Haiti: unionist is beaten up at Gildan supplier

The Haitian labor organizing group Batay Ouvriye reports that in early February Leo Vedél, a worker at the Premium Apparel assembly plant in Port-au-Prince, was assaulted and then fired when he demanded that he be paid the legal minimum wage for piece work in the assembly sector, 300 gourdes (about US$7.12) for an eight-hour day. When management rejected the demand, the majority of the plant’s workers organized a protest. A manager named Gédéon beat Vedél, who had to be treated in a hospital. Premium, owned by Clifford Apaid of the Apaid family, produces T-shirts for Montreal-based Gildan Activewear Inc. The Rapid Response Network, established by Florida-based One Struggle, is asking for calls to Jason M. Greene, Gildan’s supply director in South Carolina (843-606-3750), to demand Vedél’s reinstatement with compensation for time and injuries, the firing of Gédéon, and respect for workers’ rights. (Rapid Response Network, Feb. 17)

The incident occurred as a delegation of unionists from Haiti and Honduras was speaking to university and church groups in New York State on conditions in assembly plants producing for Gildan, which supplies the blank T-shirts that companies like Adidas use for sportswear with university logos. Sponsored by the New York State Labor-Religion Coalition, United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) and other pro-labor groups, the delegation sought to motivate students to act in solidarity with assembly plant workers.

“We, as workers, are looking to you, as students, to pressure the brand,” Raquel Navarro, who heads the union at Gildan’s STAR assembly plant in El Progreso, Honduras, told New York University students on Feb. 4. The STAR union is affiliated with the Unitary Federation of Honduran Workers (FUTH), which played an important role in building the resistance to the 2009 military coup that overthrew former president José Manuel Zelaya Rosales (2006-2009).

At a Feb. 6 forum at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Télémarque Pierre, a coordinator of the Textile and Garment Workers Union (SOTA) in Port-au-Prince, described the difficulties of unionizing in Haiti’s assembly sector. “Management uses a lot of threats to intimidate workers and keep them from organizing,” he said. Yannick Etienne from Batay Ouvriye stressed the importance of building unions in the plants. “[I]f the workers are not organized, the students can’t do anything,” she noted. “This is a very important component in the equation. The students have to organize not only as consumers, but as citizens of the world. Together, with the students and the workers, we can change an exploitative system.” (Report from Update editor; Labor Notes, Feb. 7; The Cornell Daily Sun, Feb. 7)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 17.