Cenicientos is a small village of 2,000 inhabitants, located 80 kilometers or about a 90-minute drive west of Madrid. "It's very far away from everything," complains one of its residents.
But a man named José Ramón Lizana put Cenicientos on the map last April when he complained that his employer, which happened to be the local authority, owed him 11 months' wages. One month after that, he was fired.
For a decade Lizana had been the local garbage truck driver. On May 8, the administration of Mayor Enrique Jiménez Concejal, of the conservative Popular Party, sent him a fax informing him of his dismissal.
"They first opened disciplinary proceedings against me for arguing with a colleague about the labor adjustment plan. She went to the mayor in tears and they believed her, not me," says this father of two. Another two proceedings followed after he gave interviews to Telecinco and to a German television channel.
"Several colleagues accused me of using public media during working hours. And the mayor fired me without hearing my version of events. It was that simple," says Lizana, who has a date in court on January 17 after he sued for wrongful dismissal.
"None of the councilors, not even the mayor, are getting paid"
Lizana, who posed for a picture that appeared in the Madrid section of EL PAÍS on April 15 alongside a story about the unpaid workers, was the first person to be fired. He was also one of the few members of a 38-strong staff who dared to protest after 11 months without pay.
"That day, a municipal employee came out to the square where we were protesting and told us he would take good note," recalls Marifeli Puentes, who for the last 27 years and until a few months ago was the secretary at the local courthouse. A few days after that first protest in December 2011, a dozen municipal employees joined the UGT labor union to ensure that someone would defend them.
"In January, all 12 of us were included in a labor adjustment plan that was not even presented in public," says Puentes, who had disciplinary proceedings opened against her when the local government ultimately failed to get her fired through the labor adjustment plan. Eventually, she also received a certified fax informing her of her dismissal.
Of those who complained, only two are still working for the town, although they have been disciplined for failing to show up for work.
Meanwhile, the mayor refused to take calls from this newspaper to clear up whether the firings were part of a vendetta. A spokesman said personnel costs take up 70 percent of the local budget, or one million euros a year, while income is 600,000 euros. "None of the councilors, not even the mayor, are getting paid," he said.