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PDF - Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights
ALCOA’S HIGH TECH SWEATSHOP
IN MEXICO FIGHTING FOR WORKER RIGHTS
THE STRUGGLE TO CLIMB OUT OF MISERY
NATIONAL LABOR COMMITTEE
AN OVERVIEW: THE MAQUILA IN MEXICO
■
There are 3,761 maquiladora factories in Mexico, where 1.3
million workers assemble $79.4 billion worth of goods each
year for export to the U.S. (Eighty percent of these factories
are located along the U.S. border.)
■
In 2000, maquila production accounted for 58 percent of
Mexico’s total exports to the U.S., which were $135.9 billion.
■
Since NAFTA’s passage in 1994, maquila exports to the U.S.
have increased at an average rate of 20 percent per year. In
2000, maquila exports were up 24 percent over 1999.
■
Auto components make up 30 percent of all maquila exports.
Mexico has passed Japan to become the second largest supplier
of auto parts to the U.S., and will soon surpass Canada.
■
Since NAFTA, foreign corporations have invested at least $25
billion to build maquila factories in Mexico. Since 1994, average annual direct foreign investment in Mexico has increased
by 330 percent over pre-NAFTA years, reaching $24.7 billion in
2001—which was the highest for Latin America.
■
As of 2002, the special duty-free status enjoyed by the Free
Trade Zones has been extended throughout the entire country—turning Mexico into one giant FTZ.
■
According to business reports,“Japan, South Korea,Taiwan and
various European countries are increasingly showing interest in
maquiladoras as assembly sites for products sold into the U.S.
market, partly to take advantage of NAFTA.”
(—EIU, September 28, 2001)
■
The United States takes in 89 percent of Mexico’s exports
worldwide. After running a $1.5 billion surplus in 1993, the
U.S. ran a trade deficit of 34.9 billion with Mexico by 2000. By
contrast, Canada takes in just two percent of Mexico’s exports,
while Germany takes in less than one percent.
photos: Charles Kernaghan, Gerald Dickey, Barbara Briggs
design: Mary Tyson
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
ALCOA’S HIGH TECH SWEATSHOP
IN MEXICO
Fighting for Worker Rights
The Struggle to Climb out of Misery
June 2002
by Charles Kernaghan
National Labor Committee
275 Seventh Avenue, 15th Floor, New York, NY 10001
Phone: (212) 242-3002 www.nlcnet.org Fax: (212) 242-3821
1
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
Steelworkers union leads demonstration with fired Mexican workers at Alcoa shareholders meeting.
2
M E X I C O
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
PREFACE
Alcoa Workers in Mexico
Struggle to Live on their Feet
by Charles Kernaghan
ne never gets used to seeing sweatshop conditions. Yet sadly, over time, you almost come to
expect to find repression, below-subsistence
wages, miserable living conditions, firings, threats,
union busting and blacklisting in low-end T-shirt factories producing for big box discounters like WalMart in places like China, Nicaragua or Bangladesh.
However, it comes as a real shock to find—just a few
hundred yards from the United States, across the border in Mexico—a huge transnational corporation like
Alcoa—the largest aluminum company in the
world—operating high tech sweatshops under similarly abusive conditions.
O
The outcome of this struggle by the Alcoa workers
could have an enormous impact. In many ways, it is
a symbol for the struggle for worker rights across all
of Mexico. There are 1.3 million maquiladora workers in Mexico, in 3,761 factories producing over $80
billion worth of goods for export to the U.S. each
year. Yet, despite the systematic worker rights abuses, the below-subsistence wages and miserable living
conditions, you can almost count on one hand the
number of independent unions in the maquila factories along the border. If the workers at Alcoa can
organize and win their rights, so can the workers at
some of the other more-than-3,700 maquila plants.
In the Mexican border cities of Acuña and Piedras
Negras,Alcoa operates 13 maquila factories where
15,600 workers assemble wire harnesses—automotive electrical systems—for export to the U.S. to
Ford, Harley Davidson, Mack Trucks,Volkswagon,
Subaru and other auto companies. In Acuña, when
the workers attempted to organize to defend their
basic rights,Alcoa responded by firing more than
236 workers, many of whom were blacklisted and
thrown out without even their severance pay. Many
Alcoa workers and their families in Acuña are forced
to live in misery, in broken down, dirt floored huts
put together from shipping crates and cardboard,
lacking running water. In Piedras Negras, many
Alcoa workers must sell their blood twice a week in
order to survive. Some have been doing this for
years. When the workers in Piedras Negras recently
voted overwhelmingly for an independent union,
Alcoa responded again with firings and threats to
shut the factory down and take the jobs elsewhere.
Alcoa’s strategy is to intimidate and try to divide the
workers while working to isolate and weaken the
new union.
NAFTA is an unprecedented experiment in history,
integrating two such disparate economies, one the
largest economy in the world, the other a poor developing country with 100 million people. We share a
2,000-mile border.
Alcoa wants to pit the workers in the United
States against the desperately poor workers in
Mexico—and other developing countries—in a
race to the bottom over who will accept the
lowest wages and least benefits, the most miserable living and working conditions. In the
U.S., when workers try to organize, the company
threatens to move to Mexico. In Mexico, when the
workers try to organize, the companies threaten to
move to China. In fact,Alcoa is building a 5,000-person factory in Leon, Nicaragua where they hope to
be able to pay wages as low as 38 cents an hour.
In the global economy, it is becoming clear that
workers can no longer organize at the site of production alone. There also needs to be pressure in the
marketplace. If Alcoa fires 236 workers in Mexico, if
3
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
the workers live in dirt floored hovels and must
sell their blood to survive, what does Alcoa care—
if the people of the U.S. never hear of this? The
American people purchase 89 percent of Mexico’s
exports worldwide! This gives us a voice—a very
powerful voice—to demand improvements from
Alcoa and other companies operating in Mexico
regarding the conditions under which the goods
we purchase are made.
The United Steelworkers of America (USWA)
will not allow Alcoa to pit its U.S. and Canadian
members against the workers in Mexico. Rather, the
Steelworkers are extending a hand of international
solidarity to their sisters and brothers in Mexico. The
Steelworkers know that if we allow the race to the
bottom to advance, there is no place to go, except
down—for all of us.
Under NAFTA,Alcoa’s trademark is protected by
strong enforceable intellectual property and copyright laws. If you are caught imitating Alcoa’s logo,
you will pay a stiff fine and go to jail. Alcoa and the
rest of the companies explain that they cannot operate in the global economy without rules and regula-
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
tions, without a level playing field, that otherwise
everything descends into chaos. This sounds reasonable. Yet, when you ask Alcoa and the other companies: can we not also protect the rights of the
workers who make the products, Alcoa responds:
no, that would be an “impediment to fair trade.”
So Alcoa’s trademark is protected, but not the worker
who makes the product. This is ridiculous.
The new union struggling to survive at Alcoa Plant
#2 in Piedras Negras has a saying it shares with the
workers in the factory: “It is better to die on our
feet, than to live on our knees.”
We should join the United Steelworkers of America,
People of Faith Network, the National Labor
Committee, United Students Against Sweatshops, the
American Friends Service Committee, Border
Workers Committee and many others in extending a
hand of international solidarity, so these workers in
Mexico can live on their feet—with dignity. Their
battle is our battle. In the global economy, what goes
around, comes around. ■
Alcoa workers in Mexico are forced to live in dirt floored shacks.
4
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
PART I
Alcoa Workers in Mexico
under Attack
Alcoa “Associates” and their Families
Trapped In Abject Poverty
SUMMARY
▲
On August 23, 2001, after management deliberately provoked a work action, Alcoa fired 186
workers. Shortly afterwards, 50 more workers
were fired. Many are blacklisted, especially
the nine members of the “Workers Committee”
which, though not legally recognized, is in fact
operating as a union representing the workers.
▲
Alcoa called in 80 police—armed with teargas,
clubs, shields and weapons—to throw the workers out of the factory.
▲
Alcoa brought bogus criminal charges against the
nine union leaders on the Workers Committee,
suing them for one million dollars in damages. The nine leaders could face six years in
prison!
▲
▲
Fifteen thousand six hundred Alcoa workers in
Mexico are forced to live in misery. In fact, in
Piedras Negras, at least one third of Alcoa
workers are selling their blood in order to
survive. They walk over the bridge to the U.S.
twice a week to a Baxter-owned Plasma Center in
Eagle Pass,Texas to sell their blood. Many have
been doing this every week for years. You can
see the track marks on their arms.
▲
With the Workers’ Committee fired, blacklisted
and out of the street, Alcoa is slashing hardearned benefits which the workers had won—for
example, ending the distribution of blankets as a
Christmas bonus and no longer providing the
workers with transportation back to their home
villages for the holidays.
Fired Alcoa workers, Acuña, Mexico
In Acuña, the Alcoa workers and their families live in shocking squalor, in tiny
makeshift dirt-floored huts, often put
together with shipping skids, cardboard
and some cheap shingles or tarpaper. Ten
families share one outdoor faucet, and the
5
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
Alcoa workers--faces blacked out for fear of reprisals.
Alcoa brags that its wages in Mexico are very
good. The base wage of $1.20 an hour is less
than seven percent of what unionized Alcoa
workers earn in the U.S.
▲
▲
6
Even the most experienced workers, who have
been with Alcoa for nine years, cannot afford the
$15 it costs for their children’s school uniforms.
They cannot even afford to purchase cheese,
explaining it is “too expensive,” and only “sometimes” can they afford to buy a little milk for
their kids.
▲
water is not potable. There are no sewers;
there is no garbage collection; there is no
heat in the “houses,” which seep with water
when it rains. Temperatures are extreme, varying
from 104 degrees in the summer to 30 degrees in
the winter.
What Alcoa does not tell us is that many basic
subsistence goods are actually more expensive in Mexico than in the U.S. For example, a
gallon of milk costs $3.27 in Mexico, compared to
$2.57 in the U.S. A dozen eggs cost $1.55, as compared to 68 cents in the U.S. Chicken legs cost 64
cents a pound in Mexico and 33 cents in the U.S.
Gasoline costs $2.31 a gallon in Mexico while
across the border in Eagle Pass it costs just $1.15.
F I G H T I N G
F O R
And of course this does not even include school
fees, clothing, health care or any other daily miscellaneous costs.
▲
Many of the Alcoa workers in Mexico say they
feel like they are “in prison”—with no rights, no
voice. They face arbitrary speed-ups of production lines and obligatory overtime, their bathroom
All the workers agree that this struggle represents a critical turning point. The real message Alcoa wants to deliver to the workers is that
if they raise their voice, if they organize to defend
their basic rights, they too will be fired, blacklisted and thrown out on the street with nothing.
Even after seven months of being locked out,
31 of the fired workers—including all the leaders
of the Workers’ Committee—are holding out,
refusing to accept severance payment. They are
fighting for reinstatement. But, without income
or savings, their conditions are growing more
desperate. They cannot hold out forever.
▲
Food (the most minimal diet)
$ 59.46
Rent (cheapest government-subsidized
housing, 3 tiny rooms)
$ 17.91
Utilities
$ 9.62
Bus fare to work (round trip)
$ 5.70
total:
$ 92.69
visits are limited to twice per day and they are
monitored and timed.
