Echlin Agrees to Probe
Of Mexican Election
NEW HAVEN, Conn.
Under pressure from union members, a U.S.-based multinational corporation
agreed last month to meet with an alliance of workers from Canada, Mexico and the United
States to investigate charges that the company used armed thugs to intimidate workers
during a union drive at a Mexican plant.
During its annual stockholders meeting Dec. 17, Echlin Inc. also agreed to
consider a code of conduct drafted by the workers alliance. The action came one day
after a demonstration by workers outside the companys Branford world headquarters,
and two days after a complaint was filed in Washington, D.C. against the company under the
NAFTA labor side agreement.
"Its unusual for a company like Echlin to respond so quickly to
protests from its workers, but its also rare for a company to face such strong
opposition from workers in three countries," said Robert Kingsley, UE director of
organization. "Weve made Echlin understand that it wont be able to cover
up abuse of its employees."
THUGS THWART DEMOCRACY
The protests were sparked by events last fall at the Echlin-owned Itapsa
plant near Mexico City. On the eve of a Sept. 9 union representation election, Itapsa
workers were held prisoner overnight in the factory by 170 thugs carrying guns, chains and
steel pipes. The thugs were organized by the CTM a labor federation controlled by
the Mexican government and led by a CTM official and Itapsas industrial
Through this intimidation, the CTM and management expected to avoid
dealing with a genuine union. Itapsa workers, looking for improved protection from
asbestos and toxic chemical exposure, had contacted STIMAHCS, the metalworkers union
affiliated with the Authentic Labor Front (FAT), Mexicos independent labor
In the weeks before the election, 52 union activists were fired, and
company thugs threatened workers and their families in their homes with beatings and rape.
During the overnight plant occupation, Itapsa workers were threatened with
violence if they voted for the real union. One worker was beaten while the election was
The election itself required workers to declare their votes out loud in
front of management. Fearing for their lives and the safety of their families, most
"voted" against the FAT affiliate.
UNIONS FILE CHARGES
Unions representing Echlin workers in the U.S. and Canada filed charges on
Dec. 15 with the U.S. National Administrative Office (NAO), which was established under
the NAFTA labor side agreement to hear complaints of labor law violations in the other
NAFTA countries. The complaint accuses representatives of the company and the CTM of
working together to deprive Itapsa workers of their rights by using surveillance, threats,
firings and other forms of retaliation.
Mexican government authorities overseeing the election observed the thugs
in the plant and were aware that an employee was beaten, but refused a union request to
suspend voting. The officials then certified the results, ignoring the violence and
obvious violations of Mexican labor laws.
"Strong cooperation among workers in the three NAFTA countries is
putting a new level of pressure on companies that violate workers rights in North
America," said Teamsters Vice Pres. Tom Gilmartin. "NAFTAs weak labor side
agreement has left us no choice but to get in the face of the companies responsible for
this kind of abuse."
The rally outside the Echlin world headquarters on Dec. 16 was attended by
dozens of New Haven area union members, among them members of UE Local 299 from
Circuit-Wise, Entoleter and Harco and UE Local 243 members from Sargent. Warren Gould,
president of the Greater New Haven Labor Council AFL-CIO was a speaker. Benedicto
Martinez, coordinator of the FAT and general secretary of the metalworkers union STIMAHCS
was also present.
"We must meet corporate exploitation across borders with union
solidarity across borders," declared UE Dir. of Org. Kingsley.
In addition to the rally in Branford, union demonstrations also took place
inside the Irvine, Calif. Echlin plant represented by UE Local 1090 and outside the Echlin
plant represented by the United Paperworkers in Indiana. Petitions collected in
union-represented Echlin workplaces in U.S. and Canada, containing the signatures of more
than 1,000 rank-and-file workers, were personally handed to Echlin CEO Larry McCurdy by
UEs Kingsley and other union officials.
The Dec. 17 stockholders meeting was attended by Kingsley, Martinez,
Local 243 Pres. Ray Pompano, Local 299 Pres. Dorothy Johnson, UE Field Org. Steve Hinds
and Mark Brooks of the United Paperworkers International Union. "We did nothing less
than dominate the agenda," Kingsley reported. The FATs Martinez addressed
stockholders and top management; also during the meeting, Kingsley engaged CEO McCurdy in
a public discussion of the Itapsa incident which led directly to the companys
commitment to a joint investigation of the events.
The unions filing the NAO complaint are UE; Teamsters; Canadian Auto
Workers; Union of Needle- trades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE); United
Paperworkers International Union; and the United Steelworkers of America in both the U.S.
The charges are supported by labor and human rights organizations in three
countries, including: FAT; National Lawyers Guild; National Interfaith Committee for
Worker Justice; and the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, among many others.
A front-page article in the Dec. 20 New York Times, headlined
"Labor Is Forging Cross-Border Ties," described the Echlin Workers Alliance as
"the first joint effort by workers for the same corporation in all three countries of
North America." UE initiated the Echlin Workers Alliance; the founding meeting took
place in Chicago March 1-2, 1997.
UE News - 01/98