NOVEMBER 1991 - VOLUME 12 - NUMBER 11
B E H I N D T H E L I N E S
Blue Jeans Boycott
Fuerza Unida (United Force), an organization of 600 garment workers, is planning a 3-day, 4-city hunger strike in late November to protest the January 1990 closing of a Levi Strauss & Co. plant in San Antonio, Texas. Levi's relocated the plant to Costa Rica, leaving 1,150 workers--90 percent of whom are Mexican-American women--out of work.
Since Fuerza Unida formed last February in response to the closing, it has organized marches and demonstrations against Levi's in San Antonio and in San Francisco, where the company is headquartered, and has called for a boycott of all Levi's garments. Fuerza has also filed two lawsuits against the company: one is a class-action suit alleging violations of workers' compensation laws; the other charges Levi's with discriminatory policies in laying off primarily minority women workers. Levi's spokesperson Armando Ojeda declined to comment on the lawsuits while litigation is still in progress but did say, "We stand by our record as a company that is socially responsible." He also stated that the cases will show that Levi's "treated employees in a fair and responsible way."
Irene Reyna, a Fuerza coordinator, says some of the group's actions are designed "to inform employees of other local Levi's plants" of how "to look out for symptoms of plant closings." Reyna says employees of the relocated plant were unprepared for the loss of their jobs since they had been assured repeatedly by the plant's management that there was no truth to rumors of an impending shutdown and since Levi's had earned record profits in 1989.
Fuerza Unida members consider themselves "victims of the free trade climate" and oppose the proposed U.S.Mexico Free Trade Agreement. Reyna says the agreement will result in many more plant relocations and that "only the governments of the countries [where the plants resettle] and the big corporations" will benefit. Reyna says the new jobs do not improve the standard of living for the workers in these countries and points out that the employees of Levi's Costa Rica plant are being paid only $.40 an hour.
A federal appeals court in New Orleans struck down major provisions of a 1989 Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ban on asbestos use on October 21. The court ruled that the EPA failed to fully meet certain procedural and analytical requirements of the Toxic Substances Control Act under which the asbestos phaseout was promulgated. Asbestos is a carcinogenic mineral that causes severe lung ailments when its fibers are inhaled. It was widely used in building products and in heat- bearing components until the late 1970s.
The court upheld existing provisions of the ban which prohibit new uses of asbestos, the importation of asbestos products and the use of the mineral in certain roofing and flooring materials and in clothing. Provisions that would have gone into effect in 1993 and 1996 were struck down. According to Gwenn Brown, a spokesperson for the EPA, these included a prohibition of asbestos use in friction products such as automotive transmission components, clutch facings and brake blocks. Brown says that EPA officials are examining the court documents and that the agency has not yet decided whether it will appeal the decision.
Mary Vogel, executive director of the Philadelphia-based Asbestos Victims Special Fund Trust, says that she hopes "companies are smart enough" not to use asbestos because of their potential liability for asbestos-related injuries. She notes that asbestos use in the United States had declined steadily even before the EPA ban was implemented, from 247,000 metric tons in 1984 to less than 55,000 metric tons in 1989.
She is concerned, however, that the standard of review imposed on the EPA by the court is so stringent that it will make it difficult for an outright ban on asbestos to ever be upheld.
Vogel calls the challenge to the ban part of an industry "campaign of disinformation" designed to convince the public that asbestos can be used safely. She adds, "there are very few uses for asbestos for which we don't have adequate substitutes which are safer."
Yanomami vs. Miners
Withstanding pressure from the country's military and mining interests, Brazilian President Fernando Collor de Mello formalized the demarcation of a 36,000 square mile contiguous territory for the Yanomami, a Brazilian indigenous people, on November 15.
Collor's move was fought by a mining lobby that was "fiercely advocating the old set-up," says Peggy Hallward of the Toronto- based environmental group Probe International. Prior to Collor's decision to approve the new demarcation, Yanomami territory (about one-third the amount of land granted under the new resolution) had been "broken up into 19 islands" in the midst of "a sea of miners," according to Hallward.
Northern environmentalists and government officials, who had put considerable pressure on Collor to approve the resolution which prohibits individuals and companies from entering the territory without first receiving approval from Congress and Yanomami leaders, applauded Collor's move as an important step in protecting Brazil's indigenous people and the rainforests in which they dwell.
- Holley Knaus