Of Workers Rights
Witnesses testifying before the National
Administrative Office (NAO) of the United States Labor Dept. on March 23 offered ample
evidence of both the Echlin corporations abuse of workers rights and union
solidarity. Echlin workers, representatives from unions in Canada, Mexico and the U.S.,
lawyers and others gave testimony.
The NAO is the administrative body established under
NAFTAs labor side agreement. Unions of the three NAFTA nations filed a complaint
with the NAO that Echlin Inc. used armed thugs to intimidate and threaten workers and
their families during union organizing campaigns at two of the companys Mexican
plants. The company is also charged with numerous health and safety violations.
Filed by UE and the other unions in the Echlin
Workers Alliance, the charges have since been backed by the AFL-CIO, Canadian Labour
Congress and National Union of Workers (UNT), Mexicos newly-formed independent labor
confederation. This the first time ever that major labor federations in Canada, Mexico and
the U.S. have joined to charge a U.S.-based multinational corporation with violating the
rights of workers under the NAFTA labor side accord.
Delegates to the UE Political Action Conference
attended the morning session of the hearing, then participated in a rally/press conference
on the steps of the Labor Department building.
"We are here because the Echlin corporation has
visited all manner of workers rights abuse on employees of its Itapsa and American
Brakeblock plants in Mexico and because an injury done to these workers injures and
reduces the rights of workers throughout North America," said UE Dir. of Org. Bob
Kingsley, who began the three panels of witnesses with a powerful declaration of
HIDDEN PRICE OF NAFTA
"We are also here because the Mexican
government has done nothing I repeat, nothing to stop Echlins abuse of
workers rights. We are here on behalf of all workers who are paying the hidden price
Kingsley explained to Secretary Irasema Garza and
other NAO officials present that the trinational Echlin Workers Alliance unites
unions representing more than 5,000 Echlin workers. "We formed this alliance in the
belief that we cannot allow workers in our three countries to be pitted against one
another in a race toward the lowest labor standards. Instead, we intend to use the
strength of union solidarity across national borders to protect ourselves from corporate
The UE officer cited Echlins self-described
"firm opposition" to union organization, and suggested the company has found
optimum conditions in Mexico: "Fire workers with impunity. Bus in thugs. Beat those
who organize and count on the government to look the other way. How much better
could it get."
All of Echlins unionized plants in the U.S.
and Canada were organized before acquisition, with one exception, he pointed out.
"The one blemish on Echlins otherwise perfect record of resistance to
unions" is UE Local 1090 in Irvine, Calif. "But it will be a blemish no
more," Kingsley observed. Shortly after UE filed the NAO complaint, Echlin announced
that the factory would be closed. "The price of admission to this hearing is very
THEY DESERVE RIGHTS
Bernadine Henson, president of a UNITE local at an
Echlin brake plant in Virginia, declared her support for the workers at Echlins
Mexican plants. "These hard-working people should have the right to pick the union of
their choice. They should have the same rights we do."
Jodie Schneider, unit chairperson, Canadian Auto
Workers Local 1285 in Mississauga, Ontario, emphasized that the U.S. government has a
responsibility because Echlin is U.S.-owned.
"Fighting for Mexican workers today is fighting
for U.S. workers tomorrow," said Daniel Kovalik, assistant general counsel of the
United Steelworkers. Union members here are genuinely concerned about the violation of
Mexican workers rights, he said.
The NAO heard detailed information about the abuse
of workers rights that occurred at Echlins Itapsa plant from two fired
workers, Maria Trinidad Delgado Navarro and Ruben Ruiz Rubio, and from Benedicto Martinez,
general secretary of the STIMAHCS, the FAT-affiliated metalworkers union that
organized the Itapsa plant.
Martinez, who is also a national coordinator of the
Authentic Labor Front (FAT) and vice president of the new federation, UNT, provided an
in-depth account of the events leading up to the election. He described the intimidation
and violence the day of the election, and the refusal of the government labor authorities
to suspend the election. He focused on the need for secret ballot elections in a neutral
location the Itapsa election was a voice vote in front of the company, company
union and armed thugs. Martinez also decried the lack of impartiality by Mexican
Martinez was extensively questioned by NAO
Mexican labor attorneys, health and safety experts
and Robin Alexander, UE director of international labor affairs, were also among those
The testimony provided a compelling account of
workers rights abuse. Was the U.S. government really listening and if it was,
will it do anything?