Perhaps it was made by the Korean manufacturer LG, or Zenith, the American electronics brand that the Koreans bought a few years back. If so, maybe it was made by Rosa Moreno.
Take a look at this picture of Rosa. She has eight kids, and here she is
embracing two of them. It may take you a few seconds to notice that she
has no hands.
Rosa was a go-to factory worker in a maquiladora, a plant in Reynosa, Mexico
just across the Rio Grande from Edinburg, a south Texas town. There are thousands of
such manufacturing plants and an estimated 1 million people like Rosa
in those plants, making stuff for consumers in America to buy. She worked for a
subcontracting manufacturer, HD electronics. This sort of arrangement separates
employees in a giant game of keep-away, from any ability to argue for better pay
or conditions with LG or other companies that put their logos on items bound for US
They needed to step up production and Rosa was asked to operate a
machine that stamps out the back plate for a particular model of flat sceen
monitor because it was a little complicated and she was good and she was
faster than most. She was also a little more brave. It scared some of the
others who declined to work at this machine on the line. She stepped up.
It happened just after 2 in the morning February 20, 2011. As she
was positioning a piece of steel plate, the machine suddenly jumped into
action and clamped down on her hands with tons of force. She knew she
had to maintain her presence of mind, since it would be necessary for her to argue for being taken to the right hospital. The best that could be done was to wrap a little gauze around her wrists. It
took ten minutes for several men to work out how to get the stamping press
up off of her.
There was a debate as to what to do for her. Rosa prevailed, but the
company would not allow an ambulance to be called. They did not want
her taken to the hospital Rosa wanted because it might be more expensive, and because the accident would be on the record. With her hands now flat as tortillas and meshed into the monitor back plate, she walked to a co-worker's car and was taken to the hospital, where they amputated her hands, still enmeshed in the steel plate.
She gets by on the Mexican government's equivalent of Social Security
disability, about $230 dollars a month. There is no workman's comp. There was no union.
Some church groups help her out a bit with food and some money. The company offered to give her a one time
payment of $4500. But she refused. Even though it is not clear that there is a way to obtain a better settlement through the court system under NAFTA, she holds out.
There is also Ed Krueger. He is an 82 year old retired minister who started a group of women called the Comite de Apoyo, or Committee of Support. They have been taking some printed materials that have been worked up, around to women who work in the maquiladoras, helping them become educated about what rights they do have under Mexican law, under NAFTA.
Ed is an unsung hero. He lives across the Rio Grande, across the magic line we call the US/Mexico border and bicycles across every day to see what he can do.
And that is the question for each of us as we look at these electronic devices that we find in the stores, as we look for the best deals at places like Best Buy.
What can we do?
The larger picture is that when manufacturing is taken across the border to
places like Reynosa, or to places like Malaysia, what do we need to know about the kinds of protections that ought to be in place in the trade agreements that are made between Washington and wherever that wind up creating situations like the one Rosa finds herself in?
That question ought to be coming up again and again and ought to be front and center in our political debates.
What can we do? Is it about Rosa, or is ultimately about us? What becomes of the middle class if all of our manufacturing jobs become jobs like Rosa's and the protections that workers enjoy in the US are subject to the stress of competition against us that is fostered - by the investment financiers that make the leveraged buyouts happen that put the whole notion of worker protection on the slippery slope to lower standards or no standards.
Rosa made 1.75 an hour. As consumers, we look at the price tag on these units. The investors look at the return on investment
not at worker justice.
As we touch the sleek metal frame, we shake hands with unkown people, possibly named Rosa.