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Press release: Injured Colombian GM workers take their hunger strike to Detroit, thousands protest around the country

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
September 17, 2012

INJURED COLOMBIAN GM WORKERS TAKE THEIR HUNGER STRIKE TO DETROIT, THOUSANDS PROTEST AROUND THE COUNTRY

Religious, Labor and Human Rights Leaders across the U.S. Call for Action for the Workers

Press Contact:
Jorge Alberto Parra Andrade, President of Colombian GM workers’ association, (email jess@witnessforpeace.org to set up an interview)
Jess Hunter-Bowman, Associate Director, Witness for Peace, jess@witnessforpeace.org

Detroit, MI – A group of Colombian General Motors workers began their third week of a renewed hunger strike today. Ten current and former GM workers are on a hunger strike, with some of them having sewn their mouths shut.

“Our lives have been left in ruins by GM. We were fired due to work-place injuries and offered no severance, no worker’s compensation insurance and the company lied about the reason for our dismissal,” said Jorge Parra, president of the injured workers’ association, ASOTRECOL. “The Chevy assembly plant in Bogota does not meet the safety standards of plants in the U.S. and when workers there are injured, GM tries to sweep them under the table. I came to Detroit to make sure GM can no long hide it's abusive labor practices.”

The workers were fired from GM due to workplace injuries. Their injuries left them unemployable and unable to support their families. GM has refused to compensate them for disabilities caused by repetitive strain motions and heavy lifting on the assembly line and the men have not been given access to medical care. Monday marks the beginning of the third week of the hunger strike for 10 workers.

“Today after two weeks of hunger, we all feel like our bodies each day lose more strength,” indicated Mr. Parra. “But we will not end this hunger strike until GM comes back to the negotiating table and we reach a just and fair settlement.”

The workers’ cause has sparked interest in the United States, where thousands of religious figures, labor leaders and human rights activists participated in a day of fasting and protest, calling on GM to negotiate a settlement to the workers’ claims.

Prominent faith groups called on GM to reach a just settlement with the workers. The executive leadership council of the United Church of Christ, with over one million members, issued a statement indicating that “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.”

Andre Gingerich Stoner, Director of Holistic Witness and Interchurch Relations for Mennonite Church USA, said, “Jesus…speaks for justice and stands with those who are suffering. That is why I (am) fasting in solidarity with the injured Colombian GM workers on September 17th, the two week anniversary of their hunger strike. I pray for the safety of the workers and that GM enters into direct negotiations with them so that together they can reach a just and fair solution.”

On Monday, thousands of people across the country engaged in actions and activities to support the striking workers. People at least 20 states fasted in support of the workers. Groups from faith communities, labor unions and human rights organizations protested at GM locations around the country, including GM headquarters in Detroit, CEO Dan Akerson’s home in McLean, VA. Protests were also held in Minnesota, Oregon and Kentucky.

Activists also delivered letters to local GM dealerships, along with a petition signed by 5000 concerned citizens, asking for their intervention in the case.

Martin Sheen, star of such films as Apocalypse Now, The Departed, and The Amazing Spider-Man, voiced his support for the workers. “I believe in workers’ rights both here at home and abroad. That is why I am standing in solidarity with Colombian GM workers on strike,” said Mr. Sheen.

Organized labor in the U.S. also raised concern about GM’s treatment of Colombian workers.

“GM’s CEO, car dealers, customers and neighbors should understand that this company’s treatment of Colombian workers is unacceptable. These GM workers, just like all workers, give their time and hard work to produce products that make our lives better,” said Jessica Hayssen, Field Director at Minnesota AFL-CIO. “Like everyone, they only ask for an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work. Now, they have no other choice but to hunger strike. And for what? Such basic demands as workers’ compensation, health care coverage, compensation for lost wages after being wrongly terminated or just to return to work? GM can’t call itself a responsible corporate citizen after how they have treated their Colombian workers.”

“General Motors is a global company, but that should be no reason to treat workers in the developing world any differently than workers in Michigan, Ohio or anywhere else in the United States,” said Jess Hunter-Bowman, Associate Director of Witness for Peace, who is in day 15 of a liquids only fast in support of the workers . “GM must be held accountable for their serious labor violations in Colombia and that is exactly what we plan to do.”

After mediation failed without an agreement on August 31, GM has made no indication that it will return to negotiations to find a mutually agreeable resolution with Colombian GM workers.

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