Hard Labor

The employees of Allied Fibers came to America looking for work and freedom. They found work.

Supervisors had offered differing explanations: some workers were told the money was back pay, some that it was due to an accounting error, one that it was a "bonus." But the NLRB was mentioned, and workers were required to sign a release form in order to get the check. One worker initially refused to sign, and was called into a room, warned not to "make trouble" and told to sign the form.

A copy of the form confirmed that it was what the union feared: a waiver of rights to any future litigation over back pay. The Wage and Hour Division of the NLRB told the union the payments were based on a settlement reached between the Department of Labor and the company over unpaid "preparation time," and that everyone in the plant got a check. There was no word on what the workers insist was unpaid or underpaid back overtime.

The meeting began to break up as the AIM officers said they would continue to look into the matter, among the other problems. One young man came up to union organizer Andy Garza and explained with an embarrassed grin that he thought he needed help. He had been out sick with a work-related injury and had received some correspondence in English, a language he can't read, from the company's insurance firm. He had asked a friend he thought was more fluent in English, and the friend had told him it was a doctor bill for his injury. After he had torn it up in anger, another friend had informed him that the letter appeared to be a workman's compensation check in the amount of $167.

Everybody in the room, including the young man telling his story, laughed out loud. Garza smiled and told him he would do what he could.

On the whole the workers seem relaxed, calm and confident, perhaps heartened by recent OSHA and NLRB actions. Or perhaps after more than a year of persistence they are simply accustomed to thinking of their fight as being for the long term. It may be months before they win another battle, or can even hold another election.

But however the regulatory agencies and the courts react, despite their setbacks the union supporters seem surprisingly confident and united. They say they lost a few supporters immediately after the vote, but they've gained back more in the aftermath. Jose Orellana and Maria Flores are asked how they've kept up their spirits in the aftermath of the election defeat and their difficult personal circumstances. They smile, but they seem a little puzzled, as if the question is beside the point. They answer that they are simply doing what they must do, including telling their story to anyone who will listen. "We need help," they say. "We need some strong help.

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