Written by Anthony Moujaes
The national leaders of the United Church of Christ are showing solidarity with and support for a group of injured automobile workers staging a hunger strike in Colombia to protest unfair labor practices.
The Association of Current and Former Injured Employees of General Motors in Colombia (ASOTRECOL) said a number of workers were fired when they could no longer perform their jobs because of workplace injuries. Seven of those workers went so far as sewing their mouths shut on Labor Day after mediation sessions with GM fell through.
Those workers called on supporters around the world to join them in a fast for justice on Monday, Sept. 17, to spread support via social networking, and to write letters to General Motors and United States officials demanding justice from the auto manufacturer.
In a statement issued Sept. 16, the Rev. Jim Moos, the UCC's executive for Wider Church Ministries, asked General Motors to resume mediation discussions with the workers to reach a fair settlement, and also asked those supporting the strike to fast on Monday, Sept.17, or an alternative day.
"Injured on the job, fired because of their injuries and left unemployable and unable to support their families, these workers are entitled to fair and just compensation," Moos wrote in a statement on behalf of the UCC Collegium of Officers.
The workers, some of which have camped in the streets of Bogota for more than a year in protest, have been denied severance pay or workers compensation for their injuries.
"General Motors has the responsibility to provide a safe environment for all of its workers and, in the event of an injury, just compensation," the Collegium statement continues. "As a global company General Motors must be held accountable for violations of fair labor practices whether those violations occur in the developing world or the United States."
Mediation between the sides began Aug. 28 – four weeks after ASOTRECOL began its original hunger strike – and the U.S. government's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was asked to step in, but no compromise was reached. Both sides made offers during the session, but GM declined to accept the worker's primary demand of reinstating their jobs.
GM denies the allegations, indicating the company has never fired employees for medical reasons, according to a story by the Huffington Post. With 1,800 workers in Columbia, the auto giant said in a statement: "General Motors Colmotores is respectful of the law and has never put the health or the well-being of its employees at risk. No employee has been discharged for health reasons."
More about the Colombian workers and how to support their International Day of Action.
Here the complete text of the statement of solidarity from the United Church of Christ:
We stand in solidarity with the association of injured General Motors workers in Colombia (ASOTRECOL) who are hunger striking in protest of unfair labor practices. Injured on the job, fired because of their injuries and left unemployable and unable to support their families, these workers are entitled to fair and just compensation. We appreciate the efforts of mediators of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service and the U.S. Ambassador in Colombia who have supported the mediation process. Unfortunately, this process ended without producing justice for the injured workers. We also applaud the efforts of international partners who stand with ASOTRECOL. General Motors has the responsibility to provide a safe environment for all of its workers and, in the event of an injury, just compensation. As a global company General Motors must be held accountable for violations of fair labor practices whether those violations occur in the developing world or the United States. We call upon General Motors to resume good-faith talks with the ASOTRECOL in order to reach a just settlement. We also ask those who stand in solidarity with the hunger strikers to consider fasting on Monday, September 17, or an alternate day.
The Collegium of Officers of the United Church of Christ