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Workers' Rights: Not Here!
Street Thugs: Echlin says it didn't happen. The photos above and below tell a different story. In the center of the photo: one young "thug" brought in to bust the Echlin election mugs for the camera. Seven U.S. and Canadian unions have charged Echlin with using "armed thugs" to intimidate and terrorize workers in a September 9th union election at a plant near Mexico City. The unions made their charges in a complaint filed with the National Administrative Office (NAO), an agency set up under NAFTA to investigate charges of labor rights violations. The NAFTA process has few teeth, but may serve to focus public attention on international law-breakers.

December 25

Echlin's top officer agrees to meet; investigate charges that "thugs" were hired to bust a union election in Mexico.

Meanwhile, UE and six other unions have files an NAO Complaint regarding the busted election.

Workers at a Tijuana auto parts plant have faced lies, subterfuge and betrayals in their struggle to win a  real union. This story contains links to more information.

Thug-Bus Arrives
Thug Bus

A busload of thugs arrives during the September 9th representation election at an Echlin plant near Mexico City.  The election itself was a voice vote — individual workers were required to state their choice (union or not) in the presence of the thugs, management, and CTM officials.

Echlin Head Agrees
To Meet; Investigate

Put on the spot in front of about 100 shareholders, the top executive officer of Echlin, Inc. has agreed to meet with representatives of the Echlin Workers Alliance to discuss charges that the auto parts maker used intimidation and threats of violence to destroy a union organizing drive in Mexico.

That agreement, at the company’s annual shareholders’ meeting in Branford, Connecticut came only two days after UE, six other unions, and dozens of other labor and civil rights groups, filed a complaint accusing Echlin of using "armed thugs" to intimidate workers during a union election on September 9th. Specifically, the complaint alleges that Echlin management allowed 200 gang members to enter its plant near Mexico City and terrorize workers seeking to organize with STIMAHCS, a metalworkers union affiliated with the FAT, an independent Mexican labor federation

NAFTA Complaint Filed

The unions’ complaint alleges that Echlin, its Itapsa subsidiary in Mexico, and the pro-government Mexican Workers Confederation (CTM) "worked together to deprive the workers of their rights by using surveillance, threats, firings and other forms of retaliation."

The complaint was filed with the U.S. National Administrative Office (NAO), which was created as part of the side-agreements on the environment and labor rights negotiated with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

First Concerted North American Action

UE Director of Organization Bob Kingsley said the complaint marked the first time unions and rights groups had joined forces in all three NAFTA countries (Canada, United States and Mexico) to challenge the labor-practices of a U.S.-based multinational corporation. In addition to UE, the other unions joining the complaint are the U.S. and Canadian Steelworkers (USWA), the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), the United Paper Workers International Union (UPIU), the Teamsters, and UNITE!

Despite substantial evidence to contrary, REUTERS reports that an Echlin spokesperson called the unions’ allegations "lies" and that the company, quoting REUTERS, "did not threaten workers, use armed security agents or improperly discharge employees."

On the Spot in Connecticut

Meanwhile, in an often-heated confrontation at the Echlin shareholders’ meeting, Echlin’s President and Chief Executive Officer Larry McCurdy found himself on the defensive, denying the union coalition’s charges of wrongdoing, but saying Echlin would be "investigating further."

At that, he was challenged by Dir. of Org. Kingsley to allow the union coalition to investigate the matter jointly with the company — and McCurdy agreed.

‘Proof in the Product’

After the meeting, Kingsley said he was surprised McCurdy agreed to meet with the labor coalition, which represents several thousands of Echlin’s 30,000 employees worldwide. "It’s a good step forward," he said, "But the proof will be in the product, what comes out of the meeting."

No date has been set for the meeting with Echlin.

UE maintains a strong commitment to building international working-class solidarity), especially in the face of the expanding global economy and the increasing tendency of multinational corporations to operate without regard to labor, human and environmental rights across borders.

see UE Policy: International Solidarity

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Tijuana Auto-Parts Plant
Workers Vote Twice,
But Denied Their Choice

Action and Information

The Campaign for Labor Rights is aggressively fighting on behalf of the Han Young workers. UPDATES: Frequent updates to this story are being posted on the CLR Alerts Web Page. Actions you can take to help build international pressure on both Han Young and Hyundai can also be found at this location.