▲
▲
The very highest wage for the most senior and
experienced Alcoa workers is $86.58 a week—
including all bonuses and incentives. Even this
wage does not come close to meeting basic subsistence-level needs: For a family of four per week:
R I G H T S
▲
That Alcoa’s wages are below subsistence level is
immediately obvious to any serious observer. In
February 2001, a New York Times reporter
wrote: “Despite Alcoa’s wage increases and
improvements in factory conditions, its
Acuña workers still live in a squalid grid of
dirt streets, rotting garbage and swamps of
open sewage.”
W O R K E R
Fighting for a major breakthrough: Just as
Alcoa thought it had effectively crushed all dissent and struggle with the mass firings in Acuña,
in March 2002, the Alcoa workers in Piedras
Negras kicked out the corrupt CTM union officials and won a stunning victory, electing a truly
independent union leadership representing the
workers. Far from remaining neutral, local Alcoa
management immediately began collaborating
with the ousted CTM officials in a campaign to
intimidate and divide the workers in an attempt
to isolate and weaken the union. Alcoa manageEntrance to Alcoa factory in Acuña.
ment even allowed the CTM to
fire six of the independent
unionists! Alcoa is threatening
to pull out if the independent
union survives.
This is a hugely important
struggle, the outcome of which
will reverberate throughout
Mexico, as the more than 1.3
million maquila workers struggle to gain their rights to freedom of association and the
right to organize. ■
ALCOA IN
MEXICO
Acuña and Piedras Negras are located in the
Mexican state of Coahuila, southwest of San
Antonio,Texas.
Alcoa opened its first factory in Mexico in 1982.
A
lcoa Fujikura, Ltd. operates 13 maquila plants
in Mexico along the border where 15,600
workers produce electrical wire harnessing for
export to the U.S. to the Big Three and other auto
and truck manufacturers. There are 11 Alcoa
(Arneses y Accesorios de Mexico) factories in the
city of Acuña, with 11,000 workers. In the nearby city of Piedras Negras there are two more factories (Macoelmex), with 4,600 workers. Both
It is important to note that in Mexico, Alcoa pays:
No income tax
No property tax
No tax on assets
No import or export tariffs
No sales tax
F I G H T I N G
F O R
THE ATTACK—ALCOA
WORKERS IN MEXICO
UNDER SEIGE
M
r. Ramon Valdez, who owns the Friendship
Free Trade Zone in Acuña, which houses 11 of
Alcoa’s maquila factories, is not shy in explaining: “I’ve always managed the situation so that
there are zero unions.” It also helps that Mr.
Valdez’s brother just happens to be the mayor of
Acuña. And, in fact, Acuña remains a union-free zone.
Since 1996, the Alcoa workers have been organizing
to improve the miserable wages and working conditions, but it was not until 2000 that the workers’
organizing started to pose a serious challenge to
Alcoa management’s total hegemony on control and
power. Between April and November of 2000, the
workers carried out a series of bold and well-coordinated work actions that culminated in a 30 percent
wage increase. It was this good example that had to
be crushed.
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
wages, but also to derail local management’s attempt
to start paying wages just once a month and through
direct bank deposits, which none of the workers
wanted. By July, the Workers’ Committee was meeting regularly with local management, most of the
time on a weekly basis. Though not legally recognized, the Workers’ Committee was operating and
functioning as a union representing the workers. Yet,
five months after the agreements had been reached
with Mr. Hughes, nothing had changed, nothing had
been implemented. So in October, hundreds of workers walked out and took over an Alcoa parking lot.
Alcoa called in the police, who surrounded the workers and lobbed teargas at them. Workers were fired,
but the protest spread, and in November the workers
won their 30 percent wage and benefit increase, and
for the first time workers with seniority were paid
more than workers just entering the plant.
In December 2000, the Mexican government
declared an across-the-board 10 percent wage
increase to go into effect in January 2001. In the
past, when the government decreed an increase, all
the maquila factories automatically raised their wages
the ten percent. This time, Alcoa refused to do so.
The Workers Committee objected and fought back,
trying to negotiate. But local management had
Continued on page 12
In April of
2000, the Alcoa
workers staged
three job
actions. Within
a month, in
May, Alcoa
Fujikura’s chairman, Mr. Bob
Hughes, was in
Mexico for a
face to face
meeting with
the workers,
who told him
that no one
could possibly
survive on the
wages they
were paid.
Several agreements were
signed, not only
to review
9
Mexican Government Data Show
Real Wages in the Maquila Sector
Decline 21 percent
A report by the Economic Policy Institute and the Researchers and
Unionists Labor Studies Network in Mexico, using Mexican government
data, shows real wages in the maquila falling by 20.6 percent
between 1993 (the year before NAFTA) and 1999.
This makes sense, given that the inflation rate in Mexico has averaged
12.4 percent a year between 1997 and 2002.
RATE OF INFLATION
1997
1998
1999
2000
2001
2002
(estimated)
————————————-
20.6%
15.9%
16.6%
9.5%
6.4%
5.4%
RISING COSTS EAT AWAY AT WORKERS’ WAGES
▲
▲
▲
▲
▲
In the month of January 2002 alone, inflation spiked nearly a full
percentage point.
In February 2002, 25 percent of households saw their electricity
bills rise by 30 percent.
The government is proposing to extend the value-added, or sales,
tax to food, medicines and educational expenses—all of which
were previously exempt.
For 2002, the Mexican government proposed a 5.8 percent
increase in the minimum wage. If inflation holds at 5.4 percent—
as is expected for 2002—this would amount to a real wage
increase of just 4/10ths of one percent.
Businesses expect a peso devaluation of 10 percent in 2002 and
another five percent in 2003.
10
SOME BASIC NECESSITIES ARE MORE EXPENSIVE IN MEXICO
A COMPARISON OF PRICES IN MEXICO AND THE U.S.
Item
Unit
Price/Mexico
Price/U.S.
* Milk
1 gallon
$ 3.27
$2.57
* Eggs
1 dozen
$ 1.55
$0.68
* Chicken (pieces)
1 pound
$ 0.64
$0.33
* White potatoes
1 pound
$ 0.59
$0.18
* Cheese
1 pound
$ 2.57
$2.49
* Apples
1 pound
$ 0.89
$0.80
* Ham (sliced, cold cuts) 1 pound
$ 3.70
$2.49
* Gasoline
$ 2.31
$1.03
1 gallon
Note: All Mexican prices are for the least expensive brands available
in the largest low-end retailer in Mexico, the Soriano chain.
What’s wrong with this picture?
These Mexican workers are crossing the bridge and returning home after shopping in the U.S.
Many basic subsistence goods are actually cheaper in the U.S. than in Mexico. So how can
someone live in Mexico on a base wage of $1.20 an hour, which Alcoa claims is a “world
11
class wage”? They cannot. The Alcoa workers and their families are trapped in misery.
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
apparently decided to distance itself from the
Committee. They were getting too effective. By August
2001,Alcoa management had broken off all meetings
with the Workers’ Committee. The workers no longer
had a voice, and tension mounted in the factory.
On August 21, two women workers stationed themselves in the Alcoa parking lot and started a hunger
action. One woman from Plant #5 had recently suffered a miscarriage. In direct violation of Mexican
labor law, despite her pregnancy, her supervisor had
forced her to continue performing very difficult,
strenuous work, constantly reaching up and pulling
down a heavy black duct-type tape which she had to
then quickly wrap around the wire harnesses. It
took a lot of force to do this operation. She should
have been shifted to a less strenuous job, but she was
not, and as a result she lost her child.
The other woman had been injured, hit by a car on
the way to work. But Alcoa refused to pay any sick
leave, just abandoning her with nothing.
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
The Workers’ Committee was doing everything possible, making repeated attempts to re-start the meetings and negotiations with Alcoa management to
help diffuse the tension. On August 22, in the afternoon, management responded by visiting the work
station of Mr. Juan Tovar, one of the founding leaders
of the Workers’ Committee. They arrived speaking
very loudly and acting arrogantly, standing in Juan
Tovar’s way and blocking his movements at the
same time they kept shouting that he should get
back to work, now, immediately. While overhearing
the commotion, workers started to gather around.
The workers clearly understood that management
was trying to provoke them, that this in fact was
Alcoa’s strategy. Management told the assembled
workers to leave, but the harassment and confrontation continued. Still seeking dialogue and negotiation, the workers peacefully gathered in the
cafeteria. Early that evening, right around 6:00 p.m.,
judicial authorities arrived at the plant carrying a
notice saying that Alcoa had fired all the members of
the Workers’ Committee, that they must leave the
plant immediately and that Alcoa was
suing them for $1 million in damages. At that point, the Workers’
Committee advised the gathered
workers to protect at least their jobs
and return to their work stations, but
they refused and in solidarity more
than 200 workers followed the fired
leaders out. Soon, 250 to 300 people
were outside in the Alcoa parking lot,
where they intended to stay the
night in a peaceful protest. Alcoa
called the police, and at 3:00 a.m.,
when most of the workers were
asleep, 70 to 80 police arrived armed
with clubs, teargas and shields and
some were carrying firearms. The
workers reported that some of the
police roughed up and bruised many
of the workers. Thrown out on the
street, the workers waited until dawn
and then launched the first of many
street marches and demonstrations.
Sign at entrance to Alcoa plant.
WHAT IS THE MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR THIS PLANT
ENTERS & LEAVES HERE
“Our People”
On August 23, Alcoa fired 186
workers and shortly afterward
another 50 activists were fired,
their sole crime being that they
were suspected of sympathizing
with the fired leaders of the
Workers’ Committee.
“TAKING ADVANTAGE” OF MEXICO’S
“POOL OF LOW-COST LABOR”
HOW BUSINESSES VIEW MEXICO
“The implementation of NAFTA in 1994
provided the main stimulus to the sharp rise in
FDI [Foreign Direct Investment] inflows in the
second half of the 1990’s… By lowering tariffs in
trade between Mexico and the U.S. and Canada,
NAFTA membership allowed companies from
developed countries to use Mexico as an export
platform, taking advantage of the country’s pool
of low-cost labor and proximity to the U.S. market…. Most investment will probably be channeled into manufacturing as more U.S. companies
transfer their production to Mexico.”
—The Economist Intelligence Unit
March 11, 2002
Already forced to live from hand to mouth, from day
to day due to their low wages, lacking any savings
and with no unemployment insurance or other safety
net of any kind, many of the workers were forced to
take whatever little severance pay Alcoa was willing
to provide in order to survive. In many cases this
came to under $200.
Alcoa has evidently passed around a blacklist to
the other maquila factories in Acuña, since
many of the fired workers — and especially the
nine leaders of the Workers’ Committee —have
been unable to find work in any of Acuña’s
other 50 maquila factories, forcing many of them
to seek work in the informal sector. One fired worker was hired at four different factories, only to be fired
each time the following day after management had
run a background check of his personnel records. ■
ALCOA SITS BACK
TO STARVE THE
WORKERS OUT
T
he workers know that their struggle to defend
worker rights is at a turning point. The real
message Alcoa wants to deliver to its 15,600
workers in Mexico is that if they dare speak up
or organize to defend their basic rights they too
will be fired, thrown out of the factory with
nothing and blacklisted. If Alcoa wins, fear will
continue to permeate the factories. On the other
hand, if even some of the fired workers win their
reinstatement, the organizing drive will receive a
tremendous boost and the workers will realize their
power. But things are not going well.
