IndustriALL Global Union is supporting unionists from its affiliate, the independent federation of Honduran workers (FITH), to tackle a garment export company with a long and brutal history of union-busting.
The Petralex garment factory, located in the Buffalo Free Trade Zone on the outskirts of the industrial city of San Pedro Sula, has been an anti-union battleground for the past eight years.
The latest conflict started on 2 March, when the company began targeting newly elected union officers, offering them up to nearly three times their legal severance pay if they resigned voluntarily – not necessarily an easy decision for workers who earn only a third of what they need to survive. Five leaders from local union Sitrapetralex, which forms part of FITH, refused to accept and were summarily dismissed. One accepted only after his sister was threatened with the sack.
At a meeting called by the labour authorities on 24 March, Sitrapetralex and Petralex failed to reach agreement. This is unsurprising given that the only company representation was a newly appointed lawyer who denied any wrongdoing, claiming that the dismissals were the result of restructuring.
Restructuring is precisely the same excuse given by Petralex on the four other occasions it dismissed entire union executive committees. In June, July and August 2007 and in January 2008, the company followed the same pattern: the union elects its leaders; the company fires them.
The company has systematically dismissed anyone who might represent a threat to its regime of management-by-terror; 180 union members were dismissed in 2007 and 2008.
In 2012, the Petralex case was considered so serious that it was cited in a Central America Free Trade Agreement complaint lodged by Honduran unions.
A recently released response by a US government report noted that a follow-up investigation by the Honduran authorities had failed to investigate whether the union leaders dismissed in 2007 and 2008 had been reinstated.
Until now the company has paid a mere US$580 fine for its union-busting activities – a pathetic price to pay for eight years of brutal anti-union repression.
In order to seek justice for the wrongly fired union leaders, IndustriALL is making approaches to the company, to the labour authorities, to the Honduran garment exporters association AHM, as well as to the brands sourcing from the company, which include adidas licensee Outerstuff, Gear for Sports (owned by HBI), the Vanity Fair corporation, and Dallas Cowboys.