Mexican Labor Dictionary

This is a dictionary of labor terms as used in Mexico. These terms are not necessarily the same in other Latin American countries or in the United States.

Abogado/a laboral — labor lawyer

Adecuación de estatutos — requirement that all unions modify their constitutions to come into compliance with the new labor law regarding secret ballot votes, proportionality of representation of women in leadership, submission of contracts for ratification, financial reporting, and general assemblies of all members (not congresses by delegates) to include the election of officers.

Administrador — the manager of a plant or agency

Administradores de Fondos para el Retiro (AFORES) — the pension accounts administered by banks and insurance companies for the part of the pension system that was privatized.

Aguinaldo — the Christmas bonus, required by law, and expected in all workplaces; may be as much as an additional month’s wages.

Almacén, bodega — warehouse

Amparo — an injunction or writ of appeal

Anexo 23-A — Annex 23-A contains the labor provisions in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which went into effect on July 1, 2020.

Artículo 123 — Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution of 1917 gave workers the right to organize unions, strike, protective legislation,etc. and is the basis for all subsequent labor legislation.

Asamblea General — 

Aviadores — aviators or pilots, but also used for ghost workers, that is workers who do not show up for work but collect pay, usually in government employment.

Banderas de huelga — red and black strike flags put on the door of the workplace when there is a strike.

Bandera rojinegra — the red and black union flag put up on the door of the workplace when there is a strike

Base — the rank-and-file of the union, the grassroots

Boicot — boycott as in English

Burócratas — public employees, government workers

Campesino — peasant, farmer

Centro Federal de Conciliación y Registro Laboral (CFCRL) — Federal Center for Labor Conciliation and Registration: the entity created under the new labor law that is responsible for registration of unions and contracts; verification that at least 30 percent of workers have chosen to be represented by their union; that a majority have voted in favor of their collective bargaining agreements; and conciliation prior to trial in individual cases.

Chamba — slang for job

Chambear — slang for to work

Charro — corrupt, violent, union bureaucrats in collusion with government

Chofer — driver, truck driver

Cláusula — clause or provision in a collective bargaining agreement

Cláusula de exclusión — permits the union to expel those who violate its discipline. These clauses were often used by incumbent charro unions against their democratic opponents; the employer would then fire the workers because they were no longer members of the union. Under the new labor law, a union can expel a member if provisions exist in its constitution to do so, but the worker cannot be fired because of that separation; similarly, a worker can no longer be required to pay dues or belong to a union.

Compañero/a — friend, comrade, union, brother or sister

Conciliación — requirement under the new labor law that all individual disputes undergo conciliation prior to trial in order to expedite the resolution of cases and prevent employers from dragging on disputes.

Confección — garment manufacture

Constancia de Representatividad — Certification by the CFCRL that a union has the support of at least 30% of workers; provides the union with the right to demand recognition and to negotiate, sign or revise a collective bargaining agreement.

Consulta — formal consultation; in the labor context a ratification vote on a contract.

Contrato colectivo — collective bargaining agreement or contract

Contrato individual — in Mexico, workers sometimes sign an individual employment contract which is not a union agreement.

Contrato ley — a pattern bargaining agreement required by Federal Labor Law in some industries — that is a contract covering many enterprises, workplaces.

Contrato de proteción — contract, generally with charro union, that protects the employer, signed without knowledge or consent by workers, or before workers are hired

Corporativismo — the system of state-party control which includes government-controlled unions.

Correr — fire

Costura — garment industry

Costurera — garment worker, seamstress

Cuotas — union dues

De planta — to be a permanent, full-time worker

Delegado — union representative, could be translated as steward

Demanda por firma de contrato — legal petition to require recognition of the union and the signing of a contract. It is the legal procedure which must be followed if there is no certified union in a work place and has as a pre-requisite that the CFCRL has certified the union filing the petition by issuing a Constancia de Representatividad based on a showing of support by at least 30 percent of the workforce.

