Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

On May Day, No Borders Between Workers

May 2nd, 2012 | Mike Hall

Image: Mike Hall

May Day—International Workers’ Day—is a day when there should be no borders or barriers between workers around the world, said Shawna Bader-Blau, executive director of the Solidarity Center, at a special May Day forum at the AFL-CIO in Washington, D.C., today.

Bader-Blau presented video greetings from union leaders and worker activists around the globe, including Heli Vargas, International Affairs secretary of one of the Solidarity Center’s partners in Peru, the CGTP (Confederacion General de Trabajadores del Peru). Said Vargas:

“Just as the companies are globalized to exploit us, the actions of the workers and unions must also be globalized as businesses are.”

The forum focused on the challenges and conditions of Latina and immigrant workers in the United States and women workers around the globe. Andrea Delgado, senior policy analyst and communications manager for the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement (LCLAA), said there are some 24 million Latinas in the United States—64 percent native born and 36 percent foreign born. Citing data from a new LCLAA report, Delgado said with 60 percent or fewer Latinas holding a high school degree, many are in low-wage, low-quality jobs where “they are an easy target for discrimination.” Also, in many cases,

“their immigrant status is used as a tool to prevent them from organizing into unions or going to the government to report abuses and other employer violations.”

Delgado noted that Latina workers suffer from the same—and often more so—wage and job discrimination and sexual harassment as all women workers. She said LCLAA and other workers’ right groups are fighting to ensure Latinas have jobs:

where their rights are respected—not just as workers—but as women.

You can find out more from LCLAA’s report, “Trabajadoras: Challenges and Conditions of Latina Workers in the United States.” Click here to download.

The forum included Iris Munguia, the first women elected to lead COLSIBA, the union for banana workers in eight Latin American nations. Speaking through a translator, Munguia explained how women built power and a voice in a male-dominated sector, first by forming women’s committees at individual worksites that grew into a coalition throughout Honduras before building out to other nations.

They have developed a Women’s Rights Platform that is now a template used in negotiations with nearly two dozen large employers. The three central demands are:

  • More employment of women that includes the right of freedom of association and collective bargaining;
  • Limiting the use of chemicals and other pesticides in the fields; and
  • The end of sexual harassment.

COLSIBA has worked closely with the AFL-CIO in the recent filing of petition with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs that charges the Honduran government with failure to effectively enforce its labor laws and comply with its commitments under the six-year-old Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA). Click here for more.

Munguia said she couldn’t stress enough,

“The high importance that solidarity has been with our sisters and brothers in the United States and across Latin America….Your help will help us win.”

About the author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journal and managing editor of the Seafarers Log. He came to the AFL-CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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