A worker behind every product: the story of Rosa Moreno

On Feb. 11, 2011, Rose Moreno was nearing the end of her shift when she heard the large stamping press she was operating making unusual noises. She reported the sounds to her supervisor who told her that they just finished fixing it and to get back to work. Knowing she had to meet her quota, Moreno complied.

At 2:30 a.m., while she was assembling the last piece for the night, the press fell onto her hands and crushed them. She was stuck there for about 15 minutes until they were able to lift it just enough to release her.

She had to force herself to stay conscious to make sure they took her to a hospital, as it is common for factory bosses to avoid government hospitals where they report workplace accidents.

Once there, Moreno was informed that her hands could not be saved. The surgeons had no choice but to amputate them at the wrists.

On Thursday, March 9, Moreno sat in front of a packed lecture hall and recounted her inspiring story of life on the “front line” of a Mexican manufacturing factory.

It was only Moreno’s second month working at HD Electronics, a factory where she made the metal backing for televisions for LG Electronics. She worked the night shift six days a week to support her six children.

In 2011, the Mexican Social Security Institute reported that 17,302 workplace accidents were filed by government hospitals. Rosa Moreno's was just one of them.

Moreno lived and worked in the Mexican border city of Reynosa, where hundreds of manufacturing plants, known as maquiladoras, operate. This region attracts multinational companies due to the low cost of labor, close proximity to the United States and lax enforcement of environmental and safety laws. In the 2000s, when companies began moving their manufacturing to China for the lower wages, Mexican factories responded by giving workers more tasks to complete in shorter amounts of time.

As part of the Women, Society and Power Series, Moreno's talk, titled “Illuminating Inequity: Rosa Moreno’s Quest for Justice,” was sponsored by the SMC Associates, SMC Global Citizenship and SMC Health Services Center.

Maria Martinez, faculty leader for the Latino Center and the Adelante Program, translated as Moreno detailed the events of her last, horrific day at the factory.

When she woke up from surgery she found herself surrounded by her children and knew she was going to have to be strong for them in the days to come. She was relieved when the factory’s attorney told her that they would help with everything from housing to keeping her kids in school.

However, in just a few days it became clear that her employers were not going to take responsibility. They were only willing to provide a settlement of less than $4,000 and, after her first lawyer was paid off by the factory manager to drop the case and the next one suggested she become a street peddler, she turned to the media for help.

Luckily, word of her story spread quickly. In 2013, Moreno met Edgar Krueger, Executive Director of a nonprofit organization called Comite de Apoyo (Committee of Help) that works to improve conditions in factories along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Shortly after, Victoria Ruddy was working at a bank in Ohio when she saw Moreno’s story in a Texas newspaper.

“When I read Rosa’s story I was in shock,” Ruddy said. “We’re here buying these products in the United States and workers are being abused and exploited in other countries and nobody is saying anything about it.”

After meeting with Moreno and other factory workers, she started Partners for Responsible Trade Inc. to create awareness of unfair practices in manufacturing and assembly industries. “Something could be done and someone needed to step up and start doing it,” said Ruddy.

Last year, co-founder Christine Ruddy was able to bring Moreno to the United States and get her a prosthetic hand. Moreno is now able to do common daily activities like cooking, cleaning and writing.

On Thursday, Moreno sat beside supporters Victoria Ruddy, Maria Martinez and Sociology and Women’s Studies professor Gail Livings. Moreno spoke of how grateful she was for the people she has met and that she hoped to inspire others with her story.

Through Martinez, she said, “When something happens to you, do not stay quiet, we have to lift our voice otherwise things will keep occurring and occurring.”