Mass Firing of ALCOA Auto Parts Workers in Honduras to Block Union Organizing Drive

June, 21 2007 Share

June 21, 2007

AFL Honduras
El Porvenir Free Trade Zone
El Progreso, Honduras

  • 50-plus union leaders and activists fired days after organizing a union--fighting back against low wages, mandatory overtime, exhausting shifts, and routine maltreatment.
  • On Monday and Tuesday, June 18 and 19, fired Alcoa workers demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Labor office in El Progreso demanding reinstatement, respect for their union, and justice.
  • Local Alcoa management is threatening the workers saying if they continue to organize and make demands the factory will close and relocate to NICARAGUA WHERE "LABOR IS CHEAPER AND WORKERS DON'T MAKE SO MANY DEMANDS OR CAUSE PROBLEMS."
  • The workers assemble electrical wire harnesses for export to Ford.


First it was Alcoa workers in Mexico who were pitted against lower wage Honduran workers.  (They were told by Alcoa that they "could hire two Hondurans for every Mexican.")  Now that Alcoa has busted a union organized at its wire harnessing plant in the El Porvenir Free Trade Zone in Honduras--immediately firing all 50-plus union leaders and organizers--local Alcoa management is threatening that if the workers continue to organize, the plant will be shut down and relocated to NICARAGUA, where "labor is cheaper and workers don't make so many demands or cause problems." Alcoa's race to the bottom strategy has spread from the U.S. to Mexico and now to Central America, where under CAFTA the workers are being pitted against each other to work for less and abandon their legal rights.




On June 8, one of the key union leaders, Lorna Redell Jackson Garcia, was called for a meeting with assistant human resource manager, Yolany Contreras, and told that she was being fired because the company "was cutting personnel." More firings followed on June 12, when workers from the night shift were led out of the factory by armed security guards and left standing in the middle of nowhere on the highway in front of the free trade zone.  They too were told that they were being let go due to the company's need to "cut personnel."  Twenty more workers were fired the next day, followed by 26 more on June 15.  To date, 50+ leaders and organizers of the SITAFLH union have been fired.  This was the real reason for Alcoa's immediate need to "cut personnel"--to bust the workers' new union. 

Alcoa has a history of firing hundreds of union leaders and activists to block union organizing drives by their "associates" in Alcoa's maquila plants in Acuña and Piedras Negras, Mexico.

The workers report that despite Alcoa's claims that their Honduran plant is a "model factory," it is in reality full of violations.  This is especially true on the night shift, when the hours are long, exhausting and arbitrarily set and changed by management. An arbitrary shift from 4:15 p.m. to 11:45 p.m. can be switched to 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. whenever management wants. The workers are constantly shouted at and humiliated.  Security guards inside the factory will race to threaten any worker who appears to be taking a 30-second break by leaning back against the factory wall.  They earn the legal minimum wage, but it is not sufficient to meet even basic subsistence level needs.  There are too few bathrooms, and they are dirty.

Alcoa has established the "Bravo Project" in Honduras (which involves reforestation and helping child care centers) to show how socially responsible they are.  Management asks each worker to put in 60 voluntary hours on the project, for which they will receive a bonus of around $200.  The workers bonus has never arrived--but they did receive free t-shirts.  The multinational Alcoa company reaps the praise, while its poorly paid workers do the work and foot the bill.

The women workers also speak about a number of sexual harassment cases in the plant.

Alcoa's plant in the El Porvenir Free Trade Zone produces wire harnesses--automotive electrical systems--exclusively for export to the Ford Motor Company.  These harnesses enter the U.S. duty-free. It is only when representatives from Ford visit that the plant is cleaned, including the bathrooms.  The workers are coached and threatened to lie to the Ford auditors, claiming that conditions are excellent.



The workers are demanding the immediate reinstatement of the fired unionists, that Honduran law be respected, their right to organize and form a union be recognized, and that the Ministry of Labor do its job to demand Alcoa comply with the laws of Honduras.

The workers are seeking international solidarity.  They formed their union--SITAFLH at a semi-clandestine worker assembly on June 2.  Apparently spies from the company were also there.

On June 18 and 19, the fired workers organized a spirited picket in front of the Ministry of Labor office in El Progreso--demanding that Ministry officials end their passivity and order Alcoa to comply with the labor code.

Carlos Chahin, manager of the El Porvenir Free Trade Zone, is siding with Alcoa management, stating he will never accept a union in his free trade zone.

On June 18, Alcoa management failed to appear for the 2nd time at a conciliation meeting called by the Ministry of Labor.  The fired workers waited in vain.

This is just another example in a long chain of failures of the CAFTA free trade agreement to produce meaningful improvements in worker rights standards or the rule of law.  Business-as-usual --with multinationals able to violate worker rights with complete impunity--continues full steam ahead under CAFTA.

 A "CAFTA-esque" Step Backward
Slashing the Minimum Wage from 74 cents to 57 cents an hour

In a related CAFTA-esque step backward, the Honduran Government has just reduced the minimum wage in the South of Honduras (including the department of Santa Barbara) from $178 to $136 a month.  This is a 24 percent drop in wages, from 74 cents an hour to 57 cents. The largest free trade zone in Central America, the recently completed Green Valley Industrial Park is conveniently located in Santa Barbara to access the 57-cent-an-hour wages.  San Pedro Sula, where the majority of the maquila factories are concentrated, is just 20 miles or so from Santa Barbara.  How long will it be before wages drop in the rest of Honduras?

The last time the export factory workers' wages were at or lower than 57 cents an hour was 5 years ago. Today's 57 cent an hour wage is, in terms of real purchasing power, much lower due to inflation.

Write to Alcoa CEO Alain Belda

Mr. Alain Belda, CEO
Alcoa, Inc.
390 Park Ave. 
New York, NY 10022-4608

FAX: 412-553-4498

Dear Mr. Belda:

I urge you to immediately reinstate the more than 50 workers who were recently fired at your auto parts plant in the El Porvenir Free Trade Zone in El Progreso, Honduras.  This is a violation of Honduran labor law as well as the U.S.-Central American Free Trade Agreement.  The right to organize is, of course, one of the UN/ILO's core internationally-recognized worker rights standards.

There are also many other violations at the plant which need to be addressed.

Please intervene immediately. 

I intend to contact my Senators and Representative, since I see this as a breach of CAFTA and a serious setback for worker rights and the rule of law in Honduras.  Thank you for the corrective actions I hope you will take.





Previous NLC reports on Auto Parts Production:

Alcoa's Hi-Tech Sweatshops in Mexico, 2002

July 2005 Auto Parts Series