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Conditions at Latin American plants criticized

Denver Post
Tuesday May 7, 2002

By Kirk Mitchell
Denver Post Staff Writer

Big business in Latin America means low wages, dangerous working conditions and mass firings when workers seek reform, several foreign workers say.

" They are not there to help us; they are there to help themselves," said Bruno Melendez Nava, who has worked 12 years at a Mexican automotive parts plant run by Alcoa-Fujikura. "They treat us like animals. It's not right."
Melendez was one of several employees of American companies operating in Latin America who spoke out at a forum against big business Monday at the Auraria Campus as the International Chamber of Commerce began its three-day conference in Denver.

American companies that move to Latin America don't pay high enough wages for fathers to feed, clothe and educate their children, Melendez said. When union representatives try to organize to secure minimal worker's rights, they are harassed and fired, Melendez said.

" We're not asking anything extreme; we're just asking them to respect our needs," he said. Melendez said he was beaten and transferred to an unfavorable second shift after he was elected to union leadership at the plant.
George DeMartino, associate professor of economics at the University of Denver, said corporations often speak about providing prosperity and opportunity to poor countries. But one thing is missing in their presentations, he said.

" They never allow the workers to speak for themselves," he said.
In 1999, 140 union activists were killed around the world, 3,000 were arrested and 1,500 were injured, beaten or tortured, he said.

" Too often the deck is stacked against working people as governments ignore their own laws and agreements to pander to the demands of businesses seeking to maximize their profits," DeMartino said.
Problems for union organizers are not restricted to poor nations. Several U.S. union leaders also described horror stories.

" Corporations will do everything in their power to see that organization efforts fail," said Chris Washburn of Denver, who is a union representative for the Communications Workers of America.

If companies don't like a particular union, they will close down a plant and move to other states or nations, Washburn said. Several companies have moved to Central America or South America, said Fernando Terrazas Jr., a copper miner and union leader in Pueblo.

" Everybody knows we can't compete with their wages," Terrazas said.


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