EMERGENCY Action Alert: Coke Workers on Hunger Strike in Colombia
(Please share this action-alert with others; and stay tuned for more communications.)
This morning, Monday March 15, Coca-Cola union workers in Colombia began a hunger strike in front of the Coke bottling plants in Barrancabermeja, Bogota, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Cucuta, Medellin, and Valledupar. Juan Carlos Galvis, vice president of the local union in Barrancabermeja, has said, "If we lose the fight against Coca-Cola, we will first lose our union, next our jobs and then our lives."
On September 9, 2003, Coca-Cola FEMSA, Coca-Cola's largest Colombian bottler, closed the production lines at 11 of their 16 bottling plants. (The Coca-Cola Company shares several board members with Coca-Cola FEMSA and owns 46.4 % of its voting stock.) Since then, they've pressured more than 500 workers into "voluntarily resigning" from their contracts in exchange for a lump-sum payment. Most of the union leaders have refused to resign and the company has now escalated the pressure against them. On February 25, the Colombian Ministry of Social Protection (Labor) authorized Coca-Cola FEMSA's plans to dismiss 91 workers - 70 percent of whom are union leaders. This is Coca-Cola's effort to essentially eliminate the union.
The Campaign To Stop Killer Coke supports the union's call for Coca-Cola FEMSA to relocate those workers to other positions within those plants or to transfer them to other plants. This is what the company is required to do, according to Articles 18 and 91 of the current collective bargaining agreements. In January, a Colombian judge also ordered the company to do this for the workers at the plants in Barrancabermeja and Cucuta.
On behalf of the workers and their families, please send the strongest possible message to The Coca-Cola Company in Atlanta and Coca-Cola FEMSA in Colombia. Here are sample messages and contact information, along with a communication that was issued by the union this morning.
Campaign To Stop Killer Coke
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer
The Coca-Cola Company
1 Coca-Cola Plaza
Atlanta GA, 30313
Steven Heyer (FEMSA Board Member)
President and Chief Operating Officer
The Coca-Cola Company
Issues Director, Media Relations
The Coca-Cola Company
Dear Ms. Billingsley,
Please forward this message to Douglas Daft, CEO and Chairman of the Board of the Coca-Cola Company, and Steven Heyer, Coca-Cola FEMSA board member and President & Chief Operating Officer of The Coca-Cola Company:
On March 15, union workers in Colombia began a hunger strike in front of the Coke bottling plants. They've taken this action to protest Coca-Cola FEMSA's plans to dismiss 91 more workers from the bottling plants in Colombia. Seventy percent of those workers are union leaders, so that would essentially eliminate the union.
On September 9, 2003, Coca-Cola FEMSA closed the production lines at 11 of their 16 bottling plants in Colombia. Since then, they've pressured more than 500 workers into "voluntarily resigning" from their contracts in exchange for a lump sum payment.
These massive dismissals are part of an ongoing campaign by the Coca-Cola bottlers to eliminate the union in Colombia. Seven leaders of SINALTRAINAL have been murdered - including Isidro Segundo Gil, who was shot to death by paramilitaries inside the plant in Carepa. Sixty-seven union leaders have been threatened with death. Now, more than 88 percent of the Coke workers in Colombia are temporary employees or contractors - many of whom earn just the minimum wage of $120 per month and don't have any benefits.
Mr. Daft, as Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of The Coca-Cola Company, which owns 46.4% of Coca-Cola FEMSA's voting stock, and Mr. Heyer, as President and Chief Operating Officer of The Coca-Cola Company and a member of Coca-Cola FEMSA's board, I demand that you to tell Coca-Cola FEMSA to relocate the workers to other positions within those plants or to transfer them to other plants. This is what the company is required to do, according to Articles 18 and 91 of the current collective bargaining agreements. In January, a Colombian judge ordered the company to do this for the workers at the plants in Barrancabermeja and Cucuta.
I will spread the word about the ongoing repression against the Coke union workers in Colombia and about the hunger strike. Please let me know how you intend to address these matters.
Juan Manuel Arbelaez
Director de Recursos Humanos
Fax: 011-57-1-401-1687 (011 is the international access code, 57 is the country code for Colombia, and 1 is the city code for Bogota)
English translation follows
Estimado Sr. Arbelaez,
El 15 de marzo, los trabajadores sindicalizados comenzaron una huelga de hambre en frente de las embotelladoras de Coca-Cola FEMSA en Colombia. Ellos han tomado esta accion en respuesta a los planes de Coca-Cola FEMSA para despedir 91 trabajadores mas de las embotelladoras en Colombia.
El 9 de septiembre de 2003, Coca-Cola FEMSA cerro las lineas de produccion en 11 de sus 16 embotelladoras en Colombia. La empresa ha logrado hacer renunciar, por presiones, a mas de 500 trabajadores.
Estos despidos masivos forman parte de una campana dirigida a eliminar al sindicato. Siete lideres del sindicato han sido asesinados y 67 lideres han sido amenazados. Ahora, la subcontratacion de los trabajadores de la Coca-Cola en Colombia es mas de 88 por ciento, y muchos de ellos solo ganan el sueldo minimo de 120 dolares mensuales y no reciben ninguna prestacion.
Le exijo que Coca-Cola FEMSA se siente a negociar con el sindicato, y que capacite y reubique a los 91 trabajadores. Segun los articulos 18 y 91 de las convenciones colectivas de trabajo, la empresa tiene la obligacion de hacer esto. En enero, un juez ordeno a la empresa a hacer esto con los trabajadores de las embotelladoras de Barrancabermeja y Cucuta.
