Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Termination of 15 Mexican Women is Challenged by Latino Community


Protest of H.R. 4437
Originally uploaded by toybreaker.
Termination of 15 Women Challenged by Latino Community and Supporters

PANW Editor's Note: A press conference was held on April 10 outside the Wolverine Packing Company located on Rivard at the Chrysler Service Drive. Several leaders from the Latino community and their supporters talked with members of the press about the situation involving 15 women who were fired from their jobs at the location after participating in the historic mass demonstration for immigrant rights on March 27 in Detroit.

The delegation attempted to speak with the owners of the corporation but were denied. A spokesperson for Wolverine Packing Company, Jay Bonahoom, the general manager, came out and asked the delegation to leave the premises. He repeatedly stated that any questions would have to be directed at the owners.

Later this same representative came back out of the building and presented the Latino leaders with a statement issued by the company dated April 6th, 2006. Soon a police patrol car appeared at the scene and asked the delegation to leave the property and stand on the sidewalk. The community leaders did leave and moved to the front of the building on the sidewalk. The company representative was seen earlier talking with the police prior to them requesting that the community leaders leave the premises.

The statement issues by Wolverine Packing Company is contradictory on its face. Latino leaders who read the statement also said that it was untrue. The company states in part that:

"There has been considerable discussion across the nation about the immigration issue in the US. This debate was brought to Detroit on Monday March 27th in the form of a protest march. Many of our fine employees came to management on the previous Friday and asked if they could take off work to attend the protest. Those employees were told that they could approach their plant managers and request a personal day so that they could attend. The plant manager can only allow so many employees off on any given day because we require the services of the great majority of our employees in order to run production. All three of our plants allowed a small number of employees to take the day off to attend."

Then in the next paragraph the statement seemed to be saying something totally different by declaring that:
"Realizing that we could have a potential problem if large quantities of employees did not show up for work on Monday, Wolverine management decided it would be prudent to inform all employees how important it was that they come to work on this particular day. A letter was posted by the general manager of the company informing the employees that their attendance on Monday was mandatory and the employment would be terminated if we had to replace them with other workers. In addition to the letter, each employee was verbally warned of the consequences. All of the employees gave us their assurances that they would be present to work on Monday."

This statement issued by the Wolverine Packing Company contradicts what the workers have said to the community as well as statements made to the press. In an article published on Tuesday April 11 in the Detroit Free Press, a worker was quoted as saying that they were not given the ultimatum and the terminations came after the march on March 27.

Below we reprint the Detroit Free Press article on the case.


Immigrants' firing leads to protest

15 women lose jobs after attending rally; manager says they were warned

BY NIRAJ WARIKOO
FREE PRESS STAFF WRITER
April 11, 2006

Activists waited to see the owner of the Wolverine Packing Co. in Detroit on Monday

A manager at a Detroit meatpacking plant said Monday that 15 immigrant women were fired last month after attending a protest for immigrant rights. He said they had been told that they would be terminated if they missed work on the day of the protest.

But the workers and an activist working on their behalf said the women were given no such assurances. If the workers knew they would have been fired for attending the March 27 rally in Detroit, they never would have skipped the morning shift, said Elena Herrada, a Detroit activist who is trying to help the women get their jobs back.

Herrada and about 20 union officials went Monday to Wolverine Packing Co. offices on Rivard to inquire about what happened. They were given a letter signed by general manager Jay Bonahoom, explaining why the workers were terminated.

Meanwhile Monday, marches were held in Washington, D.C., Atlanta and other cities to protest proposed changes in immigration rules. On Sunday, hundreds gathered at Holy Redeemer Catholic Church in Detroit.

Some of the Wolverine workers were undocumented, Herrada and one of the workers said, and wanted to march in the Detroit rally to show their support for immigrant rights.

Tens of thousands of people, mostly Latinos, protested legislation that would make it a crime to help undocumented immigrants. The next morning, when the women reported to work for their shifts as meat cutters, a supervisor told them to clean out their lockers and go home.

Bonahoom said that as far as Wolverine knows, the workers were documented, but an employment agency does the actual hiring. He said the workers had been told, "written and verbally," on the Friday before the protests that their attendance was mandatory on the day of the protest.

They were fired "for standing up for their rights," Herrada said.

The fired workers were natives of Mexico and many had worked at the plant for several years. Most have children and are worried about supporting their families, Herrada said.

Many were employed by Minuteman Staffing. So when Wolverine wanted to fire the workers, the meatpacking company told Minuteman to let go of the workers, he said. A manager with Minuteman said he couldn't comment on the case.

But the workers say they were treated wrongly.

"It was not fair,'" said Mercedes, a 31-year-old Detroit woman who attended the rally and was fired. "We went to fight for our rights." Mercedes is undocumented and asked that her last name not be used.

"It was really unfair of a company to do that," said Edith Castillo, head of the Detroit-based Latin Americans for Social and Economic Development.

Contact NIRAJ WARIKOO at 248-351-2998 or nwarikoo@freepress.com.

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