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Major Victory for Johnson Controls Workers at Mexican Plant; Struggle Goes on at Second Factory
In a very significant victory, Johnson Controls Inc (JCI) agreed on May 30th to recognize a democratic union at one of its autoparts factories in Mexico and to end its relationship with a protection contract union about which the workers knew virtually nothing. The agreement was signed over Memorial Day weekend following a short strike by over 400 workers at JCI’s Resurrección plant and an international campaign joined by USLEAP.
Protection contract unions are pervasive throughout Mexico effectively denying workers their basic right to a union. Victories against protection contract unions in Mexico are rare (a protection union typically signs in secret a collective bargaining agreement with the employer without the knowledge of or participation by the workers as a ploy to keep out democratic unions that seek to genuinely represent the workers' interests).
On May 25, 2010, 400 workers at the JCI Resurrección plant, which produces interior components for BMW and Ford, protested the company’s annual profit sharing offer of sixty pesos (US$5). Workers threatened to go on strike and the company agreed to hold a general assembly to discuss the matter. The following day, a majority of the workers signed affiliation cards to the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM) and demanded that the company kick out the protection union, the Confederacion de Organizaciones Sindicales (COS), pay the legally-required profit sharing, and end the harassment of their brothers and sisters at the nearby FINSA plant.
The workers, accompanied by the local labor rights NGO Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT) and representatives of the Mexican Mineworkers, presented these demands to the JCI Human Resources Director at FINSA, Maricela Rodriguez. The company summarily rejected all of the demands and reportedly stated it was not the company’s responsibility to oust the protection union.
On May 27, 2010, a bus and a van with 70 thugs from the COS protection union showed up outside of the JCI Resurrección plant to intimidate and harass workers while inside management reportedly threatened to fire workers if they didn’t disaffiliate from the Miners union. The company ran a fire drill in what is believed to have been an attempt to get workers from the first shift to go outside, but the workers refused to leave and remained working. Members from the CAT and other local NGOs immediately went to the plant to observe and report on the situation, while USLEAP called and spoke to an official at JCI headquarters in Milwaukee to express concern about potential violence in Mexico.
After it was reported that the company had allowed the 70 men inside the plant, USLEAP, the CAT, the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, the Maquiladora Solidarity Network, UAW, USW, and the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF) all took to contact the JCI headquarters in Milwaukee. There was a massive and rapid response and many USLEAP supporters and allies reported back that the company at some point stopped taking phone calls saying, “We’re working on it!”
Shortly after the 2:30 p.m. second shift began, USLEAP received on-the-ground reports indicating the company had removed the 70 men from their facilities and allowed representatives from the CAT and the Mineworkers into the plant. Later in the day, over 400 workers from the plant went on strike and took over the plant.
The workers organized themselves into commissions and while they were concerned for their security given the previous presence of the 70 thugs, worker morale was generally good. Representatives from various organizations and unions went out to the plant in support while the local community and the Mineworkers supplied food and materials. The strike was also being well-covered by local media.
In the early hours of Friday May 28, 2010, a representative from the company claiming to be its attorney talked to the workers inside the plant and tried to discourage their organizing efforts telling them they could not legally affiliate with the Mineworkers because they did not work in the mining sector. The lawyer then showed the workers a copy of their collective bargaining agreement, which up to this point they had never seen before. The head of “their” national union was identified as Jose Guadalupe Uribe Guevara, who had been charged with murder in the 1990 death of a worker at the Ford plant in Cuauhtitlan, MX after he led a 400-men attack on workers trying to organize an independent union. Uribe Guevara is yet to be tried.
Company antics did not stop there. On Friday afternoon a representative from the Mexican Attorney General’s office served a notice to the workers that a charge had been filed against them for allegedly kidnapping the plant manager and five department managers. These individuals had not left the plant after the workers went on strike as did other JCI management and administrative employees, but stayed in their offices by choice. There were no reports of any arrest warrants. The organizers at Resurrección viewed this as another attempt to intimidate and scare workers.
Then, on Saturday May 29, 2010 at 2:00 p.m., JCI legal representative Alvaro Altamirano, accompanied by the Sub-Secretary of Labor for the State of Puebla, Carlos Hernandez, and the president of the Puebla Labor Board arrived at the plant and asked to negotiate with the workers. Two days later, on Monday, May 31, the worker commission reached an agreement with the company that was ratified by the workers ending the company’s relationship with the protection contract union COS and recognizing the democratically-elected SNTMMSSRM (Mineworkers). Under the agreement, the company also promised to pay for lost work time, to not take reprisals against the workers, to provide a bonus of $100, and to offer direct employment to those workers currently hired through a subcontracting agency.
Key to the victory was the just-in-time supply chain of the auto industry under which production at key JCI clients including Mercedes-Benz, BMW, Chrysler, Nissan and Volkswagen could be affected if parts from the Resurrección plant did not ship out that same day. Shipping delays could lead JCI clients to impose large fines on the company for breach of the supplier contracts. (Managers inside the plant earlier informed the striking workers that the strike had caused at least one production line to shut down at the nearby Chrysler plant in Toluca.)
Workers from the Resurrección plant and international supporters for the campaign commend the company’s action, but say the fight if far from over, citing the struggle for an independent union at the JCI FINSA plant is still very much alive.
Contact Johnson Controls. Express appreciation for the company’s decision to respect freedom of association at its Resurrección plant in Mexico, but note that you will continue to follow the company’s behavior in Mexico. Ask that it respect freedom of association at its FINSA plant.
Mr. Stephen A. Roell
President and CEO
Johnson Controls, Inc.
5757 N. Green Bay Avenue
Milwaukee, WI 53209
Email: Deborah.firstname.lastname@example.org [Assistant]
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