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HomeTopicsBusinessThe life of a laid-off Cartex employee in Costa Rica

The life of a laid-off Cartex employee in Costa Rica

Flor Marín Jiménez’s living room is full of felt, Styrofoam balls and other materials she is using to make dozens of Christmas decorations for the Guadalupe School’s annual holiday festival. She lives in Quircot, Cartago, in a house she shares with her husband, aunt and cousin. Her only income is what she earns from the decorations.

Marín, 36, is one of 1,250 employees who recently lost their jobs when Hanes Brands, Inc. shut down its Costa Rica operations on Nov. 7.

The Cartex Gretex plant in Grecia, and the Cartex Cartago plants closed after manufacturing men’s undergarments for 28 years. Those 1,250 workers – most of them young women and heads of households – left a large part of their lives in these plants.

A decade of work

Marín began working at the Cartex plant on June 4, 2004, and spent the next 10 years sewing men’s boxer shorts. Before that she worked at a palmito packing plant and at the Bali textile plant where she sewed bras. That experience immediately qualified her for work at Cartex, she said.

The Cartex plant, located in Cartago’s industrial park, was made up of eight units, with about 200 sewing machines in each one, according to Marín.

“Most of us were women, single mothers, heads of households, 18 years and up,” she said.

Working Monday to Friday from 7 a.m. to 5 p.m., Marín earned the minimum wage of ₡52,000 per week. From that, health care costs, insurance and training fees were deducted, leaving her with about ₡45,000 per week, or about $337 per month. If employees produced more than the minimum quotas, they received a bonus.

But last September, Hanes announced it would close nine plants in five countries and reduce its global workforce by 12 percent as part of a major restructuring effort. The company eliminated 8,100 jobs in the United States, El Salvador, Honduras and Costa Rica, and moved 2,000 jobs to Asia.

Hanes announced its plant closures in Costa Rica by saying they would move production to Asia as a cost-cutting measure, because the cloth suppliers are based in China.

The Costa Rican workers were given a compensation package as required by law, which included severance pay, vacation time and an extra bonus to help keep them afloat while job-hunting. But that hasn’t helped Marín much, because she was injured on the job.

Too many tasks

At the plant, Marín initially worked only one job, sewing the backs of boxer shorts. After two years of doing that, she started sewing fronts, too. She would spend half a day doing each task. In 2010, she was retrained for a “multitasking” role.

“That was when I began having shoulder problems, because of the change they made in my work, which required I do two different jobs,” Marín said.

“I could be working half a day doing one task, and they would tap me on the shoulder and tell me to go to the other task. Of course I had to do it, because it was my job. They had already retrained me for that task, but I couldn’t deal ergonomically with the machines. They would sit me down at any machine. There were some that were larger than I am, but I still had to use them,” she said.

“I had to mold my body to the machine, with my legs hanging down, because I had to hunch over it. The folder where we put the cloth was at the end. So I had to bend over. Sometimes I had to work in that position for eight hours, … and the repositioning of my body to work at different machines was too much,” she said.

She started developing chronic pain.

“I couldn’t bear the pain in my back and shoulder. By nighttime, I would start crying because of the pain on my left side. My condition got really bad, and I would think, ‘I’m going to have a heart attack,’ because I couldn’t stand the pain in my breast or sternum.”

She said other women experienced the same problems, and some quit.

“Although they withstood a lot, they couldn’t withstand as much as I did,” she said.

By 2012, Marín said bosses would constantly rotate her from one task to another, and from one machine to the next. And the pain grew worse.

Marín attended a health fair, where she paid for an ultrasound. She went to the company doctor to explain her ailment and show him the ultrasound. She was then admitted into a National Insurance Institute (INS) program. That gave her 15 days of disability pay, and doctors took another ultrasound. Eventually she was diagnosed with bursitis, an inflammation of the liquid sack that cushions muscles, tendons and bones, and inflammation of the upper spinal tendon.

“[The doctor] told me I couldn’t sew anymore,” she said.

In limbo

The INS sent a letter to her employer asking that she be reassigned in August of this year. The company said they would study the case. Marín was incapacitated for about three months.

“When I returned they decided to fire me because according to them, I was of no use anymore,” she said.

Marín was fired on Aug. 26. A week later, the company announced it would close the plant.

Cartex Manufacturing has closed its doors forever in the industrial park of Cartago. Many of the laid-off workers like Marín are looking for work anywhere they can find in order to make ends meet. But first her injuries must heal, which requires therapy and medication.

She currently is undergoing treatment that involves the injection of a regenerative liquid through a needle inserted all the way to the bone. Her next treatment is in February. She also is in a physical therapy program at the INS facility in Cartago, where she takes the anti-inflammatory drug Celebra and the anti-depressant Amitriptilina. And she’s waiting for INS to decide whether her case merits compensation.

“Either way, I don’t expect much from this, because it depends on whether you end up permanently disabled. They’re studying my case and seeing what they can do, but because I still have my arm and can move it, I don’t think they can do much,” she said.

So she’s looking for paid housework. Years ago she took a course in computing and another in food handling at the National Training Institute. Now she hopes to take a course in pastry cooking.

“I like cooking a lot. It’s what I most enjoy,” she said.

Asked what she would take away from her job at Cartex, Marín said: “I can’t go around offending God or anything. [At the plant] you earned your keep by working hard, and I always did my best to go beyond 100 percent. I wanted to earn a little more because my dream has always been to own my own home.”

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