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March 8, International Women's Day: Fight Sexual Harassment, Anti-Union Aggression at PepsiCo Poland

Posted to the IUF website 04-Mar-2006

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The celebration of March 8 as a special day of labour struggle originated in the United States in 1857, when women garment and textile workers demonstrated for their rights on March 8, 1857 on the Lower East Side of New York City. On an international level it was launched in 1910 at the 2nd International Socialist Women's Conference in Copenhagen and first celebrated in 1911 by millions of workers in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Switzerland.

This year on International Women's Day, the labour movement can express its continued dedication to equality by showing solidarity with the embattled union at PepsiCo's Frito-Lay snack food plant in Grodziesk, Poland. On March 8, the union will be demonstrating outside a Warsaw court where the case of 8 victimized women workers all union members is being heard in an ongoing legal process.

These women, who were victims of, or witnesses to, sexual harassment by a supervisor at the plant, were either dismissed or forced under pressure to resign in late December 2004. When the women, with the support of the union, filed charges of sexual harassment against the company in January 2005, the company launched an escalating series of attacks on the union which has been seeking to defend them, the Food Secretariat of NSSZ Solidarnosc. Local union leader Slawomir Zagrajek was sacked on December 14 last year in response to an attack on the union in the tabloid "Super Express" which alleged that the union has fewer members than it claims and that the chairman therefore illegally benefited from his salary as a full-time union official. Owing to the anti-union climate in the plant, where management has refused for years to negotiate a renewal of the collective agreement and a climate of fear prevails, the union has regularly collected dues rather than relying on a check-off system. Management immediately responded to the tabloid article by bringing in a team to extract statements from all employees confirming their membership in the union. Though the statements have not been made available to union representatives (who contested the procedure because it is illegal and designed to intimidate workers), the company claimed the results were consistent with the "findings" of the tabloid article, and it promptly sacked Zagrajek.

The sacking of the union chairman and the mass intimidation of plant members was followed by further anti-union aggression on January 13, when management distributed a letter to all employees, to be returned to the union plant committee, announcing their withdrawal from the union. The letter concludes by stating that "that it is my will to resign my trade union membership as of today." Employees were instructed to sign the letters in the presence of witnesses and to return them within 5 days.

The timing of the latest attacks suggests that PepsiCo is determined to destroy the union's membership base at Frito-Lay in the wake of the company's acquisition early this year of Star Foods, Poland's leading salty snacks manufacturer. Plant level elections (held every 4 years) for union representation must be held this year between January and March

Local plant management has rejected all requests by the union for negotiations on the dismissal of the women, the sacking of the union chairman, and the mass intimidation of employees and union members. Confronted with violations of basic rights by its Grodziesk management, PepsiCo corporate headquarters simply issues wooden statements affirming its "zero tolerance" policy on sexual harassment and commitment to "corporate social responsibility". The Polish government authorities, for their part, have refused so far to respond to these egregious violations of national, EU and international law.

A formal complaint against the government of Poland has now been filed with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association. The IUF is preparing action against the company for violation of the OECD Guidelines for Multinational Companies. But these processes take time.

It is therefore urgent that renewed pressure be placed on the parent company on March 8 and beyond.

Act Now! What you can do

Kindly inform the secretariat of any action you might take.

We thank you in advance for your solidarity and support.