Click here to read an article by one of the GM workers on the struggle and the role his faith has played in it. Timeline:
May 2011: A group of 68 current and former autoworkers at a GM assembly plant outside of Bogota, Colombia formed ASOTRECOL (the Association of Current and Former Injured Employees of GM Colmotores) after a number of workers were fired when they could no longer perform their jobs due to workplace injuries, such as herniated disks, other back injuries, rotator cuff injuries, carpal tunnel syndrome. Some of the workers will never be able to work again. Their firings were authorized by a labor inspector who was subsequently suspended and is now in jail. The worker's compensation company was fined for changing the workers' medical record to make the injuries appear as "common" rather than "occupational." The workers' announced their demands: re-training and new jobs in the plant, disability benefits for those unable to work and compensation for lost wages following their wrongful dismissal.
August 1, 2011 After attempts to get GM to reverse their decision to fire the workers, ASOTRECOL set up tents and began a protest across the street from the U.S. Embassy in Bogota to demand justice.
August 1, 2012 After a year camped on the street in Bogota, and multiple failed attempts at mediation with GM, members of ASOTRECOL began a hunger strike by sewing their mouths shut. International supporters began solidarity actions to put pressure on the GM to enter into negotiations with the company.
August 15, 2012 Protesters around the U.S. demanded GM offer a just and fair settlement to striking workers in Colombia. Protests were held at GM headquarters in Detroit, the home of GM CEO Dan Akerson and elsewhere. An estimated 100 people fasted in solidarity with the workers on hunger strike.
August 20, 2012 A large delegation of GM executives and lawyers traveled to Colombia, seeking mediation with the workers.
August 22, 2012 ASOTRECOL agreed to temporarily suspend the hunger strike and all protests planned for Aug. 24 as part of an agreement to begin a mediation process with GM's Latin America representatives. The U.S. government's Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service was asked to mediate.
August 31, 2012 Both sides made offers during the mediation. GM flatly refused to consider the workers' central demand: getting their jobs back. Instead, GM made monetary offers. GM's final offer was approximately $30,000 per worker. Since ASOTRECOL's members range in age from 28 to 42, and with 74 being full retirement age in Colombia, this worked out to something less than $1,000 per disabled worker and family per year until retirement. GM's final financial offer for each worker would not even cover the cost of the back surgery needed by one of them. When the parties did not come to a resolution before the mediators flight back to the U.S., the mediation ended without a settlement. The workers reached out to GM to express their good will to continue negotiations, but GM never responded.
September 3, 2012 On Labor Day, having received no response from GM about continued talks, seven members of ASOTRECOL sewed their mouths shut. Three other workers joined them in a renewed hunger strike.
September 4, 2012 Jorge Parra, President of ASOTRECOL, traveled to Detroit to bring the workers' hunger strike to GM's hometown. Jorge immediately requested a meeting with GM's executive leadership, but received no response.
September 21, 2012 ASOTRECOL makes a good faith gesture to GM, calling for a pause to all actions pressuring the company.
October 2012 109 faith leaders representing 12 different faith traditions from across the United States sent GM a letter calling on the company to "to commit to returning to talks with ASOTRECOL, your former employees, in order to reach a fair and just resolution through dialogue." Signatories included national leadership from the Presbyterian Church, the United Church of Christ and Mennonite Church USA. Catholics such as Bishop Thomas Gumbleton; Sister Simone Campbell, SSS; and the Conference of Major Superiors of Men, which serves the leadership of the Catholic orders and congregations of the more than 17,000 vowed religious priests and brothers of the United States also signed the letter.
November 17, 2012 Jorge Parra, President of ASOTRECOL, speaks at the vigil to close the School of the Americas. He calls for an end to the pause in actions and declares that he will sew his mouth shut on Nov. 20 if GM does not agree to re-start mediation.
November 20, 2012 Jorge Parra and other ASOTRECOL members re-start their hunger strike. Some sew their mouths shut, including Jorge who is in Detroit, home to GM's headquarters. United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 140 member and former president Melvin Thompson began a water only fast along with the workers.
December 11, 2012 Jorge Parra of ASOTRECOL joined thousands outside Michigan's capitol building in Lansing, MI to rally against “right-to-work” legislation, recognizing the parallel between this and the changes in Colombian labor law that paved the way to union-busting and worse.
January 14, 2013 Actor and activist Danny Glover spoke out in support of ASOTRECOL, calling on GM to meet with the workers and resolve the injustices. He also asked justice-loving people around the world to join him in supporting the workers.
January 23, 2013 During a global day of actions in support of injured Colombian GM workers, activists and workers in the United States, Germany, Spain, Brazil and Colombia stood up for justice. In the U.S., activists protested at Auto Shows in Portland and Detroit while others delivered letters expressing concern to local GM dealerships. In Detroit, activists delivered petitions to GM headquarters calling on the company to return to the negotiating table and reach a just settlement with injured workers. The petitions, signed by over 76,000 people from around the world, were gathered by SumOfUs.org, Change.org, the ASOTRECOL Solidarity Committee, Witness for Peace and many others, as well as the global actions, represent growing concern about the situation of the injured Colombian workers.