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Defending workers' rights at home and abroad ...
Support across borders: UE members Al Harhay, Joyce Sumner and Cindy Desautels were among the UE Political Action Conference Delegates who took a stand for workers' rights as the NAFTA-NAO hearing on labor rights abuses in Mexico was about to take place.
Echlin Worker from Canada Addresses Rally ...F.A.T Leader Benedicto Martinez
At left, Jodie Schneider, an Echlin shop leader from Canada, tells the rally that ‘Mexican workers should not have to put up with abuse’ from the company. Earlier, workers testified about conditions at an Echlin-owned plant in Mexico before a Labor Dept. panel. At right, Benedicto Martinez, FAT leader, gives detailed account of thug-infested election at Echlin plant in Mexico.

Contents
May 21, 1998

On March 23rd, witnesses appearing before the NAO — the agency set up under NAFTA's labor side agreement — offered plenty of testimony concerning the Echlin Corporation's abuse of workers' rights ... and ample evidence of strong union solidarity. The only question — will the U.S. government bother to listen?

Testimony Targets
Echlin’s Abuse
Of Workers’ Rights‘

WASHINGTON, D.C.

Witnesses testifying before the National Administrative Office (NAO) of the United States Labor Dept. on March 23 offered ample evidence of both the Echlin corporation’s 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 NAFTA’s 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 company’s 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), Mexico’s 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 solidarity.

‘HIDDEN PRICE OF NAFTA’

"We are also here because the Mexican government has done nothing — I repeat, nothing — to stop Echlin’s abuse of workers’ rights. We are here on behalf of all workers who are paying the hidden price of NAFTA."

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 exploitation."

The UE officer cited Echlin’s 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 Echlin’s unionized plants in the U.S. and Canada were organized before acquisition, with one exception, he pointed out. "The one blemish on Echlin’s 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 dear indeed."

‘THEY DESERVE RIGHTS’

Bernadine Henson, president of a UNITE local at an Echlin brake plant in Virginia, declared her support for the workers at Echlin’s 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 Echlin’s 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 authorities.

Martinez was extensively questioned by NAO officials.

Mexican labor attorneys, health and safety experts and Robin Alexander, UE director of international labor affairs, were also among those testifying.

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?

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