Huge Court Win for 16,599 Fired Mexican Electricity Workers

Electricity workers in Mexico won a big victory when a court last week upheld an earlier ruling finding the termination of their collective bargaining contract was invalid.

In October 2009, the Mexican government liquidated the state-owned electricity supply company, Luz y Fuerza del Centro, and transferred its functions to the Mexican Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). The action left 44,000 workers, members of the Mexican Union of Electricity Workers (Sindicato de Electricistas de México, SME), without jobs.

Nearly a third of the fired workers, 16,599 people, refused severance pay when the union dissolved. According to Mexican law, the workers who did not take severance shall be offered reinstatement and paid back wages.

“We won!” said Carlos de Buen, the lawyer for SME, which brought the case on behalf of the workers. Speaking to a crowd of thousands of workers and their families gathered to celebrate the October 11 victory, which came exactly three years to the day the union was dissolved, De Buen said: “A court has definitely resolved that you have to be reinstated to the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE), and no matter how they try to stall on that, there is no going back. You’ve won the legal battle and now we have to make sure it is upheld.”

In backing SME’s case, the first circuit’s Second Collegiate Labor Court ruled that the termination of electricity workers’ employment contracts was invalid and that the CFE is their new employer. The government had asserted force majeure—circumstances beyond its control—in terminating the union contract, a strategy it also has used to break strikes, such as the one by Mexican mine workers at Cananea copper mine.

“We will celebrate at the general meeting,” said Martín Esparza Flores, SME general secretary. “We carried on this fight to defend trade union organization, to defend the terms of our collective agreement, to continue defending the electricity industry and to recover our jobs.”

Workers who did not accept severance three years ago have made ends meet with the help of retired SME members and other union allies backing their struggle, including strong support from the United Steelworkers and other unions.

SME members, who received global support, occupied Mexico City’s central square, the Zócalo, for much of last year, where they were joined by other independent unions, human rights groups, peace activists and students.

The government likely will appeal the court’s decision, according to Solidarity Center Country Program Director Lorraine Clewer.

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