Reports

April, 01 2000 |  Share

Mil Colores Company

Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone, Managua, Nicaragua

April, 2000

 

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U.S. owner: Gregg Miller
Factory General Manager: Maria Isabel Lara
Chief of Personnel: Indiana Garay
Legal Representative: Roger Peralia

Mil Colores is a U.S.-owned maquila factory in the Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone, which is located on the outskirts of Managua, Nicaragua.Approximately 700 workers sew children's, men's and women's clothing for export to the U.S., including for the No Fear, Sonoma and High Sierra labels.High Sierra is owned by Target/Dayton-Hudson Corporation and is sold at the company's Mervyn's stores.Sonoma is owned by Kohl's department stores. Mil Colores is well known as the factory with the worst working conditions in the Las Mercedes FTZ—the one with the lowest wages, forced overtime, harsh treatment, very high production goals and consistent problems with access to health care.

Phone: 011-505-233-2049
011-505-233-2077
011-505-263-3227 Fax: 011-505-263-1702

 

 



SUMMARY:Sweatshop Conditions at Mil Colores

  • Forced Overtime: 10-hour shifts, six day workweek with occasional 15-hour shifts and Sunday work. Failure to work overtime is punished with firing.
  • Starvation Wages: Some workers earn as little as 20 cents an hour. The average fully-loaded wage—including all bonuses and incentives—appears to be 33 cents an hour. No one can possibly live on these wages.
  • The factory is extremely hot: There are some ventilators, which are frequently out of order, but not enough to keep the factory even moderately cool.
  • Filthy bathrooms: Not only are the bathrooms filthy, but they are monitored by private security guards who take the names of the women using the bathrooms, and time them. If they stay "too long" they are taken out.
  • Excessively high production goals: For example, 80 workers on production line #5 must complete 2000 pairs of Target company's Mervyn's "High Sierra" children's shorts each day. One way to look at this is that every worker must make the equivalent of 25 pairs of shorts a day. If they reach the quota, the next week the company raises the daily production quota for the line by another 100 pieces. There is a lot of screaming and cursing at the women to work faster to meet the quota.
  • Mass firings and union busting: On January 10, 2000, the Mil Colores workers held an assembly and elected their new union leaders. The following day, the newly elected General Secretary of the union, Jose Domingo Martinez Esquivel, was illegally fired. To date 200 union leaders and member have been fired. The Mil Colores company is now bringing criminal charges against 68 of the union leaders and members.
  • Cheating on Social Security health care: Though money is deducted from the workers' wages each week to cover health care insurance, the company holds back its payment to the Social Security Institute for more than 2 ½ weeks each month, which means the workers have no access to health care during that period. For the ten days or so each month that they can use the health clinic, Mil Colores management routinely denies permission to be absent from work, no matter how sick a worker is, saying there is too much work to grant time off even for an hour or two.
According to Pedro Ortega, the highly respected leader of the Textile Workers Federations in Nicaragua:

"After paying starvation wages all along, now the company is spending a great deal of money on this legal suit, hoping to throw us into jail.What Mil Colores is really seeking is to wreck the union and treat us all like criminals and terrorists.They want everyone in the factory to be afraid of them.They want to break the back of the workers' courage.They don't want people who stand up to defend their basic rights and dignity."

Pedro, the General Secretary of the Mil Colores union and the others are being charged with "Disturbing the Public Order" and "Illicit Association to Commit Crimes."

A Concerted Attempt to Destroy the Few Unions in the Nicaraguan Maquila:

The attacks against worker rights at Mil Colores are not an isolated case.There is a concerted effort on the part of the maquila owners to wipe out the unions in Nicaragua.Similar mass firings and attacks on worker rights are being carried out simultaneously at the Jem III factory, which produces for Wal-Mart, and at the Chi Hsing factory, which produces for Kmart. The workers are appealing for international solidarity.

 


DOCUMENTATION:Sweatshop Conditions / Violations at Mil Colores:

Labels:No Fear, Sonoma and High Sierra

 

High Sierra is owned by Target/Dayton-Hudson and is sold in Mervyn's stores. Eighty workers on production line #5 are required to sew 2000 pairs of children's and teenagers black and blue High Sierra shorts each day.(The RN number on the High Sierra shorts made at Mil Colores is:14372.)

Forced Overtime:

The "regular" shift is: * Monday — Friday 7:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.
* Saturdays 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

There is a 45-minute break period each day for lunch, which means the workers are regularly at the factory six days a week for 58 hours, while being paid for 53 hours.

During "rush order" periods, the daily shift is extended to 12 or 15 hours:
7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m.
or 7:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m

There is also occasional work on Sunday: 8:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m.

The pay stubs do not record the number of overtime hours worked.
 

Starvation Wages:

We reviewed pay stubs which showed some workers earning as little as 113 cordobas per week--$9.19.($1 = 12.3 cordobas)This would amount to 20 cents an hour, or less.The fully-loaded average wage including seventh day's pay and all bonuses and incentives appears to be less than 215 cordobas per week, or $17.48, which would amount to about 33 cents an hour for the 53 hours they regularly work.

 

Overtime hours are not recorded on the pay stubs and the workers say they do not receive any overtime premium.Their pay stubs record just 46.50 hours worked, though they are in fact typically working 53 hours a week.

