Workers Struggles: The Americas

15 November 2011
Latin America

Banana workers strike Del Monte in Costa Rica

More than 500 workers at three banana plantations in Sixaola, near the Panama border, are on strike over low wages. The plantations belong to the Del Monte company, where workers say they have attempted for almost a year and half to negotiate a fair deal, according to the web site insidecostarica.com

The Ministerio de Trabajo (Ministry of Labour) is threatening to intervene to end the strike.

Among the employees at the plantations are Costa Ricans, Nicaraguans and indigenous Guaymi of Panama. Last year, 5,000 banana workers struck and the government arrested scores of workers, as well as union leaders.

Colombian oil workers clash with riot police

At least 32 protesters were injured in confrontations with riot police in the Colombian cities of Cartegena and Barrancabermeja November 9. The protesters were demonstrating in defense of workers’ right to associate and collectively bargain at oil giant Ecopetrol’s refining facilities.

The demonstrations, called by the USO oil workers union, were peaceful until the riot police arrived and attacked the demonstrators. 24 protesters in Barrancabermeja and eight in Cartegena were injured in the conflicts. Two workers were arrested.

Some 22,000 oil workers nationwide took part in the protests.

Ecopetrol spokesman Juan Guillermo Londoño blamed the violence on the workers, telling Colombia Reports, “Ecopetrol respects the right to association, but we do not agree with this way of coming to a dialogue.” USO president Rodolfo Vecino responded, “They are talking about dialogue, but they are attacking us through the riot police.”

Violence against oil workers is a recurring aspect of labor struggles in Colombia. Workers battled riot police at a protest over wages, firings and labor conditions at Canadian oil company Pacific Rubiales last July. On September 26, a gunman on a motorcycle shot and killed Isidro Rivera Barrera, a contract worker who was organizing for the USO, in front of his home.

Peruvian municipal workers strike over stalled negotiations

Some 500 municipal workers in Peru’s northwestern provincial capital Piura began a three-day strike on November 7 to demand that the local government comply with collective bargaining contracts for 2011-2012. The Sutramunp and Stomp municipal workers’ unions called the strike, which included administrative personnel, guards, drivers, concierges and sanitation workers.

The walkout had been under discussion since October 16, when the deadline for negotiations passed without any agreement. A November 6 meeting with city representatives, attended by Parity Commission president Domingo Gómez, fell through as well.

The unions have presented 13 demands, among them the restitution of burial and grief payments, termination of functionaries caught in acts of corruption, no expansion of temporary contracts and provision of implements for sanitation workers. Before the 8:00 AM start of the strike, sanitation workers had already stopped work because of lack of response to their requests for repairs and maintenance of machinery like compactors, tilt carts and dump trucks.

The general director for the municipality, Donald Savitzky, told reporters that the Internal Auditing department was analyzing the burial and grief demands, and pointed out that the strike had been declared illegal. The unions notified the Labor Ministry prior to the action. Planned actions included pickets at principal locations around Piura.

12-hour strike by Mexican university workers

Members of the Autonomous University of Guerrero Technical, Administrative and Service Supervisory Workers Syndicate (STAISUAG) carried out a 12-hour strike November 10 over labor conditions. As is the custom, they placed black and red banners at various buildings on the campus and took over the administrative center, demanding compliance with a list of demands.

Among those demands are the solution of problems regarding changes in appointments, replacement of retired workers and “a total halt to the repression on the part of the directors against administrative workers,” according to a Milenio report.

“Likewise, to permit already retired workers to have the opportunity to pass along their posts to family members.”

The workers carried out the strike “as a means of pressure so that the rector [Asencio] Villegas Arrizón initiates a labor board with the union leadership and finally resolves the petition, presented months ago to the central administration.”

United States

Hawaii telecommunications workers strike

Workers at Hawaii Telcom concluded a two-day strike November 11 over their opposition to healthcare, pension and other benefit concessions in the company’s “last, best and final offer.” Hawaii Telcom is demanding the 700 members of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1357 pay 10 percent of healthcare premiums, have their pensions frozen and see their sick leave cut by a whopping 60 percent. Workers are also opposed to the outsourcing of jobs to the mainland United States.

“The Company made a good faith offer,” said company spokesman Scott Simon. However, striking workers are indignant that cuts are being imposed on them while CEO Eric Yeaman has seen his compensation mushroom from $1.32 million in 2009 to $6.72 million in 2010. At the same time, the company returned to profitability in the second quarter as it exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

The old contract offer expired on August 12. In October, the company issued its final offer, which was voted down by workers two weeks ago.

Cleveland-area drugstore strike ends

Workers at eight Rite Aid drugstores in the Greater Cleveland area ratified a new contract November 10, ending an eight-month strike over health care issues. Neither the company nor Local 880 of the United Food and Commercial Workers union would disclose specifics of the new contract.

The strike began when Rite Aid attempted to impose a new health care plan that would be controlled by the company. Previously, the health and welfare benefit plan had been controlled by the union. Local 880 said it had established a health plan that provided low annual deductibles and limited co-pays. The Rite Aid proposal, according to the union, is said to have put health coverage out of reach for drugstore workers.

Canada

Settlement imposed on Air Canada flight attendants

Canada Industrial Relations Board arbitrator Elizabeth MacPherson imposed Air Canada’s final contract offer on 6,800 flight attendants at the airline. In October, flight attendants voted 65 per cent to reject the deal for the second time, even as federal Tories threatened to use back-to-work legislation to block any strike action.

Labour Minister Lisa Raitt previously referred the dispute to the Canada Industrial Relations Board, citing supposed national health and safety issues. The Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) then agreed to binding arbitration, taking the decision of federal arbitrator as final. Raitt praised “Air Canada and CUPE, saying, “it is best when both parties work together to achieve an agreement.”

CUPE officials issued an obligatory protest, saying workers deserved “better treatment from the federal government.”

A comment on a news blog noted, “Air Canada flight attendants will only be paid for the time they are in the air. They will not be paid for helping passengers embark and disembark the plane. And if they sit on the runway waiting to take off or are delayed due to weather, they are not paid. This ruling creates absolutely deplorable and disgusting working conditions for flight attendants. Next time you fly Air Canada, as you board the plane, thank the flight attendants for volunteering their time to help passengers find their way and get settled, because Air Canada is not paying them a dime for doing that.”

Three thousand pilots will soon face a strike deadline after rejecting an agreement backed by the union last spring. Pilots were so opposed to the deal—which included plans to set up a new discount airline with lower wages and longer hours—that they voted out several top union officials, according to the Toronto Star.

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