Me estoy comunicando con todos mis amigos y familiares sobre la represion en contra de los trabajadores sindicalizados de la Coca-Cola en Colombia y la huelga de hambre. Voy a seguir muy cerca a esta situacion, y espero recibir su pronta respuesta.
Dear Mr. Arbelaez,
On March 15, the union workers began a hunger strike in front of Coca-Cola FEMSA's bottling plants in Colombia. They have taken this action in response to Coca-Cola FEMSA's plans to dismiss another 91 workers from the bottling plants in Colombia.
On September 9, 2003, Coca-Cola FEMSA closed the production lines at 11 of its 16 bottling plants in Colombia. The company has been able to pressure more than 500 workers to resign from their contracts.
These massive dismissals are part of a campaign directed towards eliminating the union. Seven leaders of the union have been killed and 67 have been threatened. Now, 88 percent of the workers are subcontracted, and many of them just earn the minimum wage of $120 per month and don't receive any benefits.
I demand that Coca-Cola FEMSA negotiate with the union, and train and relocate the 91 workers in other positions. According to articles 18 and 91 of the collective bargaining agreements, the company has the obligation to do this. In January, a judge ordered the company to do this with the workers in the bottling plants in Barrancabermeja and Cucuta.
I'm communicating with all my friends and family members about the repression against the Coca-Cola union workers in Colombia and the hunger strike. I'm going to follow this situation very closely, and I'm awaiting your quick response.
Communique from the Coke workers' union
WORKERS ON NATIONAL HUNGER STRIKE
FOR THE RIGHT TO WORK AND
AGAINST THE VIOLATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS AT COCA-COLA
Starting at 6 A.M. on March 15, we, the workers, have initiated a Hunger Strike in front of the Coca-Cola plants in Barrancabermeja, Bogota, Bucaramanga, Cali, Cartagena, Cucuta, Medellin, and Valledupar. We're doing this to denounce, nationally and internationally, that nine Coca-Cola workers have been killed and 67 have been threatened with death; and that we've been the victims of attempted murder, kidnappings, forced displacement, and the burning of one of our union offices by the paramilitaries. This has forced many workers to resign from the union. We're also denouncing the unjust termination of employment contracts, the use of illegal confinement to force workers to resign, the subcontracting of more than 88 percent of the workers and the impact this has had on living conditions, and the attempt by Coca-Cola to eliminate rights in the negotiations of collective bargaining agreements as has been occurring since March 1 of this year.
Coca-Cola has imported sugar which affects the production and economy of Colombia. The company has taken advantage of the irrational use of water - the vital resource for humanity, has refused to commit itself to not using raw materials and products that are genetically modified, and has refused to agree to social investment for the communities. It must also be said that Coca-Cola is being denounced for abuses in other parts of the world.
We're struggling for truth, justice, and reparations. That's why we filed suit in Southern District Court in Florida, United States, against the Coca-Cola bottlers. On March 31, 2003, Judge Jose E. Martinez, ruled that the cases filed under the Alien Tort Claims Act (ATCA) for violations of human rights could proceed for, among other reasons, the symbiotic relationship that exists between the paramilitaries and the Colombian state. But Coca-Cola has tried to criminalize various leaders of SINALTRAINAL, falsely accusing them of insult, slander, conspiracy to commit a crime, terrorism, rebellion, sabotage, property damage, and theft. In this way, Coca-Cola stigmatizes the unionists in order to justify their persecution and repression by the government through the legal system. Various leaders of SINALTRAINAL have been unjustly imprisoned, in spite of having shown that we're innocent and were falsely charged.
Since September 9, 2003, Coca-Cola has kept the bottling plants in Barrancabermeja, Cartagena, Cucuta, Ibague, Monteria, Neiva, Pasto, Pereira, Popayan, Valledupar, and Villavicencio illegally closed. Previously, they illegally closed the bottling plants in Bogota, Buenaventura, Girardot, and Mariquita. To complete this panorama of injustice, on February 25, 2004, the Social Protection Ministry authorized the dismissal of 91 workers. This was done without taking into account that the company had already pressured more than 500 workers to resign, which is more than the 300 workers that the company initially wanted to dismiss. Coca-Cola has not respected the law, nor does it want to fulfill the legal resolution ("tutela") that ordered it to relocate the workers in other positions. It is refusing to abide by articles 18 and 91 of the collective bargaining agreements that require it to not dismiss workers in the case of a reduction of activities, closure of plants, or restructuring; but to train the workers and relocate them in other positions. With all this, the company is trying to destroy SINALTRAINAL, finish off the collective bargaining agreements, eliminate direct and long-term employment contracts, reduce costs, and increase its profits, by producing in just five megaplants and supplying the market from distribution centers.
We, the workers affected by the closure of the production lines, are continuing to resist. But, given the grave aggression that we're continuing to suffer, there's no other recourse but to declare a hunger strike and demand that Coca-Cola respect the law, and fulfill the legal resolution passed by the judge in January 2004 to protect the right to work and require Coca-Cola to relocate the workers in other positions. We're also demanding the fulfillment of the collective bargaining agreement by relocating the workers in other positions, an end to the repression, and respect for our human rights.
LUIS JAVIER CORREA SUAREZ