Conflict at Cervecería Hondureña

With Carlos Rodríguez, of STIBYS

The country is at a critical moment,

and SAB-Miller / Coca-Cola

sets out to break our union


Amidst the very tense social and political situation that Honduras is going through, the Union of Beverage and Related Industry Workers (STIBYS) is staging a nationwide strike, coming against one of the most notoriously antiunion transnational corporations: SAB-Miller. SIREL spoke with Carlos Rodríguez, treasurer of the Governing Committee of STIBYS’ San Pedro Sula Division, in a interview inside the San Pedro production plant occupied by the Union.

Carlos Rodríguez


-How did this conflict start?

-This goes back several months, because the company has been refusing to sit down to talk with our Union for months now, and at the same time it’s not honoring the arrangements and commitments stipulated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement we signed in January 2008. Some of these breaches of the Collective Agreement are considerably affecting the income of the workers in the Sales sector, because by ignoring the express agreements it assumed with the workers, Cervecería Hondureña is deciding unilaterally who is assigned to sales and who is assigned to distribution, without giving any participation in the decision to STIBYS or negotiating with it, and violating the Collective Agreement clause that establishes an order of preference based on the seniority of the workers.


-Was that condition accepted by the company in the Collective Bargaining Agreement?

-Absolutely. But now it just does whatever it feels like doing, ignoring the commitments it assumed. The company argues that it is not going against national legislation and, therefore, it is not breaking the law. But it is, in fact, contravening labor legislation and breaching the Collective Agreement, which is our internal law that regulates labor relations.


-And that affects the workers’ income?

-Of course, because a substantial part of the income of the workers in the Sales sector is the commission they receive for the amount of product delivered each day. It also affects them physically, as the company overloads the trucks so that it doesn’t have to use all 90 vehicles in its fleet and that way it saves fuel; this means that the conditions the truck crews have to endure are much tougher, and that they’re required to work 13- or 14-hour-days, and that’s illegal. That’s what’s causing a high rate of Repetitive Stress Injuries (RSIs) among our workers. What’s worse is that if they call in sick, this transnational corporation later discriminates them, and denies them the possibility of working on the trucks.


Which is why, sick and tired of such blatant arbitrariness, the workers in the Sales sector at San Pedro called a work stoppage. This prompted Cervecería Hondureña -who had been refusing to meet with the Union- to schedule a meeting with us for last Monday.


When we showed up at the meeting, they surprised us with an agenda which included the dismissal of the 18 workers who had participated in the stoppage. Since we refused to even consider that agenda without first discussing the one we had submitted months ago, Victoriano Ortega, an Industrial Affairs officer, turned on us angrily and arrogantly, and threw our agenda at the president of our division, Julio Flores, screaming: “If you want war, then you’ll have war!”.


-How did you react to this outrageous outburst?

-The first thing we did was that two hours later the Sales sector stopped its activities throughout the country, and then a few hours after that, we suspended all production activities at the San Pedro plant that supplies the entire country, which meant formally launching a nationwide strike.


-What other actions did you take?

-Then Union appealed to the Regional Labor Inspection Office of San Pedro, which responded by sending an inspector. The company received the inspector, and after meeting together for five hours, no agreement was reached, as Cervecería Hondureña accuses us of wanting to interfere in the company’s administration and management. We refuted those arguments and told the company that if it wants to introduce changes in the agreements signed, the Union is willing to considerate them, but that we won’t accept any changes that it decides on unilaterally and without first negotiating with the Union.


Carlos Reyes, president of STIBYS’s Central Governing Committee, contacted Honduran President José Manuel Zelaya, and Labor Minister Mayra Mejía, who delegated the issue to the Vice Minister of Labor, Roberto Cardona, instructing him to participate in the discussion.


-When did the Vice Minister arrive?

-He arrived yesterday, Tuesday 10, and he met first with the Union, to find out what our position was, and then he did the same with the company. At these meetings, a new meeting with all three parties was scheduled for that very same day at 4 p.m. An hour before the meeting was to take place, all work at the Tegucigalpa distribution centers was suspended, and the company used that as an excuse not to attend the meeting, saying it would only go if the measure was lifted and other conditions were met.


-What were these conditions?

-That we accept a week’s suspension without pay for the workers who had participated in the first stoppage, and that the Union would promise not to stage any stoppages, because if it did it would fire the workers involved. And this was unacceptable to us, in particular because it meant going back to the same situation we were before, but this time with new threats pending over our heads.


We demanded that no worker be penalized. The contacts with the Regional Labor Director, Luisa Rosales, and the inspector that had already acted in the case, Betty Rocío, continued until yesterday (Tuesday 10) midnight. The Vice Minister finally went back to the capital this morning (Wednesday 11), without making any progress towards an agreement, but declaring that he was willing to return to San Pedro whenever necessary.


-How many workers are participating in this strike?

-At Cervecería, there are 1,300 of us striking; that’s practically all the unionized workers.


-What is the reaction from the people of San Pedro?

-STIBYS is a “emblematic union” in the country, and we all know that SAB-Miller wants to break us as union. But we’re receiving enormous displays of solidarity, conveyed, for example, at a meeting held yesterday with 37 representatives of social organizations from the region, including power company workers, representatives of the United Workers’ Federation of Honduras, organizations that are in the Popular Coalition (Bloque Popular) and the National Coordination for Popular Resistance (Coordinadora de Resistencia), university and teacher unions, and other social movement organizations.


At that meeting STIBYS reported on the situation. We decided to organize an awareness campaign, as most of the media has not covered the conflict because they have advertising contracts with the company. It was also decided that next Friday 13 we would conduct a mass demonstration with all the Bloque Popular organizations, to demand a solution for our conflict, but also to defend the minimum wage set by the government, which the business sector is rejecting and has filed more than 200 actions in court against it.


-Where will this issue be settled?

-In the Supreme Court of Justice, where all Justices were newly appointed last January 25. The movement formed by the country’s labor and civil society organizations is demanding that the minimum wage increase be recognized, because otherwise it will stage mobilizations, and one of the measures that is being considered by this movement is a nationwide general strike.


-What is the business sector’s position in this?

-In addition to the actions filed in court, they are pressuring their workers to accept wages below the minimum established by the Executive, and they’ve organized a general “company lockout” for tomorrow (Thursday 12), under the slogan “A day without companies.”


-What are Cervecería Hondureña workers planning to do at this point?

-We want to continue mobilizing until the company agrees to sit down with us and discuss the agenda we presented months ago, and agrees to call off the dismissals and sanctions.



From Montevideo, Carlos Amorín


February 11, 2009




artículos relacionados 

10-2-2009   Honduras
Conflicto en Cervecería Hondureña
SAB-Miller y Coca Cola quiere despedir a 300 trabajadores 

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