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Detroit: workers fight firings for joining immigrant rights rally
Employees of Wolverine Packing win reinstatement
U.S. bosses try to victimize workers demonstrating for immigrant rights
U.S. rulers: ‘All options are on table’ against Iran
N.Y. court fines transit union, orders president to jail for 10 days
Labor protest rally called
‘Militant’sub drive is off to running start
$90,000 fund launched 
The myth of the ‘neocon,’ ‘Israel lobby’ conspiracy
First shift in U.S. foreign policy since end of Cold War

A socialist newsweekly published in the interests of working people
Vol. 70/No. 17May 1, 2006


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Detroit: workers fight firings for
joining immigrant rights rally
Employees of Wolverine Packing win reinstatement
(lead article)
Cecilia Ramírez
Minerva Ramírez (left) joins March 27 immigrant rights rally in Detroit of 20,000. She and 20 other workers at Wolverine Packing were fired for missing work that day.

DETROIT—A victory was scored here when a group of meatpacking workers, fired for missing work to attend an immigrant rights rally, went back to work after winning reinstatement and full pay for lost time. Sixteen of 21 dismissed workers are now back on the job.

The fired workers, in their majority Mexican-born, had joined with other co-workers from the Wolverine Packing plant to take part in a 20,000-strong demonstration on March 27 calling for the legalization of undocumented immigrants. That action was one of dozens across the country that immigrant workers have carried out since early March to demand their rights.

“They didn’t fire us because we were lazy or for causing problems. They did it to try to intimidate us,” said Minerva Ramírez, one of the workers.

The week leading up to the march, said Ramírez, who works in the production department known as the steak room, a company supervisor walked around the department, taking down the names of those who planned to participate in the march. Many of the workers had been trying to get the time off, to no avail. Some even offered to work overtime or to come in on their days off to make up for the few hours they would be absent for the march, said Ramírez.

In an April 6 company statement, Wolverine general manager Jay Bonahoom said only a limited number of employees had been allowed to take the day off. Workers had been warned that all employees were expected to report for work the day of the protest unless they had been granted a personal day off, he said.

Many joined the march despite the threats, including 21 of the 30 or so workers in the steak room. “They never told us we would be fired,” Ramírez said. “I thought they would suspend us for three days and take away our bonus, like they have done other times.

“The government began this discussion about immigration, and we want to make sure that legalization becomes a reality, that it not be left as promises,” she said.

On March 27, demonstrators met at the Church of the Holy Redeemer in Mexicantown, a largely immigrant neighborhood in southwest Detroit, to march downtown. Many local businesses remained closed until 2:00 p.m. when the protest ended.

When they returned to work, Wolverine Packing officials prevented the 21 workers from entering the plant, told them they no longer had a job, and asked them to clean out their lockers. Ramírez said many of the lockers had already been broken into.

Ramírez, who has worked at Wolverine nearly six years, is the only one of those fired who has been employed directly by the company. The rest are temporary employees hired through an agency, Minutemen Staffing Co., even though most of them have worked at the packing plant for three years or more.

Wolverine Packing employs 350 workers in three plants in southeast Detroit. The majority of the workers are organized by United Food and Commercial Workers Local 876. In an attempt to keep the workforce divided and weaken the union, the company hires temporary workers in the steak room, which is not organized by the union. The main plant across the street is unionized. The temporary workers have no benefits, paid vacation, or sick leave, and many have not received a wage increase in years, said Ramírez.

“Firing immigrant and undocumented workers when they stand up for human rights is a common tactic employed in the meatpacking industry,” said a UFCW April 13 statement in response to the firings at Wolverine. “It’s a way to maintain a frightened and intimidated workforce.” The union condemned the “shameful and punitive bill” passed by the House of Representatives in December because it “would criminalize undocumented workers and anyone who assists them.”

The workers’ fight to win back their jobs received widespread media coverage. The story was reported in major newspapers and television networks in the United States and internationally, especially after the April 9-10 immigrant rights mobilizations, when a number of fired workers fought for reinstatement at several other workplaces around the country. It was covered by, among others, the Spanish-language TV network Univisión, Radio Caracol in Colombia, Mexican radio stations, the New York Times and the Chicago Tribune.

In face of this widespread publicity and the workers’ refusal to simply accept their dismissal, the bosses caved in to the mounting pressure and on April 13 offered to reinstate all 21 workers with full back pay. Company officials claimed there had been some confusion about “the notification and ramifications of missing work on March 27th.”

Wolverine said, however, that it would require Minutemen Staffing Co. to “recheck employment documentation before sending individuals back to work.” Bonahoom said he was concerned about news reports suggesting that some of the workers were undocumented. In earlier statements, he had said that as far as Wolverine knew, the workers were documented.

By April 18, Ramírez and 15 others were back on the job. She reported that when an initial group walked into the plant April 17, they were welcomed by co-workers with comments like “We are winning this battle!” The workers also submitted a letter to the company with a list of demands including three weeks back pay, a bilingual personnel office employee, and a review of pay scales every six months with increases based on length of service.

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