WRC Update: Workers Reinstated at JoeAnne Dominicana (Dominican Republic)

To:WRC Affiliate Universities and Colleges
From:Scott Nova and Sarah Adler-Milstein
Date:June 20, 2013
Re:WRC Update: Workers Reinstated at JoeAnne Dominicana (Dominican Republic)

We write to update you on the situation at JoeAnne Dominicana, an apparel factory in the Dominican Republic producing university licensed goods for Franklin Sports and non-collegiate goods for Fruit of the Loom and adidas. We first reported to you on May 31, 2013 regarding this case. The WRC’s investigation found that seven workers were terminated in retaliation for their perceived or actual participation in union activities. The dismissals were in clear violation of Dominican law and university codes of conduct and the WRC recommended the reinstatement of seven dismissed workers as an urgent priority.

Six of the workers who were dismissed at JoeAnne Dominicana have been reinstated with back pay. Four of the workers were reinstated on June 10, 2013; a fifth worker was reinstated on June 11, 2013; and the final worker was reinstated on June 12, 2013. Workers received the back pay due to them on June 14, 2013. Unfortunately, JoeAnne Dominicana did not offer reinstatement to one of the workers identified by the WRC. The WRC contacted this worker, who stated that she no longer wishes to pursue reinstatement. 

The reinstatement of the majority of the dismissed workers is an important step in the remediation process, but additional steps are required, as outlined below. 

Also, it took too long for the buyers to secure reinstatement, thus exacerbating the damage to workers’ associational rights. The WRC contacted the factory’s buyers on April 1, 2013 to recommend reinstatement, but the buyers delayed any push for action until last week. In doing so, the collegiate licensee, Franklin Sports, cited an ongoing inquiry by the FLA as justification for the delay. The FLA subsequently completed its inquiry. Since the FLA reached the same fundamental conclusions and made essentially the same recommendations with respect to reinstatement as the WRC, we must conclude that the only thing Franklin Sports accomplished by waiting was to delay remediation. It is important for licensees to recognize that a finding of university code of conduct violations by either monitoring organization is a sufficient basis for remedial action and that such action should be undertaken as swiftly as possible.

Given the chilling effect of the delay in reinstatement at JoeAnne Dominicana, it is particularly important that the buyers from this facility ensure that the additional remedial steps recommended by the WRC are undertaken (as outlined in our report of May 31). Most importantly, JoeAnne Dominicana should issue a verbal and written freedom of association statement to workers confirming their right to form or join a union and stating that workers will suffer no consequences for exercising this right. JoeAnne Dominicana should also ensure that supervisors and managers receive clear instructions that no further retaliation will be tolerated and should discipline those managers involved in the retaliatory dismissals. 

Worker testimony gathered by the WRC does not indicate that any of these steps have been taken to date. Rather, according to testimony, the reinstated workers have returned to a workplace where workers continue to face pressure from management which infringes on the exercise of their associational rights. Several workers reported that, the same week workers were reinstated, a high-level manager, Jairo Gomez, told a worker that it was “unwise” to join a union because it could damage workers’ “reputations” and make it more difficult to find work. In light of the illegal firings, the worker could only interpret this as a threat of dismissal. This incident raises the concern that reinstatements at JoeAnne Dominicana, without additional remedial action, will fail to adequately protect workers’ rights of association.

The buyers at JoeAnne Dominicana, in particular the university licensee, Franklin Sports, must ensure that managers cease to perpetrate workers’ rights violations, that any managers or supervisors who have done so are disciplined, and that JoeAnne Dominicana issue a statement to workers regarding their right to join the union of their choice. There are elements of a remediation plan announced by the FLA that overlap partially with our recommendations and we hope the factory will carry out those steps. We will monitor developments at JoeAnne Dominicana on an ongoing basis and will update universities as to whether the buyers and the factory are taking necessary actions to protect workers’ rights. 

This case also reflects a worrisome pattern. We have seen multiple cases in recent years in which licensees’ own labor rights programs have failed to convince contract factories that such retaliatory dismissals are unacceptable. Then, when such dismissals have been carried out, we have seen extensive delays before any remedial action is taken. These lengthy delays exacerbate the chilling effects of these dismissals by allowing a climate of fear to persist in factories for months and by denying workers on-site access to the plant-level union leaders who have been dismissed. To cite one additional example, at Flying Needle, a collegiate factory in Nicaragua producing for adidas (and a non-collegiate supplier for Rawlings and Under Armour), delayed reinstatement prevented full remediation, as we reported in November. Workers were not reinstated for more than five months after being unlawfully fired, despite an order from the Nicaraguan authorities. As a result, when the factory did finally offer reinstatement, a third of the dismissed workers could not be located.

Licensees are aware that retaliatory anti-union dismissals are a serious labor rights concern, particularly in Central America and the Caribbean, and they should be taking the necessary actions to communicate to their suppliers that such dismissals are unacceptable. When such dismissals do occur, it is critical that the licensees act quickly to ensure timely reinstatement so as to avoid further damage to workers’ associational rights.

As always, please contact us with any questions or thoughts regarding this memorandum.

Scott Nova 
Worker Rights Consortium 
5 Thomas Circle NW, 5th Floor 
Washington DC 20005 
ph  202 387 4884 
fax 202 387 3292 
[email protected]