Disabled on the Job, Fired without Severance or Benefits

A GM subsidiary is providing an unlikely test for the U.S.-Colombia trade deal’s labor provisions.

By Jess Hunter-Bowman

Jess Hunter-Bowman

Jorge Parra, a welder at General Motors’ South American Colmotores subsidiary, performed manual labor at an assembly plant near Bogotá until he was disabled. The Colombian underwent three surgeries and now walks with a cane and has several screws in his spine. GM fired him when he could no longer work due to his repetitive strain injuries. He wound up with no medical benefits or severance pay.

“My life has been left in ruins by GM. I was fired due to workplace injuries,” Parra says. “The company lied about the reason for my dismissal.”

Parra formed an association of injured GM workers along with another 67 people. He estimates at least 200 workers have been fired from the plant due to workplace injuries. Along with another nine former GM autoworkers, he began a hunger strike on Labor Day. They are demanding GM compensate them for their disabling injuries.


Colombia, one of our newest free-trade partners, has a long history of labor rights violations. In fact, President Barack Obama and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos agreed to a Labor Action Plan designed to improve Colombia’s labor practices. The hope was that the plan would assuage congressional concerns about continued violations and ensure passage of a U.S.-Colombia trade deal.

Colombia has long been the most dangerous country in the world for union members. And those killers face little risk of prosecution. An estimated 3,000 labor leaders have been murdered since 1986 and a conviction has only been reached in approximately 10 percent of those cases.

The U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan alleviated the concerns of enough Democrats to get the trade deal passed a year ago, but the dangerous climate workers face in the South American country hasn’t improved. In fact, 34 trade unionists have been killed and another 485 have faced death threats since Obama and Santos signed the plan in April 2011.

Surprisingly, a simple case of wrongful firing like Parra’s at a GM assembly plant, rather than the murder of union organizers, has become a litmus test of sorts for the Labor Action Plan.

In GM’s Bogota assembly plant, when workers got injured on the job the sinister plot unfolded. GM fired Parra and other workers without offering any continuing health care coverage, severance, or other benefits. The Colombian government’s labor inspector then signed off on the firings and the workers’ compensation insurance company covering the employees altered medical records to suggest injuries were commonplace, rather than work-related.

The labor inspector has since been suspended and the insurance company was fined, but GM has yet to either reinstate the workers in new positions or offer them fair compensation. And the Colombian government certainly isn’t pressuring them to do so.

This relatively straightforward case has become the test of Colombia’s post-trade agreement commitment to workers’ rights. There’s no need to arrest or prosecute any terrorist gunmen responsible for killing union leaders. The only question is whether Colombia’s Labor Ministry and courts can hold a subsidiary of a Big Three U.S. automaker accountable for firing workers disabled through workplace injuries.

If the answer is no, there’s little chance Colombia will clean up its labor rights record in more serious and challenging areas, such as union murders and subcontracting.

And without labor rights progress, the Obama administration’s Hail Mary pass to get congressional support on the Colombia trade deal — the Labor Action Plan — will be remembered as a two-bit magic trick.

Jess Hunter-Bowman is Associate Director of Witness for Peace, a nonprofit organization with a 30-year history analyzing U.S. economic and military policy in Latin America. WitnessforPeace.org
Distributed via OtherWords. (OtherWords.org)

Originally posted on: http://www.otherwords.org/articles/disabled_on_the_job_fired_without_severance_or_benefits


Talking Union

by Bob Simpson

National Nurses United(NNU) took up the cause of Robin Hood at Chicago’s downtown J.P. Morgan Chase building on June 19. With its merry band of tax reforming nurses, the NNU held a lunch hour rally to press for a financial transactions tax (FTT) or as it is more commonly called, a “Robin Hood Tax”. Chicago was among 15 cities where similar rallies were held.

Easily recognized by their red scrubs along with their Robin Hood hats and masks, NNU  members described the Robin Hood tax in signs that read,”It’s Not a Tax On the People. It’s a Tax For the People.”

It's not a tax on the people

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Talking Union

By Josh Eidelson

Workers at Palermo’s Pizza have been on strike for two weeks. They say they chose to strike after Palermo’s met their efforts to form a union with threats and retaliation, including the use of immigration enforcement as a weapon. Slogans include “No Justice, No Piece.” On Monday, the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) set a union election for July 6.

“We want Palermo’s to treat us as a person,” striker Orlando Sosa said as he picketed Palermo’s Milwaukee factory.

In interviews last week – some on a picket line, others following a Get Out the Vote Rally led by Jesse Jackson – Palermo’s workers said the strike was caused by years of abusive work conditions and weeks of anti-union intimidation.

“From my point of view, there’s been a lot of exploitation,” says Roberto Silva (he and other Palermo’s workers were interviewed in a mix of English and…

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Talking Union

by Bill Fletcher

I was recently asked to participate on a panel regarding the Left and electoral politics.  I declined.  For many people this may seem strange since I have been a very strong proponent of the Left looking at electoral politics strategically.  Well, that is all true but I have encountered a problem and maybe you can help me resolve it.

Most Left “debates” on electoral politics take a very predictable route.  It looks something like this:

.                Electoral politics will not bring about socialism and freedom.

.                The Democrats have consistently sold us out. They are the party of the rich.

.                The Republicans and the Democrats are two wings of the same evil bird of prey.

.                We need an alternative.

.                Therefore, either:

Abstain from electoral politics and wait till the masses, in their millions rise up against capitalism, or…

Create a pure, anti-corporate (if not…

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Lansing Workers' Center

Thanks to an enormous outpouring of solidarity and support from our friends around the world, managers at Peckham Vocational Industries have backed off from SOME of their aggressive anti-union tactics. But they are still attacking workers in an insidious and mean-spirited way. As workers are setting up production lines to produce items for new incoming contracts, management continues to LAY OFF workers en masse. 70 more workers are scheduled for lay-off by the end of the week. We know for certain that Peckham has the work, but they want to “clean house” by getting rid of current staff. We ask that you contact Peckham management and demand that they rehire these men and women they have layed-off without reason. This is just another UNION BUSTING move on the part of the twisted bastards running this outfit.

Call: 517-316-4000


(Peckham CEO)



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Talking Union

by Mike Elk

WASHINGTON, D.C.—Last month, the AFL-CIO’s Executive Council endorsed President Barack Obama for re-election. About a week later, Congress passed the “Jumpstart Our Business Startup,” or JOBS Act—a bill backed by President Obama and his Council on Jobs and Competitiveness, and strongly opposed by organized labor. President Obama signed it into law last week.

“President Trumka is personally outraged by the JOBS Act and the implication that this administration thinks that it’s going to be good for the country to re-inflate a stock market bubble,” a top AFL-CIO official told In These Times Monday night, speaking only on condition of anonymity.

Developed by the Jobs Council—the chair of which, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, said late last month he wouldn’t endorse anyone for president—the JOBS Act would rollback many of the measures enacted to protect investors and stockholders in the wake of the dot.com bubble and Enron scandal. It would allow companies with less…

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