Labor Leaders Stand Against Anti-Union Violence as Mexican Workers Vote for an Independent  Union

Labor Leaders Stand Against Anti-Union Violence as Mexican Workers Vote for an Independent Union

Unions in Mexico and throughout Latin America are speaking out against anti-union violence in the wake of threats made against two women leading efforts to win a historic union election. Voting began yesterday and continues today at a pickup truck plant in Silao, Mexico. Over 6,000 workers have the chance to elect an independent union and enjoy real collective bargaining for the first time ever. Labor leaders and activists from Mexico, Brazil, the United States and Canada demonstrated outside the plant in support of the democratic union. Other unions in the region sent solidarity messages and letters to the Mexican government denouncing the threats.

In August, workers at the Silao plant voted to throw out the contract held by the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) for the last 25 years. The National Independent Union for Workers in the Auto Industry (SINTTIA), supported by the Solidarity Center, emerged from a popular movement urging workers to reject the CTM contract. In a three-year struggle, SINTTIA built a sizable following, leading efforts to throw out the sham contract and increasing its chances of winning today’s election.

However, independent labor activists face threats of violence. Just before voting began, three individuals threatened SINTTIA leader María Alejandra Morales Reynoso and her family with harm if she showed up to vote.

“They just came by my house, two men and a woman, telling me to send a statement saying neither I nor any other worker should show up tomorrow, or if not there will be problems,” said Morales Reynoso.

Later, Claudia Juárez López, SINTTIA secretary, and her family received threats through Facebook and WhatsApp.

Argentina’s Women’s Council of Union Power issued a statement calling on the Mexican government to take measures to protect the safety of union activists and their families; conduct a “comprehensive, exhaustive and impartial investigation” into the threats and identify those responsible; and take steps to ensure the integrity of the election and prevent harassment, threats and intimidation of union workers voting in the election.

In Honduras, the Network Against Anti-Union Violence sent a letter to the Mexico Consulate in San Pedro Sula, requesting that the government guarantee the integrity of the election and the lives and safety of labor activists.

The Network of Labor Rights Defenders of Guatemala issued a statement that read in part, “We call on Mexican authorities to guarantee a favorable environment for workers to freely express their choice of union representative without fear.”

JASS Mesoamérica issued a statement in solidarity.

#SomosSINTTIA | All our solidarity with the @SINTTIA (Mexico) and the companions Alejandra and Claudia, leading women who together with their families have been death threats in the framework of a process for the choice of representation.

The Nicaragua Domestic Workers Federation posted a statement in support labor activists, saying, “We position ourselves against all kinds of violence suffered by the members of the Union, we request that the will of the workers of the plant be respected.”

Brazil’s Central Única Dos Trabalhadores (CUT) issued a statement demanding protective measures from the government, stating, “an independent union that obtains its power from workers is necessary to build a future for their families and all Mexican workers.”

Domestic workers around the globe demanded protection for women union activists under threat.

Clément Voule, UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of association and peaceful assembly, tweeted in response to reports of threats against union activists in Mexico.

This is the first high-stakes union election brought about after Mexican workers rejected a sham contract.  A 2019 Mexican labor law reform required by a trade deal with Canada and the United States aims to challenge the power of labor organizations that have long signed deals without workers’ knowledge or consent. The reform requires contract “legitimation” votes to occur before May 2023, creating an opening for representative unions.

For decades, Mexican workers have had little to no say in which unions represented them. “Protection unions” have drawn their power from alliances with politicians and employers, whom they placated by keeping wages low, while collecting dues and accumulating wealth and power. The CTM formed part of Mexico’s ruling party. Its leaders signed contracts with companies before plants were even opened, and kept workers in the dark about the union and its negotiations.

Mexican auto workers earn a fraction of what their American, Argentine, Brazilian or Canadian counterparts make. They earn much less than the few Mexican autoworkers who are members of independent unions. Low wages spurred an exodus of investment, auto plants and jobs from other countries in the Americas to Mexico. A victory for SINTTIA could mark the beginning of a fundamental shift, keeping wages from bottoming out for workers in many countries in the region.

Unions Protect Agricultural Workers’ Rights: Report

Unions Protect Agricultural Workers’ Rights: Report

Where unions establish collective bargaining, they initiate the strongest mechanism for protecting agricultural workers’ rights, health and dignity according to a new report prepared for the Solidarity Center by researchers at Penn State’s Center for Global Workers’ Rights (CGWR).

