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Posted December 19, 2000

In this alert:

[ Information for this alert provided by: the Coalition for Justice in the Maquilas ]


PHANTOM UNION ARRIVES AT DURO PAPER BAG COMPANY

Eliud Almaguer and Felipe Barron, former workers and union leaders at Duro Bag, appeared at a hearing of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JFCA) in Mexico City on December 13th in the hope that the president of the Board would set a date for the union representation election at Duro in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. They were astonished, however, to find an additional union at the hearing. The Regional Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC) were in attendance and demanded the right to represent Duro workers.

A common problem in the maquiladora sector is the appearance of a union which is in fact a company and/or government backed union. The term 'phantom' is commonly uses in Mexico to describe this type of union. The CROC is considered by independent Mexican unions as a phantom union. Both the CROC and the CTM (Confederation of Mexican Workers), the company-backed union in the Duro plant currently, sells protection contracts to companies