana:  Right now....I can't really fool around, or play... [she starts to cry].

 

Ana