“Fighting for Work with Dignity in the Fields: Agriculture Global Supply Chains in Morocco, Colombia, Guatemala, and Mexico,” seeks to understand employment relations in agricultural global supply chains and the struggle for dignity and empowerment of workers who are providing the world’s food. The report analyzes five agribusiness sectors including palm oil in Colombia, bananas in Guatemala, strawberries in Mexico, and grapes, olives and wine in Morocco.

In all four countries and five sectors, workers’ collective action has been “almost entirely responsible for increasing respect for workers’ rights” in a context where: 1) governments are constraining worker rights in favor of maximum employer flexibility in support of national, export-oriented development policies and, 2) global retailers are putting downward pressure on wages by curtailing the amount of capital that production workers might negotiate over with their employer for wage increases.

Researchers found that—where established—unions are performing the task of government to protect workers’ legal rights, increasing stability in otherwise precarious employment sectors and providing a mechanism for women to advance gender equality in job status and earnings as well as address rampant gender-based violence associated with their jobs—including transportation to and from the workplace. For example:

  • In Colombia, unions negotiated agreements that increased direct hiring by three palm oil production companies, pushing back against the sector’s rampant use of labor subcontracting, which denies subcontracted workers union representation and provides them lower pay and more precarious work.
  • In Guatemala, union representation in the banana sector means employer compliance with laws on working hours, remuneration, provision of personal protective equipment, voluntary overtime, protection from sexual abuse and freedom of association.
  • In Mexico, while not achieving collective bargaining, the 2015 strike during strawberry harvest compelled employers to increase wages and registration workers in the national social security system, e.g., toward compliance with laws requiring living wages and consistent registration.
  • In Morocco, the country’s labor law is enforced in grape, wine and olive oil production due to the agreement secured for workers by the Confédération Démocratique du Travail (CDT).

Addressing inequality and gender-based violence and harassment

Women, who comprise between 50 percent and 70 percent of the informal workforce in commercial agriculture, are especially vulnerable to sexual harassment, physical abuse and other forms of gender-based violence at work. Unions are addressing the gender-based violence that is common in all five sectors studied, as well as gendered pay discrimination and division of jobs that reduces women workers’ earnings, as follows:

  • In Guatemala’s banana sector, women workers covered by union contracts report 50 percent less incidence of sexual harassment than peers at nonunion plantations because union women “can inform the company,” a female unionist explained.
  • Women in Mexico’s strawberry sector reported that the 2015 strike helped reduce sexual abuse at work.
  • While Moroccan law does not prescribe comprehensive equitable treatment, women’s participation in CDT negotiations with Zniber-Diana resulted in clauses requiring equity.

Although union density remains extremely low in all sectors studied, the report concludes that, “[w]here workers are able to unionize and collectively bargain, conditions improve, wages increase and gender-based violence is curtailed,” and that increased union density and collective bargaining coverage will expand these improvements.

Unions Protect Agricultural Workers’ Rights: Report

Fighting for Work with Dignity in the Fields: Agriculture Global Supply Chains in Morocco, Colombia, Guatemala and Mexico

Where unions establish collective bargaining, they initiate the strongest mechanism for protecting agricultural workers’ rights, health and dignity. Through analysis of five agribusiness sectors—including palm oil in Colombia, bananas in Guatemala, strawberries in Mexico, and grapes, olives and wine in Morocco—this report seeks to understand employment relations in agricultural global supply chains and workers’ struggle for dignity and empowerment.

Download here.

Strawberry Global Supply Chains in Mexico

Strawberry Global Supply Chains in Mexico

The governments of Mexico and the United States have supported the growth of the Mexican berry sector by creating conditions for a cheap supply of labor and profit growth. Mexican field workers receive an estimated 12 cents per pound of strawberries sold in U.S. grocery stores, which amounts to 4 percent of the retail price, with the remainder divided between the production company and retailer.

Download here.

[Washington Post] Trump’s Carrier deal fades as economic reality intervenes

“The new accord [USMCA] also includes provisions to permit collective bargaining and to close loopholes allowing Mexican employers to profit by mistreating their workers … On paper, the Mexican reforms would allow workers to organize unions outside of the company-controlled ‘white’ unions that exist to guarantee big employers labor peace. Even before the pandemic slowed government operations, implementation was behind schedule, according to Gladys Cisneros, Mexico program director for Solidarity Center, an AFL-CIO affiliate.”

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