At first,Alcoa tried to press a legal suit in the criminal
courts, suing the nine fired union leaders for one million dollars in damages to company property and lost
production time. If the workers lost the case, they
would face six years in prison. But the case was too
13
ridiculous, so Alcoa had to drop it. In fact, there was
one act of violence in the factory on August 22. A
door was broken off its hinges. But this was done by
Alcoa management confidence employees, and there
were many witnesses to confirm this.
The workers themselves are trying to fight back.
They have filed their own legal suit against Alcoa in
the labor court, documenting that the firings were
unjustified and demanding immediate reinstatement
to their jobs, with payment of back wages. The workers have no money, but an attorney was willing to
take their case on the basis of receiving 30 percent of
any future settlement. Yet no one is putting much
hope in the labor court in Acuña, given Alcoa’s enormous power and influence. Alcoa is the city’s largest
employer, and both city and state government officials
have always provided Alcoa with complete impunity.
Some of the fired workers got a little taste of how the
system works. In February, 2002, the government’s
Conciliation and Arbitration Board ordered that eight
of the fired workers be immediately reinstated. Alcoa
claimed that they had not fired these workers, who
for some unknown reason had simply picked up and
walked out of the factory on their own. On February
13, the eight workers arrived at the Alcoa complex
with a local government labor official to reclaim their
jobs. After an hour or so, after the official left,Alcoa
immediately re-fired the eight workers, without providing any explanation whatsoever.
For certain it would be a long shot, but the workers
felt they had little choice other than to proceed with
their suit in the hope that they could receive a fair
hearing at the regional appeals courts in Torreón.
Alcoa’s strategy all along has been to sit back and
starve the workers out. The perfect scenario for
Alcoa would be to tie the workers up in court battles—which they could not afford but Alcoa could—
that would drag out at first for months, and then for
years. This is exactly what is happening.
The hearing process will not begin until May or June, at
the earliest, which comes nine to ten months after the
mass illegal firings in August 2001. The local court
could possibly reach a decision in October or
November, which then with almost 100 percent certainty would have to be appealed, given Alcoa’s sway
over local officials. The appeals process could take
another six months, bringing us to July 2003, which
would be just short of two years after the firings. And
this is the optimistic timeframe. Given that several
cases are heard simultaneously on alternating days,
delays of up to several months at a time are common
in the Mexican court system.
For months, many of the fired workers courageously
held out, refusing to accept any severance pay whatsoever, demanding their jobs back and vowing to
beat Alcoa in court. In December 2001, even after
four long months of being locked out and without a
wage, 80 of the fired workers were still holding out.
However, by March 2002, the number had shrunk to
45. Today, nine months after being fired, with incredible resolve, 31 workers—including the entire leadership of the Workers’ Committee—are still out,
refusing to accept any severance pay
and fighting to get their jobs back.
Alcoa never offered any of the fired
workers anywhere near what their
legal severance payment should have
been. However, over the months, as
the desperation of the workers and
their families grew,Alcoa has little by
little increased the severance pay it
was offering, which is now up to two
months’ wages, along with what vacation pay and 13th month bonus the
worker was owed for last year.
No matter how brave and committed
these workers are, it is unlikely that
any of them can last another seven
months, let alone more than a year,
until the appeals process is completed.
14
F I G H T I N G
F O R
Things do not look good. And it is clear that this
case will never be won in the courts without popular campaigns and solidarity pressuring Alcoa both in
Mexico and the U.S.
For Alcoa, this struggle was never about money.
Rather, it has had everything to do with power. If
Alcoa could be pressured into reinstating all 31 fired
workers still out and paying all back wages, the cost
would still come to less than $45,000, which is nothing—a mere trifle—for a transnational company the
size of Alcoa. ■
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
ALCOA MANAGEMENT
SLASHES BENEFITS
W
ith the Workers’ Committee fired and blacklisted along with more than 200 activists,Alcoa
management is now slashing benefits which
the workers had won over the years. The first to
go were the blankets which were distributed to
every worker as a Christmas bonus. It might
not seem like much, but for workers who live in
makeshift, dirt-floored huts without heat in an environment where winter temperatures can drop to
below freezing, these blankets are a necessity and
losing them is no small thing. Second,Alcoa
announced that they would no longer provide transportation to workers returning home to rural villages to spend Christmas and New Years with their
families. One of the benefits the Workers’ Committee
had won was that Alcoa provided trucks to transport
the workers home during the holidays. The vast
majority of workers do not have the money to pay
for public transportation, so they will now be stuck
in Acuña for the holidays. Another benefit which the
workers had won and Alcoa has now taken away
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
was the payment of one and a half-week’s wages as
a bonus to every worker who returned to the plant
punctually on January 2.
Another benefit that had been won pertained to
workers out on sick leave, who would continue to
receive their punctuality and attendance bonus payments while they were out of work. These benefits
could total anywhere from $13.44 to $17.22 a week,
and could mean life or death to workers not receiving their regular week’s wage. Alcoa has now eliminated this benefit. The workers believe more
cutbacks will follow.
The standard Alcoa line now goes like this: “Do you
prefer to have a job? Then you had better be
happy with the wages you have. If you keep
insisting on a wage increase, we will shut the
factory down and leave. It’s your choice.”
Managers and supervisors go around explaining this
to the workers. ■
16
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
ALCOA WORKERS
LIVING IN
CARDBOARD HUTS
A
lcoa claims that it pays its “Associates”—this is
how management refers to the workers—in
Mexico top of the line wages. This was why a
visit to the Colonia Francisco Saracho was such a
shock. Over 1,000 families are living in makeshift
huts, clinging to desolate and barren hills of sharp
rock and dust. Many of them are Alcoa workers.
They live in dirt-floored huts, many just 10 by 13
feet, put together with wooden shipping skids, cardboard and some cheap shingling. U.S. companies
used the skids to ship parts to Mexico for assembly
in the maquilas. Many of the huts have no windows.
The workers have to flatten soda bottle caps so that
when they hammer in the nails they do not tear
through the cardboard. Ten families share one outdoor faucet. The water is not potable; the workers
must buy drinking water, which costs about $1.31 for
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
that it had cost them about $2,288 so far to build
a five gallon jug. If they do not have the money, they
these rooms, which are not completed, but they are
have no alternative but to drink the filthy tap water,
still in debt and paying off the loans. All the furniwhich makes them sick. There is no indoor plumbture they could afford consisted of two beds, a crib,
ing, no showers, no toilets. Everyone uses an outa kitchen table, some straight-backed chairs and a
house. There is no heat, despite the fact that
wardrobe. This home was also immaculate and this
temperatures fall to below 30 degrees in the winter.
was a very “together” couple, who
In mid-December, it snowed. On
saved every cent they could for their
the other hand, in the summer,
two children.
temperatures soar to over 104
degrees. There is no garbage colWhen we asked the mother about
lection and refuse is scattered
their expenses, she said it took her
everythere, blown by the wind.
husband’s entire weekly paycheck
When it rains, water seeps
The
workers
explain
that
just to pay for the food, and even
through the walls and floors of
even after years of working
then they had to scrimp. Cheese, for
the huts. Some workers were livfor Alcoa in Mexico, they and
example, was “too expensive” and
ing in abandoned school buses,
their families “don’t have the
“only sometimes” could they purwhich are a little drier, but which
money
to
die.”
A
poor
man’s
chase “a little milk” for their two
freeze in the winter and bake in
funeral, just the basic funeral
young children—maybe a quart or
the summer.
parlor, casket and cemetery
two a week, if they had the money.
plot expenses, add up to
Basically, they had to get by on rice,
One of the best homes we saw
15,000
pesos,
or
$1,653.31,
beans, eggs, lard and pasta. Their
belonged to one of the leaders of
which is an enormous amount
seven-year-old daughter—a very
the Workers’ Committee who
of money for someone earnsmart kid—entered the first grade
had been fired by Alcoa. After
ing just $86.58 a week. It
this year. In Mexico, school begins
five years of working for Alcoa,
would
take
19
full
weeks’
on August 26. But in mid-December,
what he could afford was two
wages—or almost 40 percent
small dirt-floored cinderblock
Continued on page 20
of their yearly earnings—to be
rooms with a roof made of scrap
able to afford a funeral.
wood and tarpaulin. He and his
family shared an outdoor faucet
with ten other families. There
was no heat or plumbing. The only furniture
was two beds, a wardrobe, a kitchen table and
some straight backed chairs—and a computer.
Ten families
He had borrowed a computer from relatives for
share one outdoor
his children. But they had no phone service, so
faucet— and the
water is not
there was no access to the internet. The house
potable.
was immaculate. This family had enormous dignity. They could not afford to send their 16year-old daughter to high school.
“We don’t
have the
money to die.”
In another Acuña neighborhood, we visited
with a family whose husband had worked for
Alcoa for nine years. It was the same story.
After nine years of working for Alcoa, what
they could afford was two primitive cinderblock rooms, one with a concrete floor, the
other dirt. They could not afford a room
divider or door, so a sheet was draped over the
opening. Two bare light bulbs illuminated the
rooms. There was a faucet outside, but here
too the water was not potable. There was no
indoor plumbing and no heat. They estimated
The U.S. Treasury Secretary and
U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY PAUL O’NEILL
USED TO RUN ALCOA. When Mr. O’Neill left Alcoa
to join the Bush Administration, he went out gliding on a golden parachute,
including $117 million in stocks.
In March 2002, the New York Times reported that while representing the
Bush Administration at the UN Development Conference in Monterrey,
Mexico, Mr. O’Neill “expressed considerable skepticism about foreign aid.”
According to the U.S. Treasury Secretary, “If we are going to have real economic development in the world, most of that will come from capital coming
into those countries to create jobs. We are not going to do it with welfare.”
It would have been a great eye-opener for the delegates at the Monterrey
conference to drive for an hour and a half to visit the broken-down dirt floor
cardboard huts, lacking heat and running water, in neighborhoods without
roads or garbage collection, in which Alcoa workers and their families live
in Acuña, where Alcoa is the largest employer. Yet, Alcoa—the largest
aluminum company in the world, controlling 40 percent of the U.S.
market—pays no federal or state corporate tax in Mexico.
18
Alcoa
INVESTMENT WITHOUT RESPECT
FOR WORKERS’ RIGHTS DOES NOT LEAD TO
GENUINE SOCIAL DEVELOPMENT.
Alcoa refers to its Mexican workers as “Associates” and “Alcoans.” These pictures show
how Alcoans live on the “world class wages” Alcoa pays.
19
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
the mother explained, “we
are still a little behind”
and did not have the $1520 necessary to purchase
their daughter’s school
uniform, so she had to go
without. It would cost
more if she bought it in a
store, but she was prepared
to purchase the materials
and sew the uniform at
home. But they did not
have the money even for
that.
While we were there, the
daughter was studiously
practicing the alphabet, drawing pictures, making up words and sentences.
She had filled up all the space in her
notebooks and was now using the
edges of pages she had already used.
Her father worked for Alcoa for
nine years but they could not
afford a new notebook for their
child.
The squalor that the Alcoa workers in
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
Mexico are forced to live in is not
hard to find. In fact, for any serious observer it is impossible to
miss. In February 2001, a New
York Times reporter wrote:
“Despite Alcoa’s wage
increases and improvements
in factory conditions, its
Acuña workers still live in a
squalid grid of dirt streets,
rotting garbage and swamps
of open sewage.”
