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Costa Rica propane fracas still at stalemate

May 12, 2015

The love-related legal conflict over Costa Rica’s largest distributor of cooking gas appeared far from over Monday as threats of a mass layoff of company workers came and went.

The company, Gas Zeta, has left thousands of customers in limbo – or eating cold dinners — since a Texas judge ordered its divorced owners, Miguel Zaragoza and Evangelina López, to split their assets. Costa Rican and U.S. judges have yet to agree on just who owns what part of the company.

Gas Zeta is responsible for supplying just over 70 percent of the national propane market and the conflict has left customers nationwide scrambling to find gas for nearly three weeks.

On Monday morning, the company’s lawyer, Sergio Artavia Barrantes, who was appointed by Zaragoza’s camp, said the firm was laying off 275 employees who failed to show up for work at two distribution plants. The measure, however, was cancelled on Monday evening when Artavia said the firm reached an agreement with Labor Vice Minister Harold Villegas Román and set a Thursday deadline for employees to return to their jobs.

Who’s the boss?

Employees of Gas Zeta have complained of being caught in the middle of the divorce dispute and left to wonder about their job security with few concrete answers. On Monday morning, before the layoff was cancelled, a group of some 50 employees demonstrated in front of the Supreme Court in downtown San José, demanding their labor rights be respected.

Felipe Mejía, a worker representative, confirmed Monday evening that none of them had received any notification of their alleged layoff, and said they were hoping the Supreme Court will soon issue a ruling on the company’s ownership.

“Customers should be aware that there is a judicial process pending resolution and any publication reporting alleged decisions on workers’ rights…is against the country’s legal system,” Mejía said.

The human resources manager on López’s side of the company, Ana Irene Villalobos Brenes, told The Tico Times that the layoff warning was false, as workers have kept working at the company’s other plants.

“We all are looking forward to the courts settling the dispute and ruling on who owns the company as soon as possible,” she said.

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