Demanda por titularidad — This is the legal procedure which must be followed if there is already a union with a collective bargaining agreement. In that event, there will be an election and the union that wins the majority will have the right to administer the already existing contract. It is also the procedure if the certified union has failed to win a majority of those voting in a proceeding for the legitimation of its contract (legitimación del contrato), and more than one union claims to represent 30 percent of the workforce. This will also result in an election to determine which union represents a majority of the work force and is therefore entitled to demand that the employer initiate negotiations, but for a new contract.

Descriminación por género — gender discrimination, prohibited under the new labor law.

Despedir — layoff or fire

Despido injustificado — a discharge that does not fall within the acceptable causes for discharge provided by the law; the employer must provide the employee with the reason for discharge in writing.

Destajo — piecework, pay for the piece

Dueño — owner of property, landlord

Emplazar una huelga — file the notice with the government, required for a legal strike

Empresa — the firm or company

Esquirol — scab, strikebreaker

Estado (Estatal) — 1) the Federal government, the state; 2) a state, such as Chihuahua

Estallar una huelga — to go out on strike in accordance with the notice

Fábrica — factory

Flexibilidad — the employers’ demand for more flexibility in the disposition of labor, generally getting rid of contractual protections

Gerente — company manager

Golpeadores — goons, thugs

Gremio — a trade or craft; also a guild

Guardias blancas — employer goon squad, especially in the countryside, but also in urban areas — boss’s gangsters

Guarruras — riot police

Honorarios — professional fees paid for specific tasks of a temporary nature; however, often used as a way to avoid paying benefits or other legal requirements to full time workers.

Huelga — strike

Huelga de hambre — hunger strike

Instituto Mexicano de Seguro Social (IMSS) — Mexican Institute of Social Security: the national health care system and also the retirement plan for those who began work prior to 1997 for most industrial workers.

Instituto de Salud para el Bienestar (INSABI) — Since January 1, 2020, provides health care to those not entitled to coverage under IMSS or ISSSTE.

Instituto de Seguridad y Servicios Sociales de los Trabajadores del Estado (ISSSTE) — Institute for Health and Social Services for Public Sector Workers: provides health care and social services for public sector workers, and is also the pension system for those who began work prior to 2007.

Jornalero — day laborer usually in agriculture

Junta Federal/Local de Conciliación y Arbitraje — the federal or local Board of Conciliation and Arbitration, comparable to the National Labor Relations Board in the United States, although tri-partite in structure. Replaced under the new labor law by the CFCRL (administrative functions) and Tribunales Federales (legal functions).

Legítimación del contrato colectivo — under the new labor law, all unions must hold a secret ballot vote to determine whether workers support their existing contracts. If a majority of the workers who vote are in favor of the contract it will be determined to be legitimate by the CFCRL; if a majority of workers are opposed the contract will become void, although the employer is required to continue to apply the terms of the contract to the workers as individuals. If the contract is void, upon presentation of its Constancia de Representatividad (showing at least 30 percent support by the workforce), either the original union or a different union can demand that the employer enter into negotiations for a new contract. If more than one union presents such evidence, the CFCRL will hold an election and the union that wins the majority of the vote will be entitled to demand that the employer negotiate a new contract. 

Ley Federal de Trabajo or LFT — Federal Labor Law — basic labor law for all workers, based on Articulo 123 above; substantial revisions are being phased in between May 1, 2019 and May 1, 2023.

Libertad sindical — union independence or union democracy, as opposed to corporativism.

Limpieza — cleaning — a trabajador/a de la limpieza is a cleaning worker or janitor

Liquidación — severance pay, as provided for in the Federal labor law

Maestros — teachers

Magisterio — teachers

Maquila — assembly or manufacturing plant

Maquiladora — assembly or manufacturing plant

Maquinista — machinist

Mayordomo — the foreman

Mecánico — mechanic

Menores de edad — minors

Mesa directiva — executive board of a union or other organization

Militante — activist or militant

Montacarga — Forklift — (Driver — montacarguista)

Negociaciones colectivas contractuales — contract negotiations over language (generally take place every other year).

Negociaciones colectivas salariales — contract negotiations over wages (generally take place annually).

