Labor Rights in Mexico

Labor Law and Policy in Mexico

In spite of having one of the most progressive social charters in the world—Article 123 of the Mexican Constitution guarantees workers an eight-hour day, overtime pay, profit sharing, paid maternity leave, and just cause for dismissal in addition to the right to organize, bargain collectively and strike—the reality for worker rights in Mexico is far from ideal.

Approximately 90% of collective bargaining agreements in Mexico are signed by protection unions, which are company-backed and prevent real unions from forming. Workers often don’t know that the protection contract exists, have not seen their contract, and have never voted for protection union leadership. Local Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) that are responsible for enforcing labor laws in Mexico typically work in collusion with the company and the local protection contract union to block independent unions from taking form. Discrimination is also widespread, especially in the maquiladora sector.

While Mexico’s labor law should be strengthened and enforced, the Mexican Congress has been debating regressive changes to its labor provisions that would further undermine rights for workers. If passed, the proposal would grant employers the right to adjust hours regardless of a contract, sign contracts with individuals instead of with unions, pay less wages for unfairly dismissed workers, continue the practice of creating “protection unions,” and set arbitrary minimum wage and work condition standards without the possibility of review or objection.  David Bacon's May 2011 article, Labor Law Reform - A Key Battle for Mexican Unions Today, sets the current struggle over labor law reform within a historical framework.

December 2012The Mexican congress approved a version of these changes during a lame duck session in November 2012, over the opposition of the Mexican labor movement, international worker rights advocates, and members of the U.S. Congress.  

For more information on Mexican labor laws and policy, see the Solidarity Center’s 2003 report entitled The Struggle For Worker Rights in Mexico, the website of the International Metalworkers’ Union, or Mexican Labor News and Analysis, issued monthly by the United Electrical Workers in the U.S. and the Authentic Labor Front in Mexico. 

The Mexican government has also been attacking some of the biggest independent unions in the country. In October of 2009 it liquidated the Light and Power Company, firing 43,000 people. Many speculate that the Calderón Administration did so in order to dissolve the independent Mexican Electrical Workers’ Union (SME), a powerful anti-government force. The Mexican government has also been trying to undermine the National Mineworkers’ Union for years. It frequently arrests union leaders on bogus criminal charges, and in May 2010 beat 20 workers to the point of hospitalization at the Cananea Mines, triggering a 5,000-person strike. Napoleón Gómez Urrutia, the 2011 recipient of the Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award, administered by the AFL-CIO, had to flee Mexico in 2007 when the government filed criminal proceedings against him and other union leaders in reaction to a mine explosion that killed 65 workers. Gómez now leads the Mineworkers’ Union from Canada. 

Worker Organizing in the Autoparts Sector: Johnson Controls, Inc.

Thousands of U.S. autoparts jobs have moved to Mexico in the past two decades, accelerated by the passage of NAFTA. Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls has closed at least 16 plants in the U.S. since 2006 and now operates some 30 factories in Mexico.

USLEAP has been supporting workers in Mexico that are trying to organize independent unions and throw out protection contract unions. In May 2010 USLEAP began to support worker organizing at the Johnson Controls, Inc. (JCI) Interiors plant in Puebla, Mexico. The struggle began when workers went on a three-day strike, during which they had to fend off thugs. In August 2010, following another round of violent intimidation, the company agreed to recognize the Mineworkers Union as the workers’ collective representation, sign a collective bargaining agreement, and reinstate workers who had been fired. After months of delay and violent intimidation directed at the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT), the Mexican NGO that has been supporting JCI workers in Puebla, a collective bargaining agreement was finally signed on April 8, 2011.  But a year later, Johnson Controls closed the factory, busting the only independent union in its operations in Mexico.

NAFTA and Free Trade

The passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the U.S., Mexico and Canada in 1994 helped accelerate the race to the bottom in wages, working conditions, and respect for basic rights, increasing protection for investors while providing no meaningful protection for workers. NAFTA paved the way for subsequent trade agreements, including the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), Peru, and Colombia. Significantly, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), the “side agreement” of NAFTA designed to protect worker rights, does not require each NAFTA signatory to enforce the labor standards established by the International Labor Organization (ILO) conventions, and countries are allowed to roll back existing labor rights standards without penalty.

Due to the influx of cheap grain from the U.S., NAFTA also led to a substantial decrease in the number of small farms in Mexico and an increase in immigration to the United States, precipitating more worker rights violations on both sides of the border. For more information on the link between NAFTA, labor rights violations and immigration, read the USLEAP article “NAFTA, Labor, and Immigration: A Package Deal.”

Also check out the article "Escalating Struggles Over Mexico's Labor Law," published by the North American Congress on Latin America, and USLEAP's fact sheet exploring the link between NAFTA, labor rights violations, and immigration.

Violent Intimidation Against Worker Rights Advocates in Mexico

One of Mexico's leading worker rights organizations was forced to close its doors in June 2012 after the kidnapping and torture of one of its staff in May, the most recent in a series of violent intimidation over the past several years.  ProDESC (the Economic, Social and Cultrual Rights Project) joined with the CAT (Center for Labor Support) to denounce the failure of the Mexican government to investigate or prosecute any responsible parties leading to the closure of the CAT, a long-time partner of USLEAP and other worker rights adovates that has spearaheaded support work for organizing in the apparel and autoparts sectors, including Johnson Controls. 


News articles USLEAP has published about Mexico:

Labor Law and Policy

Johnson Controls, Inc. and Worker Organizing

Other Worker Struggles

To learn more about struggles in Mexico labor and human rights, see the following websites: