On July 16, Kyungshin-Lear, a car parts manufacturing company with a factory in Honduras, fired three of nine newly elected union leaders. Within the following days, we have learned from our colleagues at the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center that the remaining six of the nine newly elected union leaders also were fired. Since January 2012, Kyungshin-Lear has fired 26 union leaders, with the company's most recent illegal firing of all nine union leaders in April 2013, and then in July, firing the nine union leaders who had been recently elected to replace the fired leaders from April. The Honduran Labor Code prohibits reprisals against workers for union activities and provides that an employer may only lawfully dismiss a union leader after obtaining a court ruling finding just cause for the dismissal, but Honduras has a history of failing to effectively enforce these laws.
A union election was held June 29 to elect a new leadership to replace nine union leaders who were fired in April. As Honduran law requires that union leadership must be comprised of actual employees, the Ministry of Labor visited the factory on July 16 to attempt to notify the company of the new union leadership and verify their employment, only to be barred from entering the premises. That same day, Kyungshin-Lear began firing the new union leaders.
This is not the first time this has occurred. Kyungshin-Lear has a notorious history of refusing to allow the Honduran Ministry of Labor to conduct inspections. The Solidarity Center, along with Honduran union representatives and U.S. government representatives, met with the Ministry this past May, and the Ministry pledged to impose fines on Kyungshin-Lear for its evasion of inspections and to promptly act on pending complaints filed over the firings of union leaders in 2012 and April of this year. But so far, there has been no attempt to take action on that promise. The Honduran government has persistently failed to enforce its domestic labor laws as is required under the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). Recognizing continued labor abuses and efforts by the government to weaken labor laws, the AFL-CIO and a broad delegation of Honduran unions filed a petition of complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor in Washington D.C. in March of 2012. The Labor Department officially accepted the petition of complaint on May 22, 2012, and should have released an official response by Nov. 22, 2012 (180 days from the acceptance date). Yet eight months later, Honduran workers have yet to see any action. Meanwhile, the U.S. government continues to provide tariff benefits to a country that blatantly refuses to protect and defend basic labor and human rights.
When the government of Honduras allows companies like Kyungshin-Lear to violate labor laws with impunity, the likelihood of future violations, including future illegal firings of union leaders, only increases. The U.S. government is in a position to hold the government of Honduras to its CAFTA commitments. Yet, the U.S. government has stayed silent, allowing months to pass while the Honduran government continues to violate the labor provisions of CAFTA. If the U.S. government does not hold the Honduran government to its CAFTA obligations, it encourages other nations to likewise shirk their responsibilities. More importantly, the failure to act harms workers everywhere—because it only fuels the race to the bottom in terms of workers' rights, pay and conditions of work. The U.S. government must move immediately to protect Honduran workers—and publicly responding to the CAFTA complaint is a necessary first step.