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Victory in El Salvador!

September, 19 2006 Share

Victory at Quality/Elderwear factory in El Salvador! (Or, at least, three quarters of a victory)

After hundreds of workers camped out in front of the Quality factory in El Salvador, an agreement has been reached with management. This comes after a month of actions, including holding vigil outside the factory and blocking roads. The factory sews school uniforms for Elderwear, most notably the Tom Sawyer label.

 

The National Labor Committee supported these workers' efforts with a report, published on September 8th, an action an action alert issued in the U.S. and letters to the Elderwear Manufacturing Company asking them to do the right thing.

 

To read the National Labor Committee's original report of the situation, click here.

The conflict began when Thomas Joseph James, Vice President of Finance at the Elder Manufacturing Company, told workers that their factory was to be moved. Workers later discovered that this new factory complex was to be over 50 kilometers away, adding an extra three hours to every worker's commute. Some workers, already commuting hours ever day, would be simply unable to work at the new factory. For some, commute to the new factory would total three hours each way, on top of an already onerous 10-hour work day.

Some workers agreed to the arangement, however 232 workers could not. When these workers informed the management that they would be unable to work at the new factory, they were met with confusing responses. Some managers told them that the new factory, aptly named "Tom Sawyer," would take care of them. When these workers approached the new factory, however, they were denied entry.  One spokesperson denied responsibility for the workers, explaining that "Tom Sawyer is different from Quality." Another simply told them all, "you're fired." However, there was one common theme among all the answers — no one was going to take responsibility for these workers and no one was going to give them severance pay.

In essence, these workers were being fired. Without the consent or knowledge of the workers, the management made continued work at the factory impossible for these 232 workers. Yet, these workers were being denied any severance pay. Legally, workers in El Salvador are entitled to one month of severance pay for every year they work. Some workers at the Quality factory had invested over a decade of their life there, and were therefore entitled to nearly a year's worth of wages.

The workers protested, camping out in front of the Quality factory, trying to prevent equipment from being moved to the new factory location. They remained there for a month.

Workers say they survived this period due to the solidarity of Catholic parishes in El Salvador, donations of food from the Mayor of Soyapanga and popular support from the people of Soyapanga, especially those that live near the site of the original factory.

In early September, management at the Tom Sawyer factory offered the workers one half of the severance pay legally due them. This was hardly sufficient. For many workers, half of their severance pay would not sustain them until they found a new job. 

Workers continued to protest, even blocking the road to the new factory. Pressure increased as the National Labor Committee published a report on September 8, 2006 detailing the situation and, along with United Students Against Sweatshops, asked people to write letters to Elder Manufacturing Company's CEO, Ron Sher. Apparently, the message was received. Less than a week after the report was released, workers reported that negotiators were starting to change their stance.

At 2:00 p.m. today, September 19, an agreement will be signed at the Ministry of Labor, under which management will pay workers 75% of what they owe, with the exception of pregant women, who will receive 100%. While this is a victory, it is only a partial victory. These workers are entitled to the full amount due them under El Salvadorian law.

Under the agreement, workers will also be reimbursed for a week's wages, as well as a portion of their vacation and Christmas bonuses. The payment will come in three installments on September 26th, October 9th and October 30th.

Workers report that the company refused to consider any other arrangement. One worker laments, "We were forced to receive only 75% of what we are legally owed by the company because we don't have any savings and we have children. We were living worse than ever. Everything is so expensive."

The National Labor Committee would like to thank all of those that contributed support for these workers. However, these workers were still cheated. The 25% severance pay the company is refusing to pay workers totals around $134,500 — it would take one of these workers 855 years of sewing school uniforms to earn that. Moreover, workers report that, prior to the change in factory location, conditions were worsening and wages were falling. We sincerely hope that these practices will not transfer to the Tom Sawyer factory.