Alcoa is the largest
employer in the city
of Acuña. This is
how The New York
When you explain that Alcoa claims it is
Times describes livpaying a “world class wage” to its working conditions
ers in Mexico, everyone responds,“it is a
there: “In Acuña…
lie,” and they immediately invite the
Mexican workers
American people to come see how they
earn such miserlive, what they can afford to eat, and how
able wages and
they are forced to sell their blood to surAmerican compavive. Many Alcoa workers must take secnies pay such
ond jobs, such as waiting tables or fixing
minimal taxes
cars, in order to survive. Asked if they
that its schools
ever go out to see a movie, they respond,
are a shambles,
“no…that’s too much of a luxury.” Do
its hospitals
they take family vacations? They laugh,
crumbling, its
“We could never afford that.” Asked
trash collection
about the Christmas holiday, they
slapdash and its
respond,“We don’t have Christmas here.
sewage lines
We can’t afford anything special, and cercollapsed. Half
tainly not toys.”
of Acuña’s
150,000 residents
now use backyard latrines.”
“We don’t have
Christmas here.”
Over the years, as one
exposé after another has
documented sweatshop
abuses around the world,
the American people have
grown almost accustomed
to seeing the squalor and
misery in which young
workers sewing our tshirts and assembling our
sneakers in China,
Nicaragua and Haiti are
forced to live. However,
with Alcoa, the picture is
20
F I G H T I N G
F O R
supposed to be different. Alcoa is a giant, profitable
transnational corporation operating at the high end
of manufacturing. That is why it is such a shock to
see Alcoa’s workers in Mexico trapped in the same
abject poverty and living in the same broken down
dirt-floored huts.■
WORKING FOR ALCOA
FOR $1.20 AN HOUR
T
he base wage for the most experienced Alcoa
workers in Acuña is no more than 528 pesos a
week—$57.55, or $1.20 an hour. These wages
come to less than seven percent of what unionized
Alcoa workers earn in the United States.
Alcoa Base Wage in Mexico
• $1.20 an hour
• $9.60 a day (8 hours)
• $57.55 a week (6 days, 48 hours)
• $249.37 a month
• $2,992.48 a year
No one can even come close to surviving on these
wages. So over the years the workers have struggled
for and won certain concessions or bonuses from
Alcoa, which can add another $15.26 a week to
their wages.
• Attendance bonus
• Punctuality bonus
• Food coupons
40 pesos
30 pesos
70 pesos
$ 4.36
$ 3.27
$ 7.63
$ 15.26
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
• A Salary Credit
38.33 pesos $ 4.18
(Recognizing that the wages Alcoa pays are
below subsistence levels, the Mexican
government promises a wage credit, or subsidy,
to the Alcoa workers.)
Total, additional credits: $ 13.77
So someone with nine years of experience working
for Alcoa can earn $86.58 a week, including wages
and all bonuses and credits. This wage would be at
the high end, for workers with the greatest seniority.
After deducting for Social Security, which is 18.36
pesos, or $2.00, the worker is left with $84.58. Alcoa
actually knocks another three cents off the wages,
charging the workers for the pay slips they receive.
Now, most workers never take home $84 a week in
wages since there are other routine deductions—for
cafeteria food, loan payments, etc. But for argument’s
sake, if we leave the weekly pay at $84.55 for all
wages and benefits, this means that for 48 hours of
work the most experienced Alcoa worker can earn
$1.76 an hour.
Alcoa claims that the wages it is paying its
“Associates” in Mexico are definitely on the high end
and are rather good, especially given the low cost of
living in Mexico. After all, we are not talking about
Pittsburgh or New York. This is Acuña. So we asked
the Alcoa workers how they were able to live on
these wages.
It may come as a shock to most American people to learn that many basic subsistence goods
Continued on page 24
Of course,Alcoa uses these bonuses as a stick, for if a
worker arrives even five minutes late, just once, they
lose their entire punctuality bonus for the week. The
same applies to taking sick days—they lose their
entire attendance bonus.
Two additional Mexican government credits can add
another $13.77 to the workers’ weekly wage.
• Seventh Day’s pay
88 pesos $ 9.59
(In Latin America, where the workweek is six
days, it is traditional that the companies must
pay the Seventh Day.)
21
Alcoa Workers Selling Their Blood to
ALCOA WORKERS SELING THEIR BLOOD!
WORKERS REPORT THAT IN PIEDRAS NEGRAS MORE
THAN 30 PERCENT OF ALCOA WORKERS ARE FORCED
TO SELL THEIR BLOOD EACH WEEK IN ORDER TO
SURVIVE. You can see the puncture marks on the workers’ arms.
Twice each week, either after work or on weekends, hundreds of Alcoa
“Associates” walk over the bridge spanning the Rio Grande river from
Piedras Negras to Eagle Pass, Texas, on the U.S. side, where the large
pharmaceutical company, Baxter, runs a plasma center. Baxter broadcasts
radio ads in Mexico telling people that they “can give the gift of life.” The
Plasma Center says they do not pay for the blood, but they do give the
Mexican workers a “gratuity” for coming. The Alcoa workers come because
they desperately need the money to survive. They are paid $10 for the first
donation and $20 for the second. Each time they take about a liter of
blood plasma, and the process takes about an hour. Many Alcoa workers
have been doing this twice a week for years. Baxter tells them to drink a
lot of fluids before donating, otherwise they will be dizzy afterwards. In the
summer months, when they leave the Plasma Center and come out into
22
“My God, these corporations are like vampires
sucking the blood of the Mexican workers.”
—“Lefty” Palm, USWA VP-Alcoa Division
Survive
the heat, many workers have fainted and collapsed in the street.
In December, Baxter is forced to pay $50 for the second weekly donation. In
December, the Alcoa workers receive their end-of-year bonus or “Thirteenth Month”,
and with a few extra dollars in their pockets, no one is anxious to sell their blood.
So the price of the second donation rises to $50 in December and drops back down
to $20 in January—the free market at work.
BAXTER INTERNATIONAL BLOOD CENTER
Set up in the middle of nowhere, in tiny Eagle Pass, Texas—but within walking distrance
of
23
Alcoa’s maquila plants in Mexico.
23
are actually more expensive in Mexico than in
the United States. For example, the cheapest gallon
of milk costs $3.27 in Mexico as compared to $2.57
in the U.S. A dozen eggs costs $1.55 as compared to
68 cents in the U.S. Chicken legs cost 64 cents a
pound in Mexico and 33 cents a pound in Texas.
Gasoline costs $2.31 a gallon in Acuña, while right
across the border in Eagle Pass,Texas, it costs just
$1.15. The very cheapest pair of jeans on sale at
Mexico’s largest low-end retailer will cost $15.91,
while across the border in Wal-Mart, Faded Glory
blue jeans sell for $14.92. Mexico is not that cheap a
place to live.
We had already seen the miserable conditions under
which the Alcoa workers are forced to live, which
was proof enough that they were earning wages well
below basic subsistence levels. The Alcoa workers
are trapped in abject poverty.
Still, workers took the time to walk us through
some of their basic weekly expenses. We could
then judge for ourselves if Alcoa was telling the
truth regarding its wages being on the high end and
rather good.
This $92.69 in expenses is already more than the
highest paid Alcoa worker earns in a week, and we
have not even begun to consider school costs, cloth24
ing, health care and medicines and the myriad of
other daily miscellaneous living expenses.
For example, to inscribe your child in the first grade
at a public school costs $5.45. The school uniform
costs another $21.80. Then there are the notebooks,
school supplies and weekly fees for the cafeteria
food the school serves. ■
PUTTING ALCOA’S
WAGES IN
PERSPECTIVE:
A TINY HUMAN RIGHTS NGO IN
PIEDRAS NEGRAS PAYS MORE THAN
DOUBLE THE WAGES ALCOA DOES!
To put Alcoa’s wages into perspective, it is important
to note that a tiny non-governmental human rights
organization based in Piedras Negras pays its promoters $2.72 an hour, which they consider to be a
bare-bones subsistence-level wage. This tiny NGO is
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
Alcoa Workers Average Basic Weekly Expenses
• Food
$ 59.46
(The most minimal subsistence-level diet for
a family of four.)
• Rent
$ 17.91
(For the least expensive, government-subsidized
housing consisting of three or four small rooms.)
• Utilities
(Electric, gas, water)
$
9.62
• Round trip bus to work
(95 cents round trip each day x six days)
$
5.70
Total
$ 92.69
paying wages which are more than double Alcoa’s
base wage of $1.20 an hour! Even if you add the
benefits and credits, the Alcoa workers have won,
their total wages still amount to just 65 percent of
what the NGO is paying—yet Alcoa is a major
transnational corporation!
more than Alcoa does. And many public sector workers, including telephone, electrical, and Social
Security workers, earn more than Alcoa pays. Stateowned coal mines pay four to five times as much as
Alcoa does.
WOMEN SEWING PANTS EARNED TWICE
AS MUCH AS ALCOA PAYS ITS WORKERS
At the Dimmit Gaylord garment factory in Acuña,
women sewing pants for export to the U.S. could
earn, under a piece rate system, $2.25 to $3.44 an
hour and $108.02 to $165.33 a week. At the high
end, these wages are double what Alcoa pays.
The fact that Alcoa, a major transnational company
with high-end investment and production in Mexico,
is paying its workers just 50 to 80 percent of the
wages earned by women sewing pants, comes as a
shock.
In fact, workers at two nearby auto parts plants, the
Racine and Finley factories, also pay their workers
A COMPARISON
Alcoa’s Base Wage
Tiny NGO Wage
$1.20 an hour
$2.72 an hour
$9.60 a day (8 hours)
$21.80 a day (8 hours)
$57.55 a week
(6 days, 48 hours)
$130.79 a week
(6 days)
$249.37 a month
$566.76 a month
$2,992.48 a year
$6,801.09 a year
25
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
ALCOA WORKING
CONDITIONS
• Arbitrary production line speed-ups.
• Obligatory overtime.
• Workers need permission to use the bathroom; limited to two visits per shift; monitored and timed.
• Workers prohibited from leaving the factory during
lunch hour.
• Sham Factory Audits; plant cleaned in advance;
assembly line slowed down; old machinery temporarily removed.
• Workers feel they have no rights; working at Alcoa
“is like being in
prison;” no unions
are permitted in
Acuña.
The major complaint
the Alcoa workers
have is the below subsistence wages that
trap their families in
abject poverty.
Lacking the money,
many of their children
cannot even finish
high school, which
means they too will be
trapped in dead end
low wage jobs for the
rest of their lives. A
second major complaint is the lack of
freedom. The workers
feel they have no
voice. “Working in Alcoa,” they say,“is like being
in prison.” They have no rights.
There are arbitrary production line speed-ups. When
the workers can reach their production goal, management speeds up the line the following day. The workers are on their feet all day for ten hours, constantly
on the move. Their production line, like a large table,
moves in a circle and they have to keep up with the
line until they complete their operation, at which
point they have to race back to their original station
and start over again. They must assemble 64 wire
26
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
harnesses an hour, or more than one a minute, and
640 a day. You have to concentrate constantly, as
everyone is on the move and you are bumping into
other workers, and must guard against tripping or
having an accident.
Workers need permission from their supervisors to
use the bathroom, which is limited to two visits per
shift. Not only that, but the workers must coordinate
their permissions since no two workers can be off
the line at the same time. You cannot leave until the
supervisor is willing to take your place. The visits are
monitored and timed, and if you dare take more than
five minutes, you are in trouble.
