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Echlin Agrees to Probe
Of Mexican Election


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 company’s Branford world headquarters, and two days after a complaint was filed in Washington, D.C. against the company under the NAFTA labor side agreement.

"It’s unusual for a company like Echlin to respond so quickly to protests from its workers, but it’s also rare for a company to face such strong opposition from workers in three countries," said Robert Kingsley, UE director of organization. "We’ve made Echlin understand that it won’t be able to cover up abuse of its employees."


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 Itapsa’s industrial relations manager.

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), Mexico’s independent labor federation.

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 underway.

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 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. "NAFTA’s 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 UE’s 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 FAT’s 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 company’s 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. and Canada.

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

Home -> UE News -> 1998 Archives -> Article

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