cafeteria:
a large room where people eat. (People who eat in a “cafeteria” line up at a counter and carry their food away on a tray.)

executive:
person who has a high-level “management” job in a large company

cheap:
not wanting to spend money; stingy

interpreter:
person who listens to what someone says and then says the same thing in another language

struggle:
to fight against a person or thing; to work hard to reach a goal despite difficulty

sweatshop:
a factory with bad working conditions


Juan Santos (easy version)

In 2001, Juan Santos was living in Acuña, Mexico, just south of the American border. He and his wife had a two-room house. Their bed was in their kitchen.

Juan was working for a big American company called Alcoa. Alcoa had a factory in Acuña which made electrical parts for cars.

In 1996, Juan traveled to Pittsburgh in the northeastern United States to go to a meeting of the owners of Alcoa. The top person in Alcoa at that time was Paul H. O’Neill and he was the “chair person” at the meeting. (At the time of the meeting, Juan was earning $US 6.00 a day and Paul was earning $US 11,500 a day.)

Juan listened while Paul told the meeting how much money Alcoa was making. Then he stood up and spoke with the help of an interpreter. He told Paul how “cheap” the owners of the factory were. As an example, he told how there was always a worker waiting at the door of the washrooms. This person’s job was to hand out toilet paper; everyone was allowed three pieces a day.

Juan also told the people at the meeting that more than a hundred workers had had to be taken to the hospital because gas had leaked into the factory. When he heard this story, Paul got angry. He said, “Our factories in Mexico are so clean you can eat off the floor.” Then Juan shouted, “That's a lie,” and he showed Paul some newspaper stories about the gas leak. Later, Paul found out that an executive at Alcoa knew about the leak but had kept it a secret. Paul fired that executive. He also started to make improvements in Juan's factory and in the other Alcoa factories in Mexico.

Despite these improvements, the pay of the workers at Juan’s factory stayed very low. Many of them were getting only about $US 60 a week. (A worker making that much money would have had to work for sixteen hours to buy a cheap pair of children’s shoes.)

A few months after Juan spoke at the meeting, workers at two Alcoa factories in Acuña went on strike. The police shot “tear gas” at them, but the strike spread and Alcoa was forced to make more improvements. The cafeterias in their factories were cleaned up and the workers were given safety glasses. Pay improved too; the average in Juan’s factory went up to about $US 83.00 a week. This was much higher than what workers were getting at other American-owned factories in Acuña.

-information from "The New York Times", 01.02.15 (Sam Dillon)