While political violence declined in Guatemala in 1996 and the government took initiatives to address longstanding human rights problems, the legacy of extrajudicial executions, torture and disappearances that had decimated the trade union movement remains vivid. As recently as 1995 several trade unionists suffered threats and attacks, including incidents of kidnappings related to organizing efforts. Several of the PVH workers the HumanRights Watch team interviewed stated how seriously they took warnings from supervisory personnel of the risks of union activism in Guatemala.

The maquila sector of Guatemala employs some 80,000 workers. It is a dynamic sector of the Guatemalan economy and a draw for foreign investment. According to one commentator whom Human Rights Watch met with, from 1992 through 1997, only fourteen unions were established in the maquiladora sector of Guatemala. Despite the guarantees contained in the 1986 constitution and the labor code protecting the rights of free association and collective bargaining, only five still exist and not one of those unions has a collective bargaining agreement. Unionization and collective bargaining have been blocked by illegal mass dismissals of union supporters. Several activists and observers reported that the maquila industry maintains a computerized blacklist that identifies individuals as "undesirables." We heard repeatedly that employers regularly threatened to close down plants where workers formed unions. Workers in maquilas are even more vulnerable because of the transient nature of the sector itself. In Guatemala one frequent response to trade union organization and collective bargaining efforts has been factory closures and relocations.

The gender composition of the workforce has also affected unionization. We heard that employers play on the fact that often the women's family depends on the paycheck for basic sustenance. At the two other maquila factories briefly visited, the team was struck at how the workers did not have the ability to leave the plant during course of the day and the control that afforded employers determined to prevent unionization. These realities set the context for the union efforts at Phillips-Van Heusen.

A Background of Obstacles to Union Organization at Phillips-Van Heusen

The history of the union at the two PVH plants remains an intimidating factor for current and potential union members there. What happened to union leaders' rank and file in the first efforts to organize, in 1989, and again in 1992 is very much part of the collective memory of the plant; a wry tribute to the generally low turnover of staff there.

A 1994 study of the Guatemalan maquila industry by Kurt Petersen describes the PVH plants as having been "the jewels of the Guatemalan maquila industry," their relatively benign personnel practices, good pay and benefits (and low turnover) contrasted with other plants.1 Petersen attributes both the 1989 union drive and the successful drive begun in 1991 to a number of factors, including the above-average conditions and low turnover at the plants, which "allowed workers to form strong and lasting bonds." At the same time, the control over employees' lives, regulating even access to bathrooms, was described as having been deeply resented.

In both earlier union drives, however, efforts were reportedly triggered by unilateral changes in working conditions, notably decreases without notice in piece-rate payments.2 Petersen contrasts the company strategy in 1989, with much harsher action in 1992:

In 1989, when workers first showed signs of unionizing, management responded with increased benevolence, providing them with a 'company store' and liberalizing its loan policy. This reaction, combined with the discharge of union supporters, defeated the union drive. In March 1991, the workers touched off the second union campaign.

On the 1991 initiative, Petersen reports (citing his own interview evidence), that the plant manager had, on the same day the plant was served with an injunction (emplazamiento) to freeze the conditions of employment pending resolution of the labor issues, "allegedly offered the leaders of the organizing drive severance pay andadditional $2,000 bribe to resign from the factory." Dozens of union supporters were subsequently said to have accepted such offers.3 Other union staff were reportedly subjected to changing working conditions resulting in their inability to earn production bonuses. The company reportedly suspended its cafeteria and loan benefits, while creating "its own union and a Solidarismo association."4 At the same time, allegations were made that a PVH personnel manager had warned union members that their conduct might well put their lives in danger.5 It was perhaps as a consequence of the international uproar over the September 1991 shooting of a Camisas Modernas union leader, for which responsibility was never conclusively established, that the union's petition for legal recognition was acted upon, in 1992.6

On September 8, 1991, Aura Marina Rodríguez, one of the union's leaders, was wounded when a bullet grazed her as she was going home. The incident, in which Rodríguez lost part of one ear, was officially attributed to a stray bullet from a fight. Rodríguez subsequently maintained that armed men sought her at her home after the

incident, however, leading her to go into hiding.7 PVH responded to the incident by expressing concern for the

injured worker, while denying that the shooting was in any way related to union activity (there was no serious claim that PVH had itself been involved). The incident was attributed to casual violence, citing U.S. embassy and Guatemalan police reports, and even the victim's family, as denying any political dimension. The company's public statements did not acknowledge the possibility that other private or governmental sectors with a record of anti-union violence might well have seen the PVH union drive as more threatening than did PVH itself.

1 Kurt Petersen, The Maquiladora Revolution in Guatemala (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995), pp. 108-9. 2 Ibid., p. 111. 3 Ibid., 112. 4 Ibid., p. 112. 5 Petersen, op. cit., p. 112, states that "At least one of PVH's personnel managers issued death threats, claiming that 'everyone who is involved in the unions is going to die' and calling the union a guerrilla front" (citing Stephen Coates, "Made in Guatemala: Union Busting in the Maquiladoras," Multinational Monitor, November 1991). Further details on these allegations are provided in the June 1992 report of the US/Guatemala Labor Education Project, International Labor Rights Education and Research Fund, and the Religious Task Force On Central America, "The right to organize in Guatemala: The Case of Phillips-Van Heusen." This report identifies the manager by name, and adds that her threats were given special credence because she had "bragged that she was married to an army colonel." The same source claims a top PVH executive defended her character against the charge, but a week after an incident in which a union leader was shot and wounded the manager alleged to have made threats was dismissed. 6 Ibid. Petersen notes that documentation requesting recognition of the union had been submitted to the labor ministry in March 1991, and that CUSG had claimed 150 members at the two plants as of September that year. The union had not, however, been recognized as of May 1992. Its recognition in September 1992 shortly preceded the review of Guatemala's qualification for United States GSP benefits. 7 Ibid., p. 112. Petersen states in his account that "Rodríguez and her frightened coworkers are certain the incident was meant to deter formation of the union." Human Rights Watch has also reviewed the extensive correspondence between the company and the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial organization (AFL-CIO) in that period See, for example, letter of Charles D. Gray, Director, Department of International Affairs, AFL-CIO, to Larry Phillips, Chief Executive Officer, Phillips-Van Heusen Company, August 10, 1992 and attachment.