Women's Work and Wages
We all need it to survive, and unless we inherit large amounts from family, we need to work to make money. There are many different kinds of work that women do while performing at the highest standard, but not all work places are equal. Companies are designed to make money, but a good company will also be interested in having happy and productive workers.The best workplaces are ones that are safe, clean and well-operated, all while paying a living wage.
A living wage will vary from country to country, but essentially a living wage is one that allows women (and men!) to afford shelter, purchase good and healthy food, pay for schooling for their children, and for other necessities of life.
In the Dominican Republic (and many other countries), there are many clothing factories in the Free Export Zone. A Free Export Zone is an area where companies build their factories, bring the raw materials in by plane or boat, the materials are assembled into clothing (or other goods) at the factory, and then the goods are shipped overseas. There are no import or export taxes on the materials coming in or going out, and it is much less expensive for the companies involved. This can be both a good thing and a bad thing for the workers. On the good side, there is regular work and a regular paycheque. On the bad side, many of these companies treat their workers shamefully, expecting 12-14 hours a day of work, in bad conditions, and then pay very little, all the while threatening to leave the country if people ask for more money or better conditions.
BJ&B was a factory in the Dominican Republic that produced baseball caps for Nike and Reebok, and they were not good employers. In 2003, 20 union leaders at BJ&B lost their jobs because they were trying to improve the working conditions and workers rights at the factory. After almost a decade of trying to improve conditions, BJ&B workers finally won a decision that made working conditions and wages much better. In response, the companies moved all of their contracts to non-unionized sweatshops, and fired most of the original workers. Most of the workers at this factory were women, and it devastated the local economy to have the largest employer leave the area. When this happens, it often forces workers to take jobs that are more dangerous, have longer hours, worse conditions and less pay.
A campaign by United Students Against Sweatshops, along with significant actions by the factory workers of Alta Gracia, led to a new company taking over the factory. This new company decided to try to make a change, and run a new kind of factory.
Knights Apparel is a company that produces collegiate clothing for 391 colleges and universities in the United States, and they have re-opened the BJ&B factory in the Free Export Zone of Altagracia, Dominican Republic. Workers at the Alta Gracia factory in the Dominican Republic are now fully unionized, are being paid a living wage that is 338% of the minimum wage plus many bonuses and benefits, and are subject to a transparent and frequent independent inspection system with regular reports to ensure compliance. http://workersrights.org/verification.asp
It took two years of work by the Workers Rights Consortium, student activists, Knights Apparel, university personnel, and the workers of the factory to create this new system. Knights Apparel was nervous at first, thinking that they were going to lose money, and that this business model was not viable. The factory has made huge improvements in productivity and has made very good profits from the new business model. This factory should be an example to all other companies who think that they cannot make money AND treat their workers as they should be treated.
Please take five minutes to watch the video linked below; it features the women and men of Alta Gracia Apparel receiving their first 'living wage' paycheques, and their thoughts upon the changes at their workplace. It is in Spanish, but subtitled in English.
It brought tears to my eyes to watch these women and men so happy and fulfilled at their work.
What can one do when the factory or company that one works for is not being fair to workers? Form a union. A trade union is a group of concerned workers joining together to improve the work conditions and hours, wages and safety standards of the workplace. "All for one, and one for all," as the Musketeers said! I am the Vice-President of my trade union, and I am proud to play a part in helping keep my co-workers safe and in protecting their rights.
For more information, try these helpful links: