With Daniel Reyes, Secretary General of SUTEC

FEMSA Wants to Break Up Union

In 2002 Coca Cola FEMSA took over PANAMCO, who until then had been the representative of Coca Cola in Nicaragua. A mere two years later, the problems with the Sole Union of Coca Cola Company Workers (SUTEC) began, with the union being unable to meet with company executives. “We believe that the objective of this ongoing and escalating campaign is to crush the union,” Daniel said to SIREL. In late December 2005, two workers were laid off without justification, engrossing the list of persecutory and repressive acts against union activities.


-What has the Union’s relationship with Coca Cola FEMSA in Nicaragua been like?

-As of two years ago, an internal terror campaign was launched, with threats hurled first against employees that occupied positions of trust in the company and who were members of the union. They were told that if they didn’t end their union membership, they’d be fired. Immediately after that, all newly hired workers were forbidden from joining the union. Over the past eight months several workers in those categories have been fired, in violation of clause 14 of the Collective Agreement that provides for a mandatory bipartite consultation to be held in cases of individual or group layoffs for any motive whatsoever.


-Recently there were other dismissals.

-Last December 28, two presales employees were fired in these conditions, without giving the union the chance to assess the situation of these two fellow workers, who had in addition signed a series of petitions that the union presented the company with in late November. Section 376 of the Labor Code, however, provides that no employee who signs a petition can be fired without authorization from the Ministry of Labor, but management claims that FEMSA has the power to make this kind of decisions.


-How have you responded?

-We filed a complaint with the Ministry of Labor, demanding the reinstatement of our fellow workers fired in violation of agreements and workers’ rights. But what concerns us most, and will continue to concern us, is the Ministry of Labor’s complicity with the company. They have worked together to make sure that all the decisions were made against the interests of the workers.


-Who is the current Minister of Labor?

-Right now, it’s Dr. Virgilio Gurdián.


-What do you plan to do from now on?

-We are very worried, because they need that personnel, and we think that they’re removing union members to put in their place people who are intimidated and threatened, so that they will work against us. They’ve already picked out some 20 people who are ready to come into work at the plant as soon as they are told. And they will continue to do that with everybody who has any contact with the union, a practice which is in fact a denial of the right to form and join trade unions. What they’re trying to do is crush the union, break it up so that they won’t have to sign any more Collective Agreements or listen to any demands from the workers. Moreover, on December 29, the day after the layoffs, the workers organized a solidarity activity. We stopped work for almost two hours, and that’s why we are now expecting the company to retaliate by firing some union leaders, with the argument that we held a savage strike. That threat is hanging over us.


-Was it like that under PANAMCO’s management?

-Absolutely not. PANAMCO always signed the Collective Agreements, never fired union members, and by no means did it call to threaten them. This massive persecution was launched with the management headed by Fabricio Ponte and some executives of Coca Cola in Central America and Latincentro. But these people refuse to show their faces and come talk with us.


-Who are the people that won’t show their faces?

-In this case the responsibility would fall on Fabricio Ponte and Emilio González, managers at Latincentro, which is FEMSA’s regional coordination office. They’ve practically abandoned us, as the local managers here in Nicaragua simply take orders from them.


Interview by Carlos Amorín

© Rel-UITA

January 9, 2006



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