The International Labor Rights Forum had the pleasure of hosting César Estacio, long time ILRF partner and President of the Foundation for Sustainable Social Development (FUNDESS), earlier this month for a series of labor rights events in the D.C. area. A former flower worker himself, César was fired after organizing a union in his company and later black listed by the flower plantations in Cayambe, Ecuador. Having witnessed and endured labor rights violations in Ecuador’s largest flower plantation region, César came to Washington D.C. to both raise awareness of the working conditions for flower workers and educate the public on issues concerning freedom of association.
César’s trip in the nation’s capital was kicked off with local events in celebration of May Day, or International Worker’s Day. Accompanied by IRLF’s Deputy Director, Trina Tocco, Bangladeshi and Pakistani worker representatives Kalpona Akter and Zehra Bano respectively and myself, César enjoyed an afternoon of speeches by a variety of labor leaders, activists and elected officials at the Maryland and District of Columbia AFL-CIO’s May Day Picnic hosted by the National Labor College. Later, with American flag in hand, it was off to Lafayette Park where over half a million people turned up to participate in the May Day for America March organized by The Campaign to Reform Immigration for America. To get the most up-to-date action alerts and information on immigration reform events in your area, text JUSTICE (or JUSTICIA for Spanish) to 69866 or click here to sign up online.
After an exciting day of being a first-time D.C. visitor and spectator, it was time for César to join in on the action and do what he came here to do: raise awareness of the precarious working conditions for flower workers in Ecuador. With Mother’s Day right around the corner, César spent the next few days meeting with various congressional offices and local day laborers to discuss wage theft and the importance of freedom of association and organizing collectively to defend worker’s rights, visiting nearby florists and wholesale flower distributors so as to see the different levels of flower sale in the supply chain, appearing as a guest speaker at the Sweatshop Workers Speak Out speaking tour stop at Georgetown University and testifying at ILRF’s Mother’s Day/ International Labor Day briefing on Capitol Hill.
The former flower worker spoke of the scarcity of unions in the country’s 400 flower plantations and how despite the fact that certification systems have made some progress for environmental concerns, such as decreasing the use of banned toxic pesticides, there have been little to no improvements with regard to recognition of freedom of association, payment of a living wage or overall better working conditions that are allegedly intrinsic to the certification system. Although forced to work through the weekend, especially during peak flower seasons like Valentine’s Day and Mother’s Day, flower cutters are not paid for overtime and worse, are paid the minimum wage of $240/month, less than half the average monthly household expense of $550. César also touched on the violations to women’s rights in the workplace such as forced termination due to pregnancy. Oftentimes, women are tricked into signing their own resignation of employment under the promise that they will get their jobs back once they have rested and have had their children. With their “consensual” resignation, such women unknowingly forfeit the benefits they are entitled to under law.On behalf of all of us here at ILRF, we would like to thank César Estacio for having shared his experiences with us, and his commitment to promote change for all flower workers facing injustice. César’s dedication for a dignified workplace is truly inspiring and we look forward to continuing our further fortified partnership with FUNDESS for years to come.