The United Steelworkers (USW) today hailed the signing of a landmark labor agreement between FAWUL (Firestone Agricultural Workers Union of Liberia) and Firestone. The new collective bargaining agreement covers more than 4,000 union members and provides significant gains for workers at one of the world's largest rubber plantations.
Contract highlights include wage increases of 24 percent for rubber tappers, retroactive to the expiration of a previous agreement in January of 2007; a 20 percent reduction (150 trees) of the daily rubber tree quota for tappers; and, transportation for bringing latex to weigh stations. Previously, tappers had to walk long distances with 150 lbs of latex yoked to their backs.
In addition, Firestone management committed to upgrading housing and educational facilities for employees and their families.
"The agreement at Firestone marks a new day for workers throughout Liberia," said USW International President Leo W. Gerard. "It is also a crucial victory in the global fight for workers' rights."
"These brave workers stood up to a powerful transnational corporation and declared that they will no longer be treated like second class citizens or indentured servants. This agreement sets a new labor standard for all of Liberia's workers."
FAWUL, with support from the USW and the AFL-CIO's Solidarity Center, had engaged in a long struggle to first win union recognition and then negotiate a new labor agreement. For 82 years, workers lacked a truly independent and democratic union. In July of 2007, workers turned out in record numbers to elect new leaders and establish a democratic union. Workers were violently repressed during strike actions which were initiated to win recognition of the results.
Throughout a long and difficult process, FAWUL worked closely with the USW, initiating programs to build communications and solidarity within the union and to keep pressure on the company to respect workers rights. The USW and the Solidarity Center helped deliver union-building educational and training programs over several years to FAWUL's leaders, activists and stewards.
"We were able to sit down at the table with management as equals and to negotiate an agreement that provides our members with hard-won respect and dignity," said FAWUL President Austin Natee. "Our victory is shared with our brothers and sisters in the USW who provided vital solidarity and support every step of the way."