Hansea next week

barg team

Joe is giving management’s response to a rather brilliant move made by the TDT team representing Hansea workers during the negotiation of ground rules. 

Dean Hoa told us about 10 days ago that there was a request from Hansea, which has a huge factory up in the Cu Chi Industrial Zone, to have us go teach there on September 28. This would be one session in a multi-week sequence that TDT is already doing as extension labor ed. Apparently pressure from USAS (United Students Against Sweatshops) in the US at places like Cornell and U of Washington has caused enough college bookstores to drop their Nike contracts to get the attention of the Korean corporate headquarters of Hansae, which makes the product for the brand.  (Nike is the “brand” — the manufacturer is Hansae).

Most of the criticisms of the management of the plants involve things like wage theft, heat over 90 degrees and no cooling, abusive supervisors, forced overtime, impossible productivity targets, etc., but one of the criticisms  is that there is management on the union executive board — par for the course in Viet Nam. But in the US, students see this as a problem.

Which of course it is. With management on the union E-board, no real negotiation is going to happen because the union will not really speak for the workers. Workers won’t trust management to negotiate on their behalf, and management won’t be able to find out what workers really think. Instead, problems will get solved one at a time, whenever workers get mad or desperate enough to go on strike. Then the company has to meet with local authorities and the lead workers to agree to some immediate fix in order to get them back to work. This has been the pattern for years now.

Hansea has operated in Viet Nam since 2001, but also has factories in Myanmar, Guatemala, Indonesia and Nicaragua. What follows is taken from the Worker Rights Consortium Assessment, Dec 6,2016, page 4: The plant in Cu Chi has 12 buildings, each with 500- 1,200 workers. In 2015 it had “sales of more than $1.4 billion and an operating profit of $125 million and sends 93% of its production to the United States. It also produces for Gap, H&M, Hanes, Inditex (Zara), JC Penney, Kohls’, Macy’s, Children’s Place, Polo Ralph Lauren, Target and Walmart.

The invitation came to TDT through a contact, Jeffery Hermanson, who once worked for UNITE. He has worked in the US, Honduras and Guatemala at, for example, Fruit of the Loom. Now retired, he has a  501(c)3 NGO called the International Union Educational League through which he does labor education consulting.  https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeff-hermanson-0822208

Katie Quan had actually mentioned him to us when we last met with her before we left in August, but I didn’t process what the connection was. Hermanson has a solid reputation for efforts to sort out cross-national disputes about labor standards.  A quick google mentions him in a situation in Bangladesh:

Our first act was to contact Hermanson, by Skype. He gave us quite a lot of background. We then got the various reports from the Workers Rights Consortium, etc. As of today, Friday the 22nd of September, we have been reading these various reports and preparing our teaching plan. A fundamental question, of course, is: Who will be in the room? Will they be all management? Workers? Supervisors? Anyone  from the union?

Dean Hoa went up to Cu Chi yesterday to teach in this sequence. He rode the whole 45 K on his motorcycle, leaving at 5:45 am. To my mind, this was an excess of bravado: 45 K on a motorbike in dense, polluted traffic (they don’t even call it traffic, they just cut to the chase and call it “traffic jam”), prior to a full day of teaching on your feet by yourself, would be a brain stupefier. Just riding in an Uber a couple of weeks ago through that traffic made me toxic for the day. But he did it, and came home the same way, with the report that the participants like a lot of interaction and active learning, that they are mostly “team leaders” and that they start at 8, end at 4:30, and take a two hour lunch.

A two hour lunch suggests that they are mostly management.

Using Hansae at TDT as a teaching case study

We have decided to use the Hansea situation simultaneously in our TDT class as well. On Friday mornings we have been doing a collective bargaining simulation up in a presentation room in the new library, and since the role play we wrote originally was set in a garment factory, we simply shifted a few items and used the real one. The problems at Hansae — pressure to meet unreasonable quotas, toxic cleaning liquids being sprayed, bad food, forced overtime, wage theft, abusive supervisors, rate-setting in the pattern department under ideal conditions, refusal of legally established leaves and breaks, etc etc – are similar to the ones we dreamed up in our simulation, based on my memories of working in Philadelphia for UNITE, except a little bit worse. Examples of things that are worse: pay of around 6M dong per month ($294) and no air conditioning — in fact, the kind of cooling equipment that is used is water-drenched cooling pads, which increases the humidity. And even these are not installed in places where the heat is over 90%. Workers are fainting at their machines and being taken to the infirmary where they may rest a little, but then go back to work.

The students really got into the role play, so much so that it seemed logical to try to make a connection between TDT students and Cornell students, especially since Cornell is one of the USAS sites that started this whole thing. So Joe wrote to Richard Fincher:

As you may remember, Helena and I were tapped to do a class in Cu Chi, sponsored by the local VGCL and Hansae (biggest Korean garment contractor and biggest private employer in VN at present), at their factory to basically tell them how to get the American students and WRC off their backs about labor standards in their factories in VN where they have contracts with Nike. Nike has already pulled some work from them, so we have their attention. The class is next week and we have it pretty much planned, even though we do not really know exactly the composition of the group (management, managers who are also officers in the union, “group leaders”(?), actual workers, etc?).

We have shared much of this preparation with some of our students here with whom we are already scheduled to do a series of 6 collective bargaining simulations from preparation for bargaining through negotiations on to enforcement of a CBA. We decided to use the actual Hansae situation as the case and the TDTU students have really gotten into it. We drew many of the details and the conditions and possible demands from the Workers Rights Consortium (WRC) report issued just last December. (Available on their website.)

Upon doing the research for the class, we found that Cornell is one of the universities where the local of United Students Against Sweatshops (USAS) has successfully pressed the administration to pull out of the agreement with Nike to sell Cornell-logo goods. We also noticed that some of the national leaders of USAS are students at the Cornell Labor School. Therefore, I had the bright idea to see if you could facilitate some direct contact between our TDT mock bargainers (representing the mythical worker-controlled union at Hansae, with us teachers posing as management) and students at Cornell, maybe in ILR school, who have been part of the USAS-led struggle there. It would be great, I thought, for both groups to be able to communicate (email, Skype, etc.) directly and learn from each other. Also, we will tell the Hansae folks that we are doing this mock bargaining based on their situation, and it might put a bit more pressure on the company to straighten up their act, especially as it pertains to their managers dominating the existing union.

If you could supply me with some contact information for some of the right students (maybe including some who might come to VN in the program this year?) I think it might be a great real-work learning experience all round. Our students in this (about 8-10) are very good ones and most have pretty good English too.

Looking forward to hearing from you ASAP since we have a mock bargaining session set for Friday, Sept. 29.

Hope you are well. We are extremely busy and have many projects in the fire, as you might expect.


Richard wrote back that he would do so.


Students preparing to bargain in new library “presentation room.”

Some teaching materials

Readers of this blog may go a little cross-eyed at the idea of my posting handouts on the blog, but here is our class plan. Just be thankful that I have not (yet) posted the 14-page table of first steps in analyzing the worker interviews from my Labor and Globalization class. I will do that soon enough. It’s pretty interesting..

This version of the class plan, re-constructed after we found out about the two hour lunch, does not have VN translation (yet). Please note the challenge at the end of the session.

One-Day Workshop

HANSAE, Cu Chi, September 28, 2017

Joe Berry and Helena Worthen, Instructors

Ton Duc Thang University



            Two separate spaces so that groups can have some privacy

            Power point projector and screen; computer setup

            Moveable chairs

            At least 2 translators (Korean-English? Vietnamese-English?) who can rotate                                    once an hour


            White board or chalk board, flip chart

            3 HANDOUTS to be translated into VN and passed out

                        #1. Timeline (pass out as people enter in morning)

                        #2. List of complaints found in the WRC report (pass out before lunch)

                        #3 Union vs management leadership; Collective decision making

45 minutes. H&J

Introductions of people in the room. Have people interview each other and introduce. Name, position, office location. .

8:45 – 9:00

15 minutes or less. H&J

Background of instructors: Teachers, activists and elected leaders in American Federation of Teachers. Both have worked for unions: SEIU, UNITE, AFT. UNITE represents garment and apparel works in the US – sewing machine operators, pattern makers, finishers, ironers, etc etc. Both have also done labor education in Mexico, Peru and Canada. Introductions of translators and others from TDTU if present

Joe: Explanation of our understanding of the invitation. It was requested by Hansae top leadership to labor union educator in the US, Jeffery Hermanson, who has worked with companies and unions in the US, Honduras, Guatemala, etc. Hermanson recommended TDTU FLRTU and our collective bargaining training. The request came about because of strikes, starting in 2015 then in 2016, protests by USAS in the US, and their impact on Nike contracts at universities.


Today’s task: Vietnamese labor relations occupy a special position in history. In the socialist past, managers and workers in Viet Nam were on the same side. Now, both management and workers have to deal with pressures coming from competition along a global capitalist supply chain. Vietnamese managers today find themselves on the opposite side of the bargaining table from workers and the workers’ union. Workers, on the other hand, have to learn how to build a union that can come to the table prepared to bargain from a position of strength.