Obrero/a — worker

Oficinista — office worker, clerical worker

Oficio — a trade or craft

Operador/a — operative, machine operator in a factory

Padrón de socios — list of employees maintained by the empoyer; voting list.

Pago / pagar — pay

Pagar por hora — to pay by the hour — not legal in Mexico where workers must be given a full day’s work. Part-time, hourly work is not legal, although it is very common.

Paracaidista — squatter

Paro — a work stoppage

Paro de brazos caídos — a work stoppage at the machine or in the workplace, a sit-down strike.

Paro técnico — a temporary plant shut down for a period of time where workers receive a portion of their pay.

Patrón — boss

Pistolero — gunman, gun thug

Planilla — slate during a union election

Planta — the plant or factory (see de planta above)

Plantón — protest, usually a sit-in, in front of a factory

Porros — union or political loyalists, cheerleaders, can mean goon squad

Prestaciones — benefits provided by law or by contract, usually such things as transportation, food, clothing, etc. (Health coverage is provided by government.)

Profesionista — professional worker

Profesor — teacher, higher education

Proporcionalidad — requirement of the new labor law that women in the union’s elected leadership constitute a representative proportion of the women in the workforce.

Registro — The legal prerequisite for participation in a representation proceeding. Registros may be limited to a particular workplace or company, may be based on a type of industry within either a defined geographic area or the entire Republic of Mexico, or, under the new labor law, may include various types of workers.

Rendición de cuentas — accounting for dues and other income and expenses; the new labor law requires that the union provide financial reports to its members and to the CFCRL.

Requiza — government take-over of a communications or transportation company or industry during a threatened or actual strike. 

Riesgos de trabajo — safety risks on the job

Salario — wages

Salud y seguridad — health and safety on the job

Secretaría de Trabajo y Previsión Social (STPS) — the Mexican government’s Secretary of Labor, a cabinet minister position

Secretario general — general secretary, the top officer of a labor union

Sector Obrero — the parliamentary representation from unions in the old Institutional Revolutionary Party governments, that is union leaders who were also congressmen or senators

Seguridad Social — see IMSS above, the Mexican national health plan and retirement program for industrial workers

Sindicato — union

Sindicato blanco — company union, a union controlled by the bosses

Sindicato charro — a union run by corrupt, violent union bureaucrats in collusion with government.

Sindicato democrático — democratic union where workers run the unionSindicato fantasma — a union known only to the boss and union bureaucrats, which issues protection contracts

Sindicato independiente — independent unions, including unions affiliated with the FAT, which are not controlled by the government, the company or the “official” unions or charros. The term “Independent union” is also used by the employers to refer to the sindicatos blancos or company unions, and sometimes appears in government, employer or news publications that way.

Sindicato oficial — an “official” union, that is a government controlled “charro” union

Sueldo — salary or wages

Taller — a shop, a workshop

Temporada — season

Temporal — temporary worker

Tiempo completo — full time work

Titularidad — a union’s legal right to represent workers and engage in collective bargaining with an employer

Toma de nota — government recognition following the election of union officials

Turno — shift

Tortuguismo — from tortuga, turtle, to go slow, a slowdown. 

Trabajador/a — worker

Trabajadores de confianza — confidential employees

Trabajadores del hogar — domestic workers who are now protected under the new labor law.

Trabajar — to work

Tratado de Libre Comercio (TLC) — NAFTA

Tratado de México, Estados Unidos y Canada (T-MEC) — United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), neoliberal trade agreement that replaced NAFTA and went into effect on July 1, 2020. 

Tribunal Laboral — Under the new labor law, tribunals that are part of the judicial system replaced the tri-partite Juntas de Conciliación y Arbitraje

Unión — the union, used in some places on the northern border and in the United States. Sindicato is the preferred Spanish word in Mexico. 

Utilidades — profit sharing, all workers are entitled to profit sharing under the law

Voto secreto — the requirement under the new labor law that all votes regarding the choice of a union, to ratify a labor contract, and to elect union leaders must be free, direct, secret and personal.