In a story that speaks volumes about the sorry state of international workers’ rights, a group of auto workers in Tijuana have taken on Mexico’s government, the state government, the labor board, a multi-national corporation and Mexico’s corrupt "official" unions. They’ve been close to victory a number of times since they first voted for an independent union October 6th, in what would have been — and still could be — the first independent union victory in a Mexican Maquiladora plant. But, so far, each apparent victory has been met with subterfuge, betrayal and lies from all of the major power-players in this story.

October 6, 1997

Fed-up with CROC, the "official", management-backed union (similar to the government-controlled CTM), the majority of about 100 workers at the Han Young Assembly plant risked their jobs by voting openly for a new union — the independent union STIMAHCS, which is affiliated with the FAT, an independent Mexican union federation. Han Young is closely affiliated with Korea’s Hyundai auto company, and this Tijuana factory supplies all of the chassis’ used by Hyundai’s nearby assembly plant.

Acts of Courage

In Mexican union elections, workers are forced to verbally state their choice in front of the company and government officials. That takes a lot of courage. But with pay at 85 cents-an-hour for doing such dangerous jobs as welding (without any safety equipment) and with no hope for a better future through their "official" union, Han Young workers summoned the strength to vote for STIMAHCS.

Twelve workers were immediately fired. The local labor board threw out the election on absurd grounds. But international pressure brought about what appeared to be a settlement: on Friday, December 12th the owners agreed, in principle, to recognize an independent union; reinstate the fired workers with back pay; grant a 30% raise, and set up a health-and-safety commission. But at noon the next day the government representative refused, without comment, to sign the agreement.

Pressure. Resolution?

More international pressure followed. U.S. Rep. David Bonior (D-Mich), who had met with Han Young Workers in late October, convinced the Clinton Administration to press Mexican President Zedillo for a resolution to the crisis. Even the New York Times editorialized that the case demonstrated the need for the U.S. government "to pressure Mexico to enforce its own laws." Organizations working on behalf of Mexico’s Maquiladora Workers launched a boycott of Hyundai products, an action which has been endorsed by UE.

The result: a new election was scheduled. It appears that Han Young agreed because it believed it could rig the results through bribery and confusion. It was wrong. On December 16th, for the second time, Han Young workers chose STIMAHCS. The government certified the results and it appeared that Han young workers had finally won the right to be represented by a real union, independent of government and management control. But, once again, it appears the official union and the company are acting in concert to destroy the organizing effort.

December 19th

On December 19th, the company and/or the CTM bussed some 80 people to the labor board, claiming they were Han Young workers who wanted to be represented by CTM and/or CROC and not STIMAHCS.

Meanwhile, it is reported that the workers’ lawyer and independent union organizer were asked to appear at the labor board for "negotiations" by a Han Young manager. But, they were warned in a phone-call that the meeting was a "set-up" — that thugs, ready to attack them physically, were waiting for them. Meanwhile, Han Young’s management announced it would only willing to deal with the government-controlled CTM, not the twice-elected STIMAHCS.

December 22

The following Monday, December 22, Han Young failed to appear at the Tijuana Labor board for a required signing of the contract agreement. Under Mexican law, when one union is certified to replace another (in this case, STIMAHCS would have replaced the company-controlled union, CROC), the new union assumes the existing contract and can begin bargaining for changes. Without the signing, however, CROC retains control of the contract. The Tijuana labor board reportedly did nothing to pressure Han Young to show up for the signing.

UE Officers Respond

Both UE General President John Hovis and Secretary-Treasurer Bob Clark have written strongly-worded letters to Han Young, Hyundai, and Mexican President Zedello, demanding respect for workers’ rights and the right to choose their own union.

In his letter to Hyundai Motors Chairman Mong-Gyu Chung, Brother Clark pointed out that UE is "spreading the word about the boycott called by the Support Committee for Maquiladora Workers" and encourages leafleting of Hyundai dealerships.

"We will continue to do so until we are informed that STIMAHCS has been recognized and the fired workers reinstated. U.S. and Asian-based corporations cannot continue to violate basic worker rights in Mexico without repercussions," Clark declared.

(For ongoing updates to this story, and to find out what actions you can take to help, please visit the Campaign for Labor Rights at http://www.compugraph.com/clr/ Recent updates and alerts are posted at this address: http://www.compugraph.com/clr/alerts.html).

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