UE Helps Mexican Workers Defeat Attack on Labor Rights

Update, August 2018: This legislation did not pass out of the Mexican Senate before their session ended, and the results of the Mexican elections on July 1st mean that it is unlikely to see daylight again.

In December and January, more than 1000 supporters signed on to a UE petition opposing attacks on workers’ rights in Mexico. The petition, addressed to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, demands that he prevent an agreement on a new North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) while horrendous labor legislation is pending in Mexico.

In December, two Mexican legislators submitted proposals for reform of Mexico’s labor law which would make it easier to subcontract work and to fire workers without even putting the termination in writing. What makes this proposal even more outrageous is that it was submitted by leaders of so-called unions, Senators Isaias Gonzalez Cuevas of the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Farm Workers (CROC) and Tereso Medina Ramirez of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

Our allies in Mexico called for support from workers and unions everywhere to help them stop this legislation that will only benefit corporations, not working people. The independent, democratic unions of Mexico fear for their very survival if this legislation is not curtailed.

In 2017, positive reforms to Mexican labor law went into effect. These changes made it much more difficult for companies and corrupt unions to enter into so-called “protection contracts,” in which these parties signed contracts without the involvement of any of the workers covered by the agreement. (These contracts protect the companies, not workers.) In some cases, companies entered into these contracts before they had even hired workers. The new reforms said that workers must have the opportunity to vote on contract agreements by secret ballot, and they must be able to access a copy of their contract.

The new law proposed by these senators would undo this, and more. Changes to the the rights of workers in Mexico have a ripple effect in the North American economy. When it’s easier for corporations to exploit Mexican workers, greedy bosses have incentive to move jobs from the U.S. and Canada into Mexico. All workers suffer under such a rigged system.

UE sent out a message to our supporters and received back more than 1000 signatures on our petition to Lighthizer. We are not alone in mobilizing against this law. Over 180 members of congress sent a letter to Lighthizer decrying this legislation and its potential impacts on workers in both Mexico and the U.S. It read in part, “While many of us have ongoing concerns over additional provisions of NAFTA affecting labor, we felt it was important to highlight with a unified voice the primary source of significant outsourcing: Mexico’s low wages and lack of labor rights.”

In addition, the AFL-CIO and the UNT (the largest organization of independent unions in Mexico, which includes our partners at the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo) filed a formal complaint through the office that enforces the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), NAFTA’s labor side agreement. Their complaint alleges that this legislation violates NAALC.

UE Helps Set Up Global GE Trade Union Network

On November 29 and 30, UE Director of Organization Gene Elk and Local 506 President Scott Slawson traveled to Geneva, Switzerland to participate in a preparatory meeting to set up a General Electric Trade Union Network, the first international network of unions representing GE workers from around the world.

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UE Leaders Meet with Canadian, Mexican Unions to Build Continental Solidarity

On September 13 and 14, 2017, UE and Unifor representatives participated in a series of meetings in Mexico City to facilitate continent-wide labor solidarity. UE was represented by General President Peter Knowlton and Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson, and the Unifor delegation consisted of Secretary General Bob Orr and Director of Human Rights and International Department Mohamad Alsadi.

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Rank-and-File Member Exchanges

In July 2017, UE sent a delegation of Young Activists (members 35 and under) to Mexico City for a week with our allies at the Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT). Matthew Braddon, Connecticut; Daniel Campos, Chicago; Bailey Kelley, Iowa; and Emma Paradis, Vermont, were joined by Director of International Strategies Kari Thompson. The National Coordinators of the FAT—Rosalba Calva Flores, Eladio Abundiz Gudian, Jose Ezequiel Garcia Vargas, and Benedicto Martinez Orozco—were excellent hosts.

The jam-packed agenda included an orientation to Mexico’s economy, labor law, and organizing struggles; a discussion of the FAT’s work to stop violence against women, including disappearances and femicides; meetings with FAT members, including a tour of an auto part plant; and a meeting with a group of workers still struggling to organize an independent union. At the end of the week, Braddon shared that he “liked seeing how struggles here in Mexico were similar to ones at home.” Kelley added, “It was great to put NAFTA in context, to hear from workers who understand its impacts.” All the members were motivated to discuss the impending North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) renegotiation with their locals with their new understanding of its implications in their lives. Campos said, “It’s like sports: if you don’t know the rules, you don’t care. I was clueless about NAFTA, but now I get its importance.”

Several UE members and officers also visited the Canadian Council of Unifor, Canada’s largest private-sector union, in Winnipeg this August. The relationships developed there led to the approval of the new North American Solidarity Project between Unifor and UE at UE’s 75th National Convention at the end of August. This partnership has already inspired new ideas in our equity and inclusion programs, as well as new cross-border solidarity activities in GE plants represented by both unions.