When workers join together to demand fair working conditions, Adidas contract factories seem to have a standard response: Fire the workers, blacklist them so they can't find jobs elsewhere, and threaten the rest of the workers that the same will happen to whoever else dares to organize. Despite clearly violating Adidas' Workplace Standards and local labor laws, this has happened over and over and over again.
But in past weeks, workers at three different Adidas contractors have won decisive victories over this cynical roadblock to workers' rights. At Textiles Opico in El Salvador, Joe Anne Dominicana in the Dominican Republic, and Troon Manufacturing in Nicaragua, workers won their jobs back after being fired for organizing.
El Salvador: Textiles Opico
On March 17, 2013, workers at Textiles Opico, known as TexOps, formed their union sectional in response to mandatory overtime work with no pay at all, poverty wages and mistreatment by managers. The factory produces Adidas apparel for U.S. retailer Dick's Sporting Goods, along with brands Castelli, Lacoste and Soffe.
The firings began soon after the local Ministry of Labor issued the workers' union credentials on April 19. Five of the new union's members including its Secretary General were dismissed on April 22 and 23. While managers denied the firings had anything to do with the union — the typical response in such cases — few others were willing to believe them. In fact, the anti-union discrimination was even confirmed by the brand-funded Fair Labor Association (FLA), of which Adidas is both a funder and board member. The FLA-commissioned report concludes:
There is fundamental evidence that during the week of April 22, 2013 there was union discrimination against the 5 fired workers who were members of the TEXOPS [union] sectional.
On April 26, the workers' union SITRASACOSI organized a protest in front of the factory (pictured above and at right). With increasing pressure from the workers and international investigators, TexOps agreed to rehire the union's Secretary General during the League's regional meeting in San Salvador, and soon enough offered all five workers their reinstatement and back wages. The company is also ending its practice of mandatory unpaid overtime, which involved a "bank of hours" that each worker "owed" the company in overtime work without any pay.
But the struggle at TexOps is not over. Employing another textbook union-busting tactic, managers have created a pseudo-union structure called the Communication Committee (CC). While the factory claims this is a benign mechanism for managers to hear workers' complaints, in fact the CC has been manipulated by managers to repeatedly slander the union and its leaders. The report cited above asserts:
The CC did not only overstep its functions and procedures, but also these actions contradict FLA and TEXOPS Codes of Conduct; Freedom of Association policies and procedures; and national and international laws that guarantee workers’ freedom to organize in unions. In addition, the absence of timely clarification by management allowed the CC to carry out activities during work hours that were outside of the labor law and its own internal commitments. These actions, carried out with management’s consent by action or omission, are acts of interference and union discrimination.
Nicaragua: Troon Manufacturing
The next case uniquely demonstrates Adidas' unwillingness to enforce its own Workplace Standards: On at least three occasions, Adidas has allowed one particular manufacturing partner to illegally fire workers who organized — once in 2010, again in 2012, and yet again in 2013.
Troon Manufacturing in Tipitapa, Nicaragua, produces apparel exclusively for Adidas. It is owned by U.S.-based Pinehurst Manufacturing, which also operates a facility by the same name in Honduras.
In August 2010, the Honduran plant fired the founders of the SITRAPINEHURST union. Workers protested and the Worker Rights Consortium investigated. Adidas faced mounting pressure from the U.S. universities whose apparel it was producing at Pinehurst. By January 2011, the factory finally reinstated the fired unionists and paid them back wages for the four months they had struggled jobless. Unfortunately, Pinehurst and Adidas did not learn their lesson.
Not long after Troon Manufacturing opened its doors, workers began organizing. Workers decried high production quotas and a wage low even for Nicaragua, the country with the hemisphere's second-lowest wages behind Haiti. Two workers began attempting to form a union, but were fired before the effort could take shape. Workers finally formed the union on April 25, 2012. Exactly a week later on May 2, Troon fired four of the newly elected union leaders. The workers created a video calling on Adidas to reverse the illegal firings:
Once again, pressure mounted on Adidas from international groups who remembered Pinehurst doing the same in Honduras. On May 29, the factory agreed to rehire the four workers. But the story doesn't end there.
Starting in December 2012, Troon managers began firing workers who dared to even speak with the union's leaders about problems they were facing on the job. On February 1, 2013, the union wrote a letter to Adidas demanding the rehiring of seven workers fired for exercising their labor rights. Despite a visit to the factory by a top "social and environmental affairs" executive from Adidas, there was no response for months.
Finally, on June 24 the factory agreed to rehire two of the fired unionists, including the very first worker who had begun the organizing effort at Troon and was fired over a year earlier. The union continues to demand rehiring for the rest of the wrongfully fired workers.
Dominican Republic: Joe Anne Dominicana
The Dominican Federation of Free Trade Zone Workers (FEDOTRAZONAS) wrote:
It is a great pleasure to inform you that on June 17, after more than 3 months of intense struggle and persistence, our coworkers at the Joe Anne Dominicana factory were rehired. ... All of the 6 rehired workers were paid back wages for the time they were unemployed since January of this year.
This is one more important victory for the working people of our region, especially in the Dominican Republic. ... Despite the great victory, the company maintains a great pressure over workers at the factory and especially over the reinstated workers, but this is a war and we will not stop until we achieve our goals.
Thanks to each of you for your solidarity, especially members of the League, and collaborating organizations that have made possible this reinstatement and a victory of the working class. ALWAYS ONWARD TO VICTORY.
The firings at Joe Anne Dominicana were investigated by both the Worker Rights Consortium and the Fair Labor Association. Like TexOps, Joe Anne produces Adidas products to be sold at Dick's Sporting Goods, as well as U.S. university apparel for Franklin Sports.
Learn more about the global campaign by workers who make products for Adidas: Adidas Workers Unite!