On the Worker Rights Consortium's website, there are Factory Reports from a Jerzees factory in Choloma, Honduras, owned by Russell Athletic.1 This report exposed the factory, throwing them into the middle of the global sweatshop spotlight. The factory was later, partially sold to Fruit of the Loom and currently produces Russell and Fruit of the Loom clothing. Fruit of the Loom had a more antagonistic management strategy2, but as workers and labor organizers from the factory told us (United Students Against Sweatshops) on the phone last night (Thursday), the company promised workers that they "would never coexist with a union". When trying to unionize, the bosses tried to beat them to it by forming their own union at the factory, organized by and for management; these are often called "yellow unions" in Mexico.3 But the workers were too strong. The workers’ union had so much support from workers at Jerzees, the bosses could not contend; this was also done with the pressure of the WRC and United Students Against Sweatshops. Just this past Wednesday, the company's promises were fulfilled.
Fruit of the Loom has announced that they will begin layoffs this December, and by March, the entire factory, textile factory is the largest employer in the area, will be closed. Russell and Fruit of the Loom are claiming that the factory is "closing for production reasons". They are feigning this as a way to split workers and fuel anti-union sentiment. Fruit of the Loom is trying to make workers think that the union has allowed workers to be lazy and slack off, thus, decreasing the factory’s production. The workplace has been split, about 50/50, with union workers being on the defensive from anti-union workers accusing them of forcing Fruit of the Loom to leave.
Russell has three factories in Honduras. Yet, this is their only factory that has a union, and they are also the only one currently negotiating a collective bargaining agreement. Russell and Fruit of the Loom are claiming that the current economic crisis has forced them to cut back on production, and because the Jerzees union has given workers a voice and protect of their rights, Russell and Fruit of the Loom see the Jerzees factory as the most cost effective factory to close.
Workers explained to us that there was a deliberate attack on the union and the workers in it, with union organizers already receiving death threats, blacklists have been prepared for every other factory in Honduras, and even the factory owner's son had stated that they are "closing because of the union".
Blacklists are conducted in many ways: 1) workplaces require references before hiring, and if there is any question about a union background, previous workplaces are called; 2) Export Processing Zones are areas (states, cities, or even just a factory) that offer incentives to companies to invest there, and they allow companies to carry on trade practices as an export oriented development strategy—these companies are networked and are known to carry out illegal anti-union strategies in the EPZ4; 3) union workers' and organizers' identification numbers and names are entered into a centralized computer system, which they said was allowed, due to laxed EPZ policies, and this information is disseminated to every other business in EPZ; 4) maquiladoras in Honduras are owned and controlled by a handful of capitalists who can easily "help" each other by sharing information on workers to make sure no factory in Honduras has a strong union.
This sort of closure is common policy, and a similar process happened when Gildan Activewear cutback and reallocated its production that was previously concentrated in a factory in El Progreso, Honduras.5 In El Progreso, some of the most hideous anti-union tactics and strategies imaginable had been used; but after a lot of activism in the United States that forced firms here to not purchase any clothes from this factory, Gildan decided that it could either cave and allow the workers to resist, or they could sprawl out production to make sure their practices could not be monitored. Gildan went with the second strategy, and Fruit of the Loom is looking to this strategy as the most effective form of class warfare.6 It allows them to feign excuses about productivity and the crisis for leaving, blames the union, and does not even require a police or paramilitary force to crush the union or a strike.
The Honduran workers ended the call asking that we boycott Fruit of the Loom and Russell clothing and that we spread the word in the United States as much as possible, because we all know this story will not make the corporate media. Many workers will lose their jobs and have been assured that they will never find employment at another maquiladora in Honduras ever again. Thus, the plant at Jerzees must stay open, and they are calling on us to do whatever we can to keep it open. Workers and organizers at the factory have received death threats and promises of a lifetime of unemployment. Destroying the marketing faces of these companies here is the least we can do.
1. Worker Rights Consortium Factory Reports on the Jerzees factory in Choloma, Honduras, can be found here: <http://workersrights.org/Freports/JerzeesCholoma.asp>.
2. Workers stressed the following differences in the companies' business management strategies. Russell gave bonuses; Fruit of the Loom gives no bonuses. Fruit of the Loom requires meeting quotas that have increased with more workers meeting them, and when they are not met, workers must work unpaid overtime; together, this results in the garuntee of higher production and less wages for workers. If quotas were exceeded, Russell would reward workers, whereas Fruit of the Loom does nothing. Nonetheless, when the WRC investigated the factory, back when it was owned by Russell, it found numerous violations of labor laws.
3. The WRC Factory Reports on the Kukdong factory in Mexico can be found here: <http://workersrights.org/Freports/Kukdong.asp>. Similar anti-union management strategies of forming a bosses’ union happened at the PT Dada factory in Indonesia: <http://workersrights.org/Freports/PTDada.asp>.
4. Gopalakrishnan, Ramapriya. International Labor Standards Department, Working Paper No. 1. "Freedom of association and collective bargaining in export processing zones: Role of the ILO supervisory mechanisms". International Labor Organization Office. <http://www.ilo.org/wcmsp5/groups/public/—ed_norm/—normes/documents/publication/wcms_087917.pdf>.
5. WRC Factory Reports on Gildan Activewear in El Progreso, Honduras: <http://workersrights.org/Freports/gildan.asp>.
6. The workers mentioned that this strategy is actually illegal in Honduras, but it is constantly used–just like intimidating workers from organizing in the U.S. is technically illegal, but it happens all the time.