9:00 – 9:30 Thirty minutes, Helena

Overall question: How can Hansae Vietnam lift pressure from brands (Nike) and avoid labor disputes at the Cu Chi factory? Overall answer: By allowing the development of a strong union and engaging in collective bargaining.

Blackboard or whiteboard: Draw circle of workers’ interests, employer’s interests. Note area of overlap. Point out how the area of overlap can be big or small. This is the zone of negotiation: where issues are negotiated and agreed upon. What happens when little or no agreement takes place? Both workers and management turn to their economic weapons. What are the economic weapons on the workers’ side? What are the economic weapons on the employer’s side? When does the use of these weapons, or the threat of them, lead to more effective negotiations? When does it lead to failure?

Message: Know about economic weapons and how to use them, but choose to negotiate instead if possible.

Suggest that participants read HANDOUT #1 during break. Point out that the items on this time line are all “economic weapons” – whether strikes or reports or boycotts.

FIRST BREAK AT 9:30 – 9:40

9:40 – 10:00, 20 minutes, Joe Berry

Creating and sustaining a “negotiation zone” requires collective bargaining.

What does it take to engage in collective bargaining? On the workers’ side: A strong union that is:

  1. Not dominated by management;
  2. Legitimately has the trust of the workers because the workers control it.
  3. Has the capacity and power to mobilize workers for action. (ILO definition)

Here are some English definitions based on international labor vocabulary, to help with the proper translation so we all know what we mean when talking about a grassroots local union. (This will use ppts; need to be translated in advance.)

“Union member” means any worker who has agreed to join a union, pays dues and/or who is covered by the collective bargaining contract.

“Union staff” in American English is someone who works either full-time or part-time for the union for pay, not just volunteer. This might be someone who operates a sewing machine 4 days a week and works for the union 1 day a week. In Vietnam, confusion comes from the fact that the employer, not the union, pays union staff for union work. This is a problem that is well-recognized.
“Union officer” means someone who has been elected by members of the union or appointed in some democratic manner. This is not someone who is appointed by management. Only members of the union would be able to vote for union officers. The union officer should be a member of the union (not management). When students in USAS can’t accept the idea that a manager is also a union officer, this is what they are talking about.

“Union leader”. This could be a union officer or it could be someone who is a “natural” leader, a worker who is trusted by the members and whose leadership is respected. He or she does not have to be a union officer. They may well be a volunteer who gets no pay for union activities (or perhaps only their own expenses reimbursed). This is a term that is appropriately applied by looking at what happens at a workplace to see who is actually doing the leading.

“Labor education”. This term usually means training/education for union workers, leaders and/or staff which helps them be more effective in the union and increases the capabilities of the union to fulfill its mission of representing workers. It is not training for the job or how to increase productivity.

Note that none of these include people who are in management positions or who are not actually employed by the company, though union staff might be hired from outside, usually someone with union experience.

Preparing for bargaining. PASS OUT HANDOUT #2.

10:00 – 10:20, 20 minutes, Helena

At this point, acknowledgement of who is in the room is necessary. Ask people to raise their hands if they are part of management. Raise hands if they are workers. Raise hand if they are from VGCL or local union. Group leaders and union leaders?

Present list of problems that were raised by the WRC during the 2016 investigation. These are problems brought up by workers. They are in order as listed in the WRC report. Keep things on list even if they have “been solved” at present, because this is an exercise in preparing for bargaining. Have group read list aloud, one line per person.

Discussion: Any others to add?

Explain that in collective bargaining, problems are not solved one at a time, as they come up. Instead, they are all negotiated together and agreed to in one written document that is signed by both parties. The collective bargaining process is continuous. What happens at the table is just one piece of it. It goes from the first contract to the second (several years later) and the third, and onward. So you have to deal with all these problems as a single set of relationships. This takes preparation and leadership.

10:20 – 10:50, 30 minutes. Helena

Tell people they are half management and half workers (union). Put people into 6 random groups of 7 (6 x 7 = 42 people). Groups 1-3 are workers. Groups 4-6 are management. Ask them to bundle and prioritize issues, as if preparing a bargaining program.

10:50 – 11:25 35 minutes, H&J

Report back from union groups first.How did you group the problems? What priorities did you set?

Report back from management second. How did you group the problems? What priorities did you set?

11:25 – 11:30 5 minutes, Helena and Joe (transition to lunch, question to think about)

How do you move from recognizing the problems to actually bringing them to the bargaining table?

11:30 – 1:30, Two hours


1:30- 1:50, 20 minutes, Joe

All of the following activities are what a union does to prepare for bargaining. They require trusted union leadership. Give each of the 6 groups one of these tasks involving preparation.

  1. Research the employer (its financial, legal, political situation, position in supply chain, other factories making Nike, competitors)
  2. Find and educate local union leaders, one in each work group if possible
  3. Communicate – with members, the public, on social media, at USAS, etc.
  4. Research problems at the workplace (history of problems; look for patterns). Look for witnesses, testimony
  5. Choose a bargaining team and educate them about bargaining as well as about the issues
  6. Preparing a pressure campaign among workers to show the employer and the public their level of willingness to use economic weapons

For each of these, the purpose is “To get the best deal possible for workers.” It is not, “To increase employer profit.” After the contract is signed, if the workers honestly believe that the union has gotten the best deal possible, they will not protest.

1:50 – 2:15, 25 minutes, Joe

Reports on preparation for bargaining. The point of this part of the exercise is to show the amount of work required by the union as it prepares for bargaining. Only trusted union leaders, free from interferences from management, can do these..

2:15 – 2:25, 10 minutes, Helena –

Mini lecture.  First set of contrasts (2 total). Union leadership vs management leadership. Distribute HANDOUT #3

2:25 – 2:35 10 minutes

Choosing what goes onto bargaining program.  Groups 1-3 (union) will choose items that will be part of their bargaining program, based on the priorities that they set earlier. Groups 4-6 (management) will choose what they will present as part of their bargaining program. Note: we will not get to hear management’s proposed language. We are only going to hear the workers’ side presented in the upcoming role play.

2:35 – 2:45 10 minutes  Joe – second Mini-lecture

How did you make your decisions about either priorities or language? Second part of HANDOUT #3: Types of decision-making: oracular, consulting, majority, consensus. “Consultation” is the typical management type. But if union leaders have to lead bottom-up activity, decisions have to be made democratically and collectively. Important point: in either majority or consensus decision making, all participants or voters have to belong to the organization as equals. Otherwise decision will not survive the test of practice.

Discussion: Management decision making (efficient); collective decision making (powerful because it creates commitment). Management, for example, could simply make the decision to pull all managers out of their union positions. Then the union could develop its own candidates and workers could decide how to have its election.

2:45 – 2:55 10 minutes,  Joe, third mini-lecture

Dealing with fear. Message: as long as workers are afraid to speak honestly about their issues, they will resort to disruptions of work rather than face-to-face bargaining. If the goal is to avoid disruptions, workers must not be afraid.

BREAK 2:55- 3:00 five minutes

3:00- 4:00 One hour. Helena and Joe. “Fishbowl bargaining.” Furniture: table with 3 chairs on each side, other participants in the round.

Explain that first issue is ground rules: Where will bargaining take place, who will pay for time, how often will the parties meet, whether the process will be public or confidential, etc. Union is moving party. 

Role play. Each group select one person to negotiate at the table, one recorder, one advisor, but may call in “experts”. There will be 3 from workers, 3 from management. Negotiate ground roles, then Group 1-3 present worker demands, then group 4-5-6 asks clarifying questions, examples. Then management group goes to caucus, returns to table. Management makes response, union caucuses.

This is all we’ve got time for. We are only showing worker side proposals because that is what triggered this class.

4:00 – 4:30 Helena and Joe, thirty minutes

Analysis and final discussion, instructor response to bargaining process.

Explain that TDT students are doing this same exercise using Hansae as a real-life case study example.
Note: when TDT students were first asked the identify the most important characteristics of a good union, their top priority was “democratic.” Note that when TDT students did this bargaining exercise, they made a strong choice when negotiating ground rules.

Challenge: Do the people in this group understand the value of having a grassroots union that is free of employer interference? What could management do to create a situation where the union was free of employer interference? 

Who among this group could carry that message to corporate headquarters?

4:30 close

Wish everyone good luck and offer to come back and consult.

Various other kinds of preparation going on

Joe went to the barber on Vin Luong Street:


And I have  been given a scholarship to a class to learn Vietnamese: it happens every night, Monday-Friday, from 6:45 to 8:30. Here is our teacher (or rather one of them; we’ve had three so far, all excellent).


VN teacher



Published by helenaworthen

Labor educator, retired from University of Illinois, taught at TDT University in Ho Chi Minh City in the Faculty of Trade Unions and Labor Relations. Co-author with Joe Berry of Power Despite Precarity: Strategies for the contingent faculty movement in higher education, forthcoming (August 2021) from Pluto Press.

One thought on “Hansea next week

  1. I read today that a labor activist, Truong Minh Duc, vice-president of the Free Viet Labour Federation, is one of a number of democracy activists arrested recently as part of a government crackdown. Be careful, please.

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