The highest wage for a production worker in the factory was 50 cents an hour.

Included in the fully-loaded wages are the incentives for meeting production goals and having a perfect on-time attendance.These incentives come to only 7 to 15 cents a day!

These are clearly below-subsistence wages, forcing families to live in misery.

 


 

Mass firings and union busting:

At an assembly on January 10, 2000, the Mil Colores workers met to reorganize their legally recognized union and elect a new leadership.Jose Domingo Martinez Esquivel was elected General Secretary.The following day he was illegally fired.

 

Then, on January 21, Mil Colores management fired 50 more workers, including four of the newly elected union executive board members.The union leaders illegally fired were:
  • Santos Ramon Diaz Valle
  • Rosa Esterlina Ocampo Gonzalez
  • Carlos Alberto Hernandez Bustamante
  • Jose Geovanny Otero Matamoros

 

Among the 34 union members fired was a pregnant woman.(All of their names, both leaders and members, were on the list of participants in the union's January 10, 2000 assembly, which was presented to the Labor Ministry on January 11.)

 

Using the standard cover-up, the company said they were having "financial problems," and that these particular workers were fired for low productivity, bad-quality work and poor conduct.The truth is that they were all active members of the union and many of them have company records to show that they are among the most productive workers in the factory.

 

In an attempt to stop the illegal firings and the certain destruction of their union, the workers held a 2-hour work stoppage on January 25.Mil Colores management responded by "suspending" and later firing 23 more union members.These were the most active members who organized the work stoppage.

 

In desperation, a second work stoppage was held on January 27.The company responded by immediately firing 33 more unionists.

 

The work stoppage turned into a demonstration as the fired workers gathered in front of the offices at the Mil Colores factory.The company called in 100 riot police.As the workers tried to enter and occupy the factory to protest the mass firings and to negotiate with Mil Colores management, they were attacked by the factory's private security guards.A glass door to the factory, which was already half hanging off its hinges, was broken by the workers.Some of the workers were beaten, and one fired worker, Luis Felipe Rivas, was stabbed in the arm.Two security guards were also injured.Some workers succeeded in entering the factory, but were tear-gassed by the riot police.Two workers allegedly took some shorts and some bobbins as they left the factory.Following the demonstration, the police detained five union members, charging them with property damage.


They were:

  • Elvira Vargas Vanegas
  • Jose Domingo Martinez Esquivel
  • Juan Jose Arostegui
  • Ronald Miranda Meza
  • Hector Alfonso Rugama

 

 

All were released on the following day.

On February 2, the company fired 50 more workers. To date, almost 200 workers have been fired since they met to elect a new union leadership on January 10! Mil Colores management is claiming that these firings are "justified" and legal since the workers "abandoned their jobs" during the January 25 and 27 protests. Mil Colores management has also lied to the U.S. Embassy in Nicaragua, stating that here was no legal union at the factory.

In a final blow to break the spirit and resolve of the workers and completely destroy their union, Mil Colores management now has the money—after years of paying starvation wages—to bring an expensive legal suit against the penniless fired workers, charging 68 workers with "Disturbing the Public Order" and "Illicit Association to Commit a Crime."

If convicted of these bogus charges the workers could face 21 years in prison.


Sixty-eight Unionists on Trial

 

In a suit brought by Mil Colores management, the Eighth District Criminal Court of Managua is currently trying the 68 union leaders and activists for the alleged crimes of rioting, theft, property damage and for illicit association to disturb freedom of commerce.

The workers in Nicaragua have nowhere to turn.They believe that the poorly paid, ill equipped, and untrained Ministry of Labor inspectors have been corrupted by the maquila owners.At any rate, there have been precious few times when the Ministry of Labor has actually implemented labor law to protect the maquila workers' rights.

That is why they feel they must make an immediate appeal for international solidarity.

Not only is the union being violently crushed at Mil Colores, but similar firings and union busting is simultaneously being carried out at the Jem III factory which produces 100% for Wal-Mart and at the Chi Hsing plant, whose production is 100% for Kmart.All these factories are located in the Las Mercedes Free Trade Zone, and it seems clear that there is a concerted attempt on the part of the maquila owners to wipe out the few functioning unions that remain.


Expansion of Nafta Free Trade Benefits to CBI:

At the very moment that these concerted attacks are underway to destroy the remaining maquila unions in Nicaragua, the U.S. Congress is about to expand Nafta free trade benefits to apparel producers in Central America and the Caribbean, wiping out all tariffs and quotas.If passed, the CBI parity bill will cost the American people over $1 billion in lost revenues over the next five years.

Surely passage of this bill benefiting the maquila owners and their U.S. retailers should be conditioned on meeting fundamental internationally recognized labor standards, including the right to freedom of association.

 


U.S. Company Contact Information:

 

 

Robert J. Ulrich
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
Target Corporation and Target Stores (formerly Dayton-Hudson)
777 Nicollet Mall
Minneapolis, MN 55402
Phone: 612-370-6948
Fax: 612-304-5226
E-mail: bob.ulrich@target.com


Larry Montgomery
CEO and Vice Chairman
Kohl's Department Stores, Inc.
N56 W17000 Ridgewood Drive
Menomonee Falls, WI 53051
Phone: 262-703-7000
Fax: 262-703-6796
E-mail: larry_montgomery @kohls.com