All overtime work is obligatory. It is typical for the
day shift to work from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. and the
night shift from 7:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m. If a worker
tries to explain that
she cannot stay for
the overtime, she is
taken to the personnel office, threatened
and told she must stay
– period. They are
threatened with a
two-day suspension
without pay. In some
instances management will let you out,
if you agree to speed
up and complete your
two hours of overtime
work during regular
working hours. Then
you may go home at
5:00 p.m., but you
will not be paid for
the overtime work
you did. When there
are work orders to fill,
it is not uncommon to
be forced to work five and six our shifts on Saturdays
and Sundays.
People working the all-night shift earn just a 10-centan-hour premium. Many husbands and wives try to
split their shifts at Alcoa, so that someone can be
home to care for the young children. So the wives
work the day shift, and the husbands the night shift,
but they can hardly ever see each other, and many
families have collapsed on account of the strain of
these hours.
F I G H T I N G
F O R
Alcoa will not hire anyone over 30 or 35 years of
age. They prefer to hire teenagers, or people in their
very early 20s. Up to just three years ago, Alcoa was
illegally employing minors 15 years of age.
At Alcoa’s Macoelmex factory in Piedras Negras, the
workers are prohibited from leaving the factory to go
out for lunch, or during the breakfast break. It is also
prohibited to bring sweets or food into the factory to
sell, something many workers did in the past to
increase their incomes. Without the little added
money they were able to earn, their only alternative
now is to sell their blood. Since the company will
not let the workers out, if they want to eat they are
forced to purchase food in the factory’s cafeteria.
The food is bland and very unappealing. It is institutional food, pre-made and frozen. A typical lunch
would be a thin hamburger, rice, and some sort of
mashed potato mix out of a box. All of the workers
disliked the food, yet they had to pay 20 pesos for
lunch, or $2.18, and 15 pesos for breakfast, or $1.63.
Together this comes to more than three hours base
wages, $3.81, for food they do not want or like. They
feel humiliated, being treated like school children.
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
In Acuña, unions are not allowed at any of Alcoa’s 11
plants. In Piedras Negras, Alcoa has a sweetheart deal
with the corrupt Confederation of Mexican Workers,
CTM, which the workers did not ask for and do not
want. At most, the CTM holds one meeting a year,
but even so, nothing happens. There are no serious
discussions, no votes, nothing of any substance. As
we will see, the workers are now challenging this,
forced to fight both the CTM yellow union and Alcoa
management.
In the Piedras Negras plants, the workers face another trap as well. The chief doctor at Alcoa’s clinic in
Piedras Negras is also the head of the Social Security
System for the state. He does not like to certify work
injuries. Upon review, workers are told that their
illness or injury was not caused by anything job related, and therefore they have no claim to compensation, or that the injury was their fault, and as a result
they are forced to resign.
One worker, Ms.Amparo Reyes, was invited by the
United Steelworkers of America to join them in
Seattle at the WTO protest. Upon her return, the
Another joke was the company
audits when visitors showed up
at the factory. Beforehand the
plant would be thoroughly
cleaned and mopped.
Production lines would be temporarily slowed down for the
duration of the audit. Expensive
cereals and fruit—which the
workers never receive—suddenly appeared, free of charge, in
the cafeteria.
The workers at Macoelmex
described one audit by representatives from Ford. The Ford company had been complaining for
some time that Alcoa had to
replace some its older machinery
that used a pressure clamp to
attach wires to the circuits. Too
often the wires came loose.
Before the Ford auditors arrived,
the machinery was unplugged
and removed, only to be taken
out again a half-hour after the
audit ended.
Harnesses & Accessories of Mexico
[Alcoa in Acuña]
IS SEEKING FEMALE & MALE PERSONNEL FOR ITS
PRODUCTION AREA. WE HAVE THE BEST WORK ENVIRONMENT,
BENEFITS HIGHER THAN LEGALLY REQUIRED
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
supervisors were all over her: What did she do?
Does she now want to be a leader? Does she think
she can organize a new union? They put her under
watch, and threatened other workers to steer clear
of her.
Under these conditions, the workers are understandably afraid. They have no rights, and must do what
they can to defend these jobs, which they desperately need. However, every worker told us that the
minute a legal framework could be established in the
factories, and their workers’ rights were secured, in
no time at all every worker would join a real union. ■
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
Alcoa Workers Donate
Money To Victims of
September 11 Attacks
The majority of Alcoa workers chose to
donate an average of 10 pesos each ($1.09)
to the victims and their families after the
tragic September 11 terrorist attack in New
York. The workers told us, “we gave with
our hearts, and we were proud to
help.” Alcoa was supposed to match the
workers’ donations. Even if just 80 percent
of the workers contributed, $27,206
should have been sent to the families in
New York.
To date, Alcoa management has not said
anything to the workers regarding their
donations and whether or not the money
has been sent. Some workers are concerned that the money does not end up in
the pocket of one of the local managers.
28
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
PART II
Fighting for a Union
Workers Win Major Breakthrough
Alcoa Lashes Out and Goes on the Attack
nies. The CTM did not do very much, other than take
lcoa became too greedy. Management was
the workers’ dues, and hold a poorly attended assemcoming off its own recent victory, satisfied that it
bly once a year.
had destroyed any attempt to organize at its
Acuña plants, where it fired—with complete impunity—all nine leaders of the Workers’ Committee,
ALCOA TEARS UP THE CONTRACT,
along with some 230 union activists, who were
WIPING OUT SENIORITY AND ALL JOB
thrown out on the street with nothing, not even
CLASSIFICATIONS:
their severance pay. As Alcoa had planned, in the
ut as the time for contract “negotiations” rolled
wake of the mass firings an atmosphere of fear and
around,Alcoa decided they wanted to throw out
intimidation spread through the plants.
the existing contract, doing away with seniority
Management was in full control and resumed its
paternalistic way of operating. The eleven Alcoa
USWA’s Jerry Fernandez and “Lefty” Palm lead Mexican workers into Alcoa’s shareholders meeting
factories in Acuña would
remain union free.
A
B
In nearby Piedras Negras,
Alcoa management
employed a different tactic
to control worker democracy and dissent at its two
plants, where approximately 4,600 workers
assembled wire harnessing
for Ford, Harley-Davidson,
Volkswagon, Subaru and
others. Alcoa had a longstanding sweetheart deal
with the corrupt CTM
union, which often plays
the same role in Mexico as
the government-run All
China Trade Union
Federation does in China:
namely, to repress worker
dissent while providing
protection to the compa29
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
and wiping out all job classifications in order to
make room for a new work system the company
wanted to impose. The CTM union obligingly went
along, and a new contract was signed. The contract
ended all seniority benefits and pay increases, and
totally wiped out all existing job classifications.
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
there are 12 levels. To reach the highest level, that
of a Specialist, a worker would have to master every
operation in the plant. Those who failed management’s evaluation would remain stuck in the lower
levels. Since the assembly work is very strenuous,
with the workers on their feet all day, constantly
walking to keep up with the line, the older workers
especially felt they would be discriminated against
and kept at the lowest levels. In many cases, the
workers thought their wages would actually fall
under the new contract.
WAGE INCREASE AMOUNTS TO
TWO SMALL BAGS OF BEANS:
A
lcoa management also claimed that the company had hit hard times following September 11
and the recession, and therefore could only
afford a 40 peso a week raise, which amounts to
$4.21, or 9 cents an hour. The workers saw this
as another insult, explaining in disgust, “With 40
pesos, you can barely buy two small bags of
beans.” In fact, a small kilo bag of beans costs 20
pesos, $2.20.
Everyone would now start out at the base level and
would be tested and evaluated every four to six
months to see if they could pass onto the next level.
Management would evaluate each worker on several
production and attitudinal criteria, including:
▲
Ability to consistently reach daily production
goals set by management;
▲
Good behavior and a positive attitude toward
their work;
▲
A 97 percent attendance and punctuality record;
▲
Making at least two suggestions a month to
improve productivity; and,
▲
Having advanced educationally to at least secondary school level.
Workers at the base level would start out at 87
cents an hour. Those passing the evaluation and
moving into Level #2 could earn $1.19 an hour.
After Level #2, proportionally, the wage increases
for each new level decline significantly. In total
30
The contract also cut sick leave benefits, slashing
attendance and punctuality bonuses which the
workers traditionally received when they were out
sick. Workers could now lose up to over $20 a
week in benefits. Maternity leave and benefits were
also cut.
With the help of the CTM,Alcoa had essentially torn
up the existing contract. For Alcoa, this was an
important test case. If they could impose this new
work system in Piedras Negras, they could then apply
it across the entire country.
“OUT! OUT! OUT!” AN INDEPENDENT
UNION IS BORN:
T
he workers were shocked and angry. This time
Alcoa management had gone too far. Especially
in Plant #2, with 1,300 workers, as word leaked
out about the contract and the workers started talking, the anger grew. A core group of activists then
took the lead. Many had participated in popular education seminars at the Border Workers’ Committee
(CFO—a human rights organization supported by the
American Friends Service Committee) where they
had studied Mexican labor law and learned about the
core ILO internationally recognized worker rights
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
the attached Subaru factory—nearly 1,400 workers
in total. As the workers started shouting their
approval, the CTM regional leader grabbed the microphone and tried to regain control of the assembly,
but the workers drowned him out, shouting,
“Out! Out! Out!” Hernandez then tried to end the
assembly, calling for a walkout. Everyone supporting
the CTM, he said, should leave with him now. Only
15 or 20 workers followed him out the door. Well
over 1,350 stayed!
The workers took full control of the assembly,
and an independent union local was born. The
assembly voted in a new slate of officers:
-Carlos Briones
-Javier Carmona
-Jose Luis Rodriguez
-Bruno Melendez
-Guadalupe Rivera
-Roberto Matias
The new union leaders immediately started to gather
the signatures of those who voted.
Amparo Reyes, fired for supporting an independent union.
standards, including the freedom of association and
the right to organize.
These independent union activists wanted Alcoa to
be very productive and profitable, and knew that
Alcoa could do this while also finally respecting the
fundamental rights of its workers.
The activists decided to force the CTM to hold an
assembly where they would have to explain the new
contract to the workers. The assembly was set for
Friday evening, February 22. Beforehand, the activists
had come up with a strategy. They would try to get
control of the microphone, and once they did, they
would call for the expulsion of the entire corrupt
CTM leadership.
Outside the assembly, which was held at the city’s
convention center, Hernandez had gathered a group
of 30 or so CTM supporters and thugs who tried to
start a fight to disrupt the assembly. The thugs
attacked two women,Amparo Reyes, an independent
union activist from Plant #1, and Margarita Ramirez, a
CFO activist. The women were knocked to the
ground, their blouses torn, and the thugs broke one
camera and took the video cassette from the other.
But order was quickly restored, no one was seriously
hurt, and the assembly proceeded with its important
work.
This was an enormous victory, not just for the workers of Plant #2, but as a positive example of democracy and independent union organizing for the over-1.3
million maquila workers across Mexico. If the workers at Alcoa could do it, so could the workers at
other factories. The workers’ spirits were high, but
within days the trouble started.
At 6:00 p.m., the CTM leader from Plant #2, Ricardo
de los Reyes, showed up accompanied by Leocadio
Hernandez, who is the regional CTM boss. All of a
sudden the independent activists had gained control
of the microphone and did exactly as they had
planned. They called for the immediate expulsion of
the entire corrupt CTM leadership from Plant #2.
There was a huge turnout from both Plant #2 and
31
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
ALCOA’S RHETORIC VERSUS REALITY:
W
hen you read Alcoa’s statement of the company’s “Vision, Principles and Values 2001” you
would think this was a religious organization.
Under the section “Our Values and Human Rights,”
the Alcoa Corporation claims, “We recognize and
respect the freedom of association of individual Alcoans to join, or refrain from joining, legally
authorized associations or organizations.” In fact,
on March 4, 2002, Mr. Robert Alexander, who is president of Alcoa’s Global Automotive Division, wrote to
a concerned religious shareholder that Alcoa “has
and continues to have a strong commitment to the
Alcoa People Value at all operating locations
around the world. Our aim is to treat all employees with dignity and respect.”
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
union stayed,Alcoa would shut down the factory
and leave.
After an appeal to the government to overturn the
election, the Conciliation and Arbitration Board ruled
that Friday night’s election at the assembly was not
valid, since it had not been certified by competent
State authorities. A secret ballot election was then
scheduled for Monday, March 4—a full 10 days after
the assembly.
THE TROUBLE BEGINS —
FIRINGS AND BEATINGS:
O
n Monday morning, February 25, the trouble
started. CTM regional boss Hernandez showed
up at Plant #2 with a gang of CTM cronies from
outside the factory, trying to provoke a conflict.
One of the newly elected independent union leaders, Bruno Melendez, was in fact struck in the head
Furthermore, referring specifically to the workers’
attempt to organize an independent democratic
union at Alcoa Plant #2 in Piedras Negras, Mr.
Alexander wrote, “The
company maintains a
neutral stance on this
labor situation… The
company does not take a
position in elections of
executive committees for
union representation, as
this is the internal decision of the employees.”
In short, the workers in
Plant #2 would be free to
exercise their legal right
to freedom of association,
which is the most fundamental of the ILO’s internationally recognized
worker rights standards.
Unfortunately, corporate
rhetoric is one thing
while reality is quite
another. Alcoa’s principles read well, but they
turn out to be just words
on a piece of paper. In
reality,Alcoa was anything Adrian Garcia and Amparo Reyes, fired on February 25. They are holding an example of the wire
harnessing, or automotive electrical systems, they made for export to the U.S.
but neutral. Local management lashed out,
and cut by a heavy object thrown at him. His
threatening and intimidating the workers, using
wound required stitches. The CTM goons then
every ploy in an attempt to divide them, while isolatwent to the attached Subaru plant and beat another
ing and refusing to meet with the new union. Local
worker. When it became clear that the workers
managers let it be known that if the independent
were not going to be provoked into a dangerous
32
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
independent union stays,
Alcoa will shut down
the factory.”
confrontation, but that any moment they might rise
up as a group and throw the thugs out, Hernandez
led them out.
At about 11:30 a.m., Hernandez and his group then
entered Plant #1 where they met up with the corrupt
CTM plant leader Jesus Muñoz. At this point,Alcoa
took the very unusual step of shutting down several
production lines during working hours in order to
allow the CTM to hold a meeting. About 30 people
gathered in an outdoor patio, with perhaps a hundred
or so workers looking on from the outskirts.
Hernandez shouted and railed against the independent union, saying “The gringos who are behind
this—all they want to do is destabilize the
maquila so the factories will shut down and all
the jobs return to the U.S….Don’t be dupes of
the U.S. unions, the United Steelworkers of
America, the Border Workers’ Committee. They
are using you. They want to steal your jobs.”
Hernandez yelled that “The gringos are paying these
independent union people $500 a week!…It’s time
to kick these gringo puppets out.” Hernandez went
on: “Either they go or we will lose the factory. If the
The CTM thugs then
went through the plant
looking for those who
had been the most outspoken and courageous
dissidents, who had supported the new union in
Plant #2. First, they
attacked Amparo Reyes.
Uniformed Alcoa security
guards helped grab
Amparo’s arms from
behind, pushing and leading her out of the factory—“as if I were a
common criminal,” she
said later. The corrupt
CTM union fired six
workers that morning!
And Alcoa not only
allowed this, but actually assisted the CTM.
Another worker, Oscar
Duarte, was also led out
by Alcoa security guards.
Also fired that Monday
morning were Adrian Garcia, Zulema Hinojosa,Ana
Montalvo and Samuel Villanueva.
TAKE YOUR SEVERANCE OR BE
BLACKLISTED:
A
lcoa managers were standing outside the plant
watching as the CTM gang threw out the “fired”
workers. Alcoa local human resource manager,
Humberto Portillo, immediately approached the
“fired” workers, telling them they had no choice but
to accept their severance pay and leave. The workers, stunned, refused. That evening Alcoa sent one of
its personnel managers, Gerardo Vazquez, to accompany CTM thugs as they visited the homes of the
“fired” workers to pressure them to quit.
Alcoa was doing everything it could to block the disease of freedom of association from spreading from
Factory #2 to its Factory #1.
The following morning, when the workers returned
wanting their jobs back, they were met not only by
33
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
Portillo, but also by Maria Elena Cavazos—Alcoa’s top
lawyer in Mexico, based in Monterrey. She explained
again that they had no other option than to accept
their firings. She also sweetened the pot a little, saying that if they accepted their firings, they would not
only receive their full severance pay, but also a letter
of recommendation from Alcoa so they “wouldn’t be
burned when they sought other work.” In other
words, they would not end up on a blacklist circulating among the companies—which Alcoa was evidently quite familiar with.
From beginning to end, these firings were unusual.
First, Alcoa shut down production lines during the
working hours to allow the CTM to stage an
impromptu meeting. The meeting was certainly not
a legal union assembly. There was no prior notification of the meeting, no agenda, no discussion, no
vote and no mediation. Alcoa security guards then
participated in the firings. How could the corrupt
CTM union, with Alcoa’s collusion, simply fire these
workers?
The independent unionists were fired under a socalled “Exclusion Clause” in the contract between
Alcoa and the CTM, which would allow corrupt CTM
officials to fire dissidents, or anyone who dared to
challenge their authority.
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
ALCOA, THE HELPLESS TRANSNATIONAL:
A
lcoa, which just weeks before had not hesitated
for a second in tearing up the existing CTM contract—wiping out seniority and all job classifications and slashing benefits in the process—is now
anxious to have us believe that it is just a weak and
pitiful transnational corporation which has no choice
but to go along with what the CTM union dictates.
Defending the firings,Alcoa executive Robert
Alexander wrote on March 4:
“We were notified by the CTM union leadership
that some employees had been officially expelled by
the union. According to legal opinions, the CTM
union has the right based on an ‘Exclusion Clause’
in the labor contract to take this action. This is
supported by article 335 of the Mexican Labor Law.
Macoelmex [the name of Alcoa’s factories in
Piedras Negras], according to the terms of its collective bargaining agreement with the CTM labor
union, is required to terminate the employment of
these individuals. Given these facts, six Macoelmex
employees were terminated on February 26, 2002.”
Alcoa does indeed know a lot about firing workers.
In August 2001, Alcoa fired at least 236 workers in
Acuña who were struggling for their legal rights.
F I G H T I N G
F O R
The Supreme Court based its ruling on
Mexico’s constitution, which guarantees the
workers’ right to freedom of association—
or put another way, the right to form truly
independent democratic unions. When the
CTM, with Alcoa’s active collaboration, fired
the six workers in Plant #1 who supported
the independent union, they violated these
workers’ constitutional right to freedom of
association.
R I G H T S
Federation in China) in
crushing all dissent and
union democracy.
However, when it
comes to laws
protecting worker
rights,Alcoa may
be a little hazy,
confused, and
selective.
Just a year earlier,
on April 17, 2001,
the Mexican
Supreme Court—
the highest court
in the land—
unanimously
ruled “that articles 395 and 413
of Federal Labor
Law, which permit the establishment of a
so-called exclusion clause in
collective contracts or in contract law, are unconstitutional and it
declared this contractual form null.”
(“Supreme Court finds against Labor
Articles,” Zocalo, Piedras Negras,April 18,
2002).
W O R K E R
The struggle that is
now going on at Alcoa
Plant #2 may in large
measure determine the
future of respect for
worker rights and
independent unions
across all of Mexico,
affecting the lives and
dignity of 1.3 million
maquila workers and
their families.
Continued on page 38
DOESN’T NAFTA PROTECT WORKER RIGHTS?
No! NAFTA has been seriously flawed from the outset,
when labor rights protections were relegated to a side-bar
accord and not made part of the core agreement. Between
1994 and April 2001, not a single one of the 23 worker
rights complaints filed under the North American
Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) has resulted in sanctions against any labor rights violations.
Human Rights Watch concludes that:
“The NAFTA labor accords suffer from both structural
defects and a lack of political will. Taken together,
they represent a very serious blow to labor rights in
the region.
“The NAFTA experience is an important lesson for any
future trade agreements. Our research shows that
agreements on labor will never work without active
support of the countries involved. In the case of NAFTA,
these three countries have actually worked to minimize
the impact of the labor provisions.”
The great significance of the Supreme
Court’s ruling was immediately noted by
distinguished Monterrey law professor,Ana
Maria Alvarado Larios, who wrote that the
court’s decision “should be celebrated at a historical
moment in which the need is obvious to consolidate
a truly representative and democratic union system,
which distances itself from the single and obligatory
union model.” Professor Alvarado is referring to the
role played by corrupt labor centrals like the CTM in
Mexico (similar to the all China Trade Union
35
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
CEDR!!LO! S
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RSETLYFOURSELF BE FOOLED BY CTAORIES.
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36
YELLOW UNION LEAFLET—translated
Trying to frighten the workers—if you stand
up for your rights you will lose your job.
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
LEOCADIO HERN
ANDEZ.
ALIAS: - THE BI
G RAT
PROFESSION ROB THE PEOP
LE
WORK AREA: COMPANIES AN
D ANYONE WHO
WILL LET HIM
COMPAÑEROS.
Let’s not allow
him to continue
enriching himse
the hunger of ou
lf at the cost of
r families. The
the workers an
hour has arrive
d
has robbed us.
d
to call him to ac
It is impossible
co
un
t
fo
r
all he
that he should
How can it be ex
live like a king
plained that in
and we in pove
rty.
th
e
sh
ort time he has
such riches—lik
been leader, he
e bus concession
sh
ou
ld
have
s and newspap
utorship, a lend
er concession,
ing house, a hu
a villa, a beer di
ge
stribho
us
e in the Esfuer
other business
zo neighborhood
es that we don’
and all the
t know about.
If we don’ t cut
the head off th
e octopus, we, al
never live in pe
l the workers an
ace. Because cu
d our families,
will
tting off an arm
, we gain nothin
g.
It’s impossible,
that he said that
the Casa del Ob
workers, but no
rero hall was go
w he charges us
ing to be for th
8,000 pesos for
e
its rent.
IT’S BETTER TO
DIE ON ONES FE
ET THAN TO LI
VE ON ONES KN
EES
Leocadio Herñandez
Torres:
The local labor is tra
ined and
doesn’t come out ex
pensive.
INDEPENDENT UNION FIGHTS BACK—
translated leaflet
The struggle for justice— “It is better
to die on ones feet than to live on
ones knees.”
37
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
Fired Alcoa workers.
“IT’S BETTER TO DIE ON ONE’S FEET
THAN TO LIVE ON ONE’S KNEES.”
A
s the time for Monday March 4’s union vote
neared, the CTM distributed thousands of leaflets
starting on Saturday, March 2, attacking the independent union. The CTM’s message was always the
same, and meant to sow fear that a vote for the independent union committee would lead Alcoa to shut
the factory down and leave, taking the jobs with
them.
Sounding exactly like a yellow union, the CTM flyer
read:
“If you didn’t want our source of income to go
somewhere else…vote CTM.”
“Watch out!!! Don’t let yourself be fooled by people
paid by American unions. Take care of your jobs,
companero!!!!”
The CTM was directly accusing the United
Steelworkers of America and other unions of trying
to steal Mexican jobs, when the very opposite is the
truth. As Steelworker president Leo Gerard explains,
their union does not represent a single wire harness38
ing job in the U.S. There is no self interest here.
Rather, the Steelworkers union is reaching out in solidarity to its Mexican brothers and sisters because it
is the right thing to do. In fact, if it were a matter of
self interest, the Steelworkers would not be taking on
one of their largest employers in the U.S., which
Alcoa is, but rather would be turning their backs and
staying out of the way. Instead, the Steelworkers
have opted for real international solidarity.
The independent union fought back with its own
flyer, referring to CTM boss Hernandez as “the big
rat” whose real occupation is to “rob the people.”
After pointing out that the so-called CTM “union”
leader Hernandez just happens to have part ownership of several businesses, including a beer distributorship, a money exchange, as well as newspaper and
bus route concessions, the flyer goes on:
“Let’s not allow him to continue enriching himself
at the cost of the workers and the hunger of our
families. The hour has arrived to call him to
account for all he has robbed us. If we don’t cut
the head off the octopus, we, all the workers and
our families, will never live in peace.
‘It’s better to die on one’s feet than to live on
one’s knees!’ ”
F I G H T I N G
F O R
WINNING BY A LANDSLIDE:
O
n Monday, March 4, the struggle moved back to
Plant #2. The secret ballot was to take place from
9:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m., so both shifts could vote.
Before the voting began,Alcoa’s chief of operations
for Piedras Negras, Mr. Paulino Navarro, called a meeting with Plant #2 managers and supervisors.
Managers and supervisors were instructed to inform
the workers in no uncertain terms that a vote in
favor of the independent union would result in the
closing of the factory and the company’s leaving.
This was yet another example of Alcoa’s commitment
to neutrality. (“The company maintains a neutral
stance on this labor situation…” etc.).
Voter turnout was huge—1,484 workers had voted.
After the polls closed at 9:00 p.m., it took until
1:00 a.m. to finish the count, as each ballot was
inspected and counted by the representatives of
the government’s Conciliation and Arbitration
Board in the presence of the CTM bosses and the
independent union slate. But even before 1:00
a.m., it was clear that the independent union
had won by a landslide, winning 60 percent
of the vote, 892 for the independent union to
529 for the CTM. Despite every intimidation
by Alcoa and the CTM, the independent union
had won by
300 votes!
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
Alcoa did not like it, and from March 4 on has aggressively pursued a strategy to prop up the corrupt
CTM union, while trying to divide the workers
through a constant series of threats and intimidation.
Alcoa’s constant theme was that they would be
forced to shut down the factory and leave if the independent union stayed. In Plant #2, where the union
leaders work and the workers know them well, they
swept 1,300 votes for, with just eight against.
“IF YOU ESTABLISH A UNION THERE, I’LL
BUY THAT TOO.”
F
or years,Alcoa Plant #2 and the attached Subaru
factory have been treated as one unit, just as Plant
#1 and its accompanying warehouse are also considered one unit. And in fact, the workers at Plant #2
and Subaru had voted as a single unit on March 4.
The independent union now represented both Plant
#2 and Subaru.
This did not stop Alcoa from immediately allowing
the corrupt CTM union back into the Subaru plant
and—in direct violation of the workers’ vote—allowing the CTM bosses to appoint a separate union
leader for the Subaru plant. This fit very well with
Alcoa’s attempt to divide the workers, while isolating
and weakening the independent union. Alcoa then
The day after the
election, union
leader Javier
Carmona explained
that despite all the
threats, the independent union won:
“Because of the
workers’ real needs,
they seek reform.
Before the election management
looked at us as
something small
and insignificant.
But when we had
the support of the
people, and we
won, we are equal
to management,
whether they like
it or not.”
39
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
covered under the same contract, which means
that the independent state at Plant #2—for the
time being—is actually still a local of the CTM. Nor
will the CTM hand over to the independent union
its books and financial records, kept by the old
union, no doubt fearing it would be too easy at that
Alcoa management now frequently gives over the
point to track significant amounts of corruption.
public address systems in Plants #1 and #2, and
The independent union is pressing the
especially in
USWA vice president “Lefty” Palm with Carlos Briones,
government hard for its own set of
Subaru, to the
Amparo Reyes and Amador Tovar.
official certification and registration
CTM so they can
documents, something it hopes it can
address all the
workers. CTM
flyers were even
posted on Alcoa’s
company bulletin
boards. The
CTM, with Alcoa’s
support, hammers away with
the message that
if the independent union stays,
the workers will
lose their jobs,
since the Alcoa company
will have no choice but
to leave.
immediately started to send all the dues money from
the Subaru plant to the ‘union’ leader installed by the
CTM bosses—of course, without the need for an
assembly or vote.
At the Subaru plant management has stepped up
the intimidation. If even
three or four workers are
seen “meeting” or talking
seriously together, managers and supervisors
immediately intervene to
break up the “meeting,”
writing down the name
and factory badge numbers
of the “offenders.”
In a modern-day Catch-22
scenario, the CTM is refusing to provide the independent union with its
official registration documents, in which the government certifies the March 4 election of the new
leaders. Then, using this lack of the official certification papers,Alcoa management claims it does not
have to meet with the new union, since it does not
have all its legal documents in order. The CTM can
get away with this since Plants #1 and #2 are both
40
win within the next two months.
So the new union and the workers who elected
it in a landslide are left in limbo, as Alcoa uses
every trick in the book to deny the workers
their rights.
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
Another not so subtle tactic Alcoa is employing to
weaken the union and punish the workers who
voted for it is ending the longstanding practice of
providing desperately- needed loans to the workers.
Alcoa workers, earning below subsistence-wages,
must rely upon these loans in a crisis, for example, if
they need penicillin or other medication for their
sick children. In the past,Alcoa always made these
loans available through the CTM “union,” in order to
make it appear as if the “yellow” union was actually
concretely doing something for the workers. Now
that the workers in Plant #2 have elected a new independent union leadership,Alcoa management has said that it
needs, at this time (just by coincidence), to cut these loans off. On April
26,Alcoa managers tried once again to
force the new union back into the
CTM fold.
At the end of the day, despite all Alcoa’s
claims regarding their human rights values and principles: more than 236
Alcoa workers remain fired in Acuña
for trying to exercise their basic rights;
Alcoa workers and their families are
forced to live in miserable conditions in
dirt floored huts lacking running water;
workers must sell their blood twice a
week in order to survive; and when the
workers in Piedras Negras elected an
independent union by a landslide,
Alcoa’s response has to fire, intimidate,
and attempt to divide the workers by
threatening to shut down the factory,
while working to isolate and weaken
the union.
Alcoa wants to play the Good Cop-Bad
Cop game. Alcoa wants the workers in
Mexico to believe that the executives in
Alcoa’s headquarters in Pittsburgh are
the good guys, while if there are any bad
guys, it is the local managers operating
on their own without headquarters’
knowledge. Of course, this is baloney.
Alcoa Pittsburgh runs the entire show.
By April 30, the workers at Plant #2 had had enough.
They voted to officially separate from the CTM and
to form a completely independent factory-level
union. They now have the right to negotiate their
own contract and to control their own dues. No
doubt, this will only increase Alcoa’s attacks.
THE NEED FOR SOCIAL PRESSURE:
U
nfortunately,Alcoa’s actions clearly demonstrate
that the company is not interested in serious
talks or negotiations and will respond only to
social pressure. If the workers in Mexico are ever to
win their rights they will need international solidarity and pressure on Alcoa where it matters most—in
their marketplace, which is the U.S. ■
When Jose Juan Ortiz,Alcoa’s human resources director
for all of Mexico, boasts to the workers, as he has many
times, “If you establish a union there, I’ll buy that
too.”—he speaks for all of Alcoa: just as he did when
he directed many of the 236 firings in Acuña.
41
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
Alcoa Workers’ Demands
—End the repression and firings—
▲
▲
End the repression—and the atmosphere of threats and abuses which has spread
fear through Alcoa’s 11 plants in Acuña. Respect the core ILO internationally
recognized workers’ rights standards, including the right to organize, and begin
good-faith dialogue and negotiations with the Workers’ Committee upon its return.
▲
Immediately reinstate to their former jobs —with full back pay—at a minimum Ms.
Amparo Reyes and Mr. Adrian Garcia, fired from Plant #1 in Piedras Negras on
February 26, 2002.
▲
42
Immediately reinstate fired workers to their former jobs at full back pay, at a
minimum rehiring the 31 workers—including the entire leadership of the
Workers’ Committee—fired in August 2001, who somehow have been able to hold
on, locked out for nearly a year without accepting a cent of severance pay.
Immediately recognize and begin good-faith meetings with the newly-elected
independent union leaders from Plant #2 and Subaru. Stop all tactics to threaten
and intimidate the workers so as to divide them and repress their internationally
recognized rights to freedom of association and organization.
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
Alcoa in Mexico
A CHRONOLOGY OF WORKER RIGHTS ABUSES
SEPTEMBER 1994 Carbon monoxide poisoning: One hundred seventy-nine workers at Alcoa Plant #4 in Acuña
suffer carbon monoxide poisoning. The city’s only hospital lacks sufficient rooms, equipment and staff to care for them. Local management attempts to cover up the poisoning.
MARCH 1995
Twenty-seven workers fired for organizing: Following protests over poor working conditions and after expressing interest in exercising their legal right to organize, 27 workers are
fired.
MAY 1996
Suppression of the right to organize: In an open letter to Alcoa’s shareholders, workers in
Acuña wrote: “We have no right to freedom of association or organization in order to
improve our working conditions… If management learns that we are trying to organize,
management simply fires the leaders and terrorizes the rest.” Alcoa CEO Paul O’Neill denies
that the company is blocking the workers’ right to organize. Workers respond that,“There
have been a lot of abuses against the workers.”
JUNE 1996
Alcoa refuses to recognize the Workers’ Committee: Work stoppage leads to improved vacation benefits, but Alcoa refuses to meet with or recognize the Workers’ Committee—which
represents the workers and their interest in establishing a regular dialogue with management.
MAY 1997
Leader fired: Martin Cordero, who led the June work stoppage at Plant #5 and who was a
leader of the Workers’ Committee, is fired.
SEPTEMBER 1998 Abusive treatment, threats, forced overtime: Fifty workers stage a sit-down protest, “because
we are fed up with the abusive and ill ways Alcoa treats the Mexican workers, and the
repression, forced overtime, and the violations of the human rights of the workers and the
labor laws of Mexico.”
OCTOBER 1998
Sexual harassment: Workers protest sexual harassment by supervisors.
MARCH 2000
Protest change in pay system: Work stoppage organized in Plants #4 and #5 protesting management’s attempt to switch from paying in cash to direct bank deposits.
SEPTEMBER 2000 Outspoken health and safety coordinator fired: Maria de Lourdes Felix Lozano, an outspoken health and safety coordinator at Plant #5, is forced to resign. She explains that “management takes reprisals against people who dare to complain about them.”
OCTOBER 2000
Five hundred workers fired as work stoppages spread from Plant #5 to Plant #4: Workers
were protesting Alcoa management’s failure to implement already agreed-to improvements,
including a wage increase. At 3:00 a.m. on October 6, police attack workers holding a
peaceful sit-down demonstration in Alcoa’s parking lot. Three hundred workers win reinstatement, including all nine leaders of the Workers’ Commission. Workers win 30 percent
wage increase.
AUGUST 2001
One hundred eighty-six workers fired: Management provokes work stoppage and then fires
186 workers from Plant #5, including all nine leaders of the Workers’ Commission. Many of
the fired activists are blacklisted. None received their full legal severance pay. (As of May
2002, 31 continue in the fight for reinstatement.)
Note: Background on history of the struggles at Alcoa-Acuña provided by the American Friends
Service Committee.
43
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
TYPICAL UTILITIES COSTS
COLONIA FRANCISCO SARACHO, ACUÑA
Item
Pesos per month
$ U.S./month
$ U.S./week
Electricity
Water (not potable)
Gas
(240 pesos every 2 months +
50 pesos delivery fee)
Drinking Water
(One 5-gallon bottle per week)
190 pesos
30 pesos
145 pesos
$ 20.71
$ 3.27
$ 15.80
$ 4.75
$ 0.75
$ 3.65
52 pesos
$ 5.66
$ 1.31
Total:
417 pesos/month
$ 45.44/per month
$ 10.49/week
Can Alcoa Workers Afford to Purchase
Even the Cheapest American-Made Goods?
Hardly!—An Alcoa Worker would have to spend his entire day’s wages to
purchase just a six pack of Budweiser and a box of Special K cereal.
The following are some American-made goods for sale in Mexico’s cheapest discount chain:
Six Pack of Budweiser beer
51.90 pesos
$ 5.66
(More than 1/2 day’s base wage)
Can of Spam (340 grams)
24.90 pesos
$ 2.71
(More than 2 hours’ base wage)
Oreo cookies (357 grams)
24.29 pesos
$ 2.65
(More than 2 hours’ base wage)
Prego Italian Tomato Sauce
(794 grams)
21.60 pesos
$ 2.35
(Two hours’ base wage)
$ 4.57
(3 1/2 hours’ base wage)
Special K cereal (730 grams) 41.91 pesos
Bounty paper towels
(2-ply, 64 sheets)
44
23 pesos
$2.53
(more than 2 hours’ base wage)
Going Shopping with Alcoa Workers in Mexico
We went to Sorianos—a huge discount chain—with two Alcoa workers, both women and experienced
family shoppers. They were going to show us what they purchased each week, and how they tried to get
by on the little money they earned. Within ten minutes we had already run up a $50.28 bill. (This is for a
family of four people—and by no means a complete shopping trip since we had to cut it short due to
time constraints.)
Item
Unit
Cost in Pesos
Small Oranges
Apples
Pears
Limes
Chile
Carrots
Celery
White Potato
Cilantro
Eggs
Cooking Tomatos
Onions
Lard
Avocados
Rice
Pasta
Tomato Paste
Jalapenos
Bullion Cubes
Corn Meal (for tortillas)
Wheat Flour
Pinto Beans
Chicken Legs
Coffee (instant)
Cheese
Milk
Ham (cold cuts)
Sausage
Cooking Oil
Salt
Clorox
Dishwashing Soap
Fabric Softener
Laundry Detergent
Toilet Paper
Diapers (disposable)
13 oranges
1 kilo
1 kilo
1 kilo
1 kilo
1 kilo
1 kilo
1 kilo
1 bunch
24 eggs
1 kilo
1 kilo
1 kilo
1 kilo
1 kilo
3.5 small packs
210 gram can
small can
8 cubes
1 kilo
2 kilos
1 kilo
1 kilo
100 grams
1/4 kilo
1 gallon
1 kilo
500 grams
1 liter
500 grams
1 quart
1 bag
1 bag
1 kilo
6 small rolls
pack of 40
8.95
17.95
13.95
7.95
5.95
9.90
7.85
11.90
2.90
28.50
13.90
8.95
7.00
10.90
7.65
1.69
2.35
3.34
7.88
4.59
7.99
9.99
12.90
17.70
13.00
30.00
74.90
13.90
7.79
2.29
4.49
4.99
8.99
10.99
9.99
19.50
Total:
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos each
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
grams
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
pesos
Cost in $ U.S.
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
$
0.98
1.96
1.52
0.87
0.65
1.08
0.86
1.29
0.32
3.11
1.51
0.98
0.76
1.19
0.83
0.64
0.26
0.36
0.86
0.50
0.87
1.09
1.41
1.93
1.42
3.27
8.16
1.51
0.85
0.25
0.49
0.54
0.93
1.20
1.09
2.13
$ 50.28
• The cheapest Christmas tree in the store was 99 pesos, or 10.79 – which is more than a full day’s base
wage for an Alcoa worker. We did not see one single Christmas decoration in any of the Alcoa
workers’ homes – they simply could not afford such “luxuries.”
• The cheapest pair of pants (Bolero Label, on sale) in Mexico costs 149 pesos, or $16.24 – which is more
than one-and-a-half days’ wages for the Alcoa worker.
• A McDonald’s “Big Mac” with fries & a Coke costs $ 4.27 in Acuña. An Alcoa worker in Mexico
would have to work 3 1/4 hours to be able to pay for one meal at McDonalds.
45
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
APPENDICES
Translation
Arneses y Accesorios de Mexico S. de R.L. de C.V.
C a r r. P r e s a L a A m i s t a d K m . 5 P a r q u e I n d u s t r i a l A m i s t a d
A p a r t a d o P o s t a l N o . 6 5 8 Te l s . 7 7 3 - 0 4 4 0 & 7 7 3 - 0 3 3 0
Ciudad Acuña, Coahuila
R . F. C . A A M - 8 2 0 3 2 6 - A 1 6
MEMO
TO ALL ASSOCIATES
ISSUE: DECEMBER TRANSPORT
GIVING OF BLANKETS
RETURN BONUS
The difficult times which our company is passing through these days have obligated us to take
some painful but necessary decisions with the goal of being competitive in the current markets
full of aggressiveness and uncertainty and thus be able to maintain our costs of operation within
the permitted limits. Because of the above, permit us to inform you of what the situation will be
in the following respects.
December Transport.
All associates who work the last day before the beginning of the vacation period and return on
time on January 2nd will receive a transportation assistance of $20 at the current exchange rate
on the date their ticket receipt is submitted.
Blankets.
Considering the current conditions for the company and the results obtained during the year,
the giving of blankets is cancelled.
Return bonus.
Due to the fact that market tendencies are uncertain and after analyzing our production programs for the first quarter of 2002, we have decided not to authorize the return bonus.
We trust as always in the understanding of all of you and in your solidarity support for the decisions of the company.
SINCERELY
Aarón Chacón Boone
Human Resources Acuña
Ciudad Acuña Coahuila on November 15, 2001
46
F I G H T I N G
F O R
W O R K E R
R I G H T S
Newspaper Article
“Supreme Court Finds against
Constitution Labor Articles”
ONE OF THE CLAUSES PERMITTED UNIONS TO DEMAND THE FIRING OF
ANYONE WHO WANTED TO SEPARATE THEMSELVES FROM THE UNION
—Zocalo, PIERDRAS NEGRAS,WEDNESDAY,APRIL 18, 2001
Mexico City, April 17
The Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) determined that articles 395 and 413 of Federal Labor Law,
which permit the establishment of a so-called exclusion clause in collective contracts or in contract law, are
unconstitutional and it declared this contractual form null.
The exclusion clause allowed unions to demand the firing of a worker who decided to separate himself from
the organization.
This resolution was given after protection was conceded to 31 workers of the El Potrero suger mill who
were fired by the company due to the fact that they voluntarily disaffiliated from the union to constitute a new
one.
The SCJN decision which was drafted by Minister Mariano Azuela Gitron and approved by unanimous vote of
the five members of the Second Court establishes that the exclusion clause results in violation of Articles 5 and
123, Section A, Part XVI of the Political Constitution of the United States of Mexico.
The finding, which does not set jurisprudence, nor is of general character, considers that though the parties
do have freedom to bargain regarding the conditions under which work will be done, the agreements reached
should be in accordance with the Magna Carta.
Nevertheless, in the case that a exclusion clause is applied to a worker, he may turn to the Federal
Conciliation and Arbitration Board, without having to a protection order.
This, based on the finding that declares the two articles of Federal Labor Law unconstitutional and a declaration of nullification of the exclusion clause will guarantee the worker’s right to remain on the job, even having
disaffiliated from the union. Therefore, taking into account the article of the Constitution that guarantees the
workers freedom to organize, it was determined that said clause absolutely restricts that liberty, since it impedes
the workers from exercising their right to renounce a union association, a perrogative that should be respected
in all labor agreements.
The Second Court of the SCJN reached this resolution in regular session, after conceeding protection to 31
sugarcane workers who were separated from their jobs when they formed a new union and voluntarily
renounced their continued membership in Local XXIII of the Union of Workers of the Sugar and Related
Industries of the Republic of Mexico.
Quotes from legal editorial by Ana Maria Alvarado Larios
[email protected]
Full Professor, Department of Law, ITESM Monterry Campus
...with regard to the practical effects, the Court’s sentence lacks erga omnes [therefore all] effects and does
not suppose the [derogacion] of articles 395 and 413 of the labor code, so its efficacy is relative and applicable
only to the parties involved in the conflict resolved in the finding. Nevertheless, said sentence sets a precident
that can be invoked in future contraversies provoked by the application of exclusion clauses...
...Therefore the fact that the Supreme Court has at last had and taken advantage of an opportunity to examine the exclusion clauses in light of the Constitution is a development that should be celebrated in a historic
moment in which the need to consolidate a truly representative and democratic union system which distances
itself from the single and obligatory union model that in another age constituted the ideal has become patently
obvious.
47
A L C O A ’ S
H I G H
T E C H
S W E A T S H O P
I N
M E X I C O
For more information contact:
Independent Union Committee
Carlos Alberto Briones y/ó Javier Carmona
Comité Ejecutivo-Alcoa Planta II
2305 El indio Hwy Box 115
Eagle Pass,Texas 78852
Tel/Fax: 011-52-878-23845
(The independent union leaders have requested that for the time being, communications be channeled via
CFO since the union local’s office is inside Alcoa Plant II and the workers feel their phone is monitored.)
Border Workers’ Committee
Julia Quinonez, coordinator
Comite Fronterizo de Obreros
2305 El Indio Hwy.
Box 115
Eagle Pass,TX 78852
American Friends Service Committee
Ricardo Hernández
Director, Mexico-U.S. Border Program
15 Cherry Street
Philadelphia, PA 19102
National Labor Committee
Charles Kernaghan, Director
National Labor Committee
275 7th Ave. 15 Floor
New York, NY 10001
Tel/Fax: 011-52-878-23845
Tel: 215-241-7132
Tel: 212- 242-3002
You can write to Alcoa at:
Alcoa
Alain Belda, Chairman and CEO
Alcoa, Inc.
201 Isabella Street
Pittsburgh, PA 15212
48
Tel: 412- 553-4545
Fax: 412-553-4498