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Dole Agrees to "Fair Process" - Flower Workers are Still Waiting
In April, Dole agreed to a "fair process" to determine which of two unions represent more of its flower workers at its Splendor operations in Colombia where workers trying to establish an independent union have been stymied by Dole for over a year and a half.
The conflict began in November 2004 when workers held a general assembly, formed Sintrasplendor, and filed an application for union recognition. A few weeks later an industry-friendly industry-wide union, Sinaltralfor, also filed to represent Splendor workers. Within two weeks, Dole quickly signed a collective bargaining agreement with Sinaltraflor that contained no substantial improvements in working conditions. Dole subsequently unsuccessfully challenged Sintrasplendor's legal registration, illegally fired union leaders, and campaigned against the union.
Flower workers and independent analysts say that for years it has been a standard practice for companies to bring in Sinaltraflor whenever workers seek to form an independent union. Under Colombian labor law and practice, only one collective bargaining agreement is allowed at a workplace.
Untraflores, an independent industry-wide union of flower workers (www.untraflores.org.) to which Sintrasplendor is affiliated, says there are no collective bargaining agreements with independent unions in the Colombian flower sector, which employs 100,000 flower workers. Dole is the largest exporter of flowers from Colombia, which provides 60% of all flowers sold in the U.S.
In February, Dole repeated its strategy of thwarting independent unions when it reportedly responded to an Untraflores-backed organizing initiative at Dole's Fragancia plantation by busing workers in the middle of the workday to Sinaltraflor's central office in order to prepare the application to register another Sinaltraflor-backed union with which it again quickly signed a contract. Dole says it was unaware of the Untraflores initiative when it signed a contract with Sinaltraflor.
In response to Dole's continued rejection of demands to negotiate with Sintrasplendor, the union began calling for a secret ballot election to determine which union represented the most workers. Dole agreed in April that it would support a "fair process" to determine union representation but dragged its feet for two months before sitting down with Sintrasplendor at which point it tried to shirk its role by essentially arguing that the whole matter must resolved directly between the two unions. Dole then agreed to work with both unions on a joint collective bargaining process but Sinaltraflor declared it would not submit to a joint bargaining process nor would it support a secret ballot election.
Sintrasplendor is now calling on Dole to sit down and negotiate a contract, even if Sinaltraflor refuses to participate. Sintrasplendor is firmly convinced that Dole has the ability to get Sinaltraflor to the table and is hiding behind Sinaltraflor's recalcitrance. USLEAP has repeatedly reminded Dole that it is responsible for the current situation, having signed a contract in December 2004 with Sinaltraflor precisely to block Sintrasplendor, and that it is Dole who must rectify the situation and negotiate with Sintrasplendor.
Miami Committee Formed
Pressure has continued to build on Dole to negotiate a resolution with Untraflores and Sintrasplendor. After Dole reneged on a September 2005 agreement with USLEAP to negotiate with the union in good faith, the international support campaign intensified, including a USLEAP-organized flower worker tour to Miami, home of Dole Fresh Flowers, on Valentine's Day 2006. A Flower Workers Committee was subsequently formed in Miami, the flower import capital of the U.S. The committee is supported by the local Jobs with Justice, Interfaith Worker Justice, local union members and others. At the end of April, a member of the committee, John Gaige of the Brotherhood of Railroad Signalmen traveled to Colombia to participate in a workshop with Untraflores and Sintrasplendor workers and USLEAP staff. His union passed a resolution of support on July 13 at its convention in Las Vegas.
The Miami group continues to spearhead efforts to bring local pressure on Dole Flowers in its own home town. In addition to a Mother's Day action held outside of Dole Fresh Flowers headquarters, it helped organize a delegation of religious representatives who met with Dole Fresh Flowers President John Amaya on July 10 to express their support for worker rights in Dole's flower operations in Colombia. Further activities are planned for late summer and the fall.
Two-thirds of Colombian and Ecuadorian flower workers suffer from work-related health problems, including headaches, nausea, impaired vision, miscarriages, congenital malformations, and neurological problems, according to the Washington-based International Labor Rights Fund.
Efforts to organize independent flower worker unions have been consistently thwarted in Colombia, and Ecuador, through a combination of illegal firings, discriminatory treatment, intimidation, and the use of company-backed unions.
Suggested Action: Contact Dole. Urge it to respect the basic rights of its flower workers in Colombia and to negotiate with UNTRAFLORES in good faith to resolve its conflicts at both its Splendor and Fragancia plantations. Ms. Sue Hagen, Vice President, Dole Food Company, Inc., One Dole Drive, Westlake Village, CA 91362. Tel: 818-874-4000; fax: 818-874-4593; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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