By Charity Ryerson, Program Coordinator, and Cecily Harwitt, Intern, USLEAP
Even amidst the hazardous and violent conditions for unionists in Colombia, strong leaders and unified coalitions persist in demanding basic rights for workers on flower plantations there. The hard work has finally started to pay off, as several unions announced major victories this month.
Keep reading to find out about these exciting victories!
The contract signed at Splendor Flowers last week brings to a triumphant close the most publicized battle for labor rights in Colombia’s recent history. Last year, Dole, Splendor’s owner, closed one of the subsidiary’s two farms in response to the strong union organizing that was going on there. Even with the drop in morale caused by the obliteration of the country’s strongest union, the union at the other farm, Splendor El Rosal, continued negotiations with the company. They were finally granted arbitration by the Colombian government after Rep. George Miller intervened on their behalf. The arbitration tribunal came to a close last week, when workers signed a contract that includes significant improvements in conditions and wages. Among the benefits negotiated are a $200-$400 bonus for not having received a salary increase in two years, a raise of $14 above the legal minimum (bringing most flower workers to a monthly salary of about $215), and improvements in vacation and sick time.
Another contract was signed at a Dole Plantation following a two-year struggle. Members of the Untrafragancia union are now entitled to a 6% pay increase, bonuses for punctuality, additional pay for fumigation workers who are exposed to hazardous chemicals, and an education stipend so that flower workers can send their children to school. Now workers at this plantation will have the ability to send all of their children to school at once, and still afford food and clothing for their families.
With nearly unprecedented speed (about 4 months), the Colombian government gave legal recognition to the new union at the Flores Papagayo flower plantation. While the company is appealing the approval of the union's registration, this shows a marked change from past experience, when new unions would wait months or years for registrations, often being denied multiple times. This is an example of the growing strength of worker organizations in the Colombian flower sector, and gives us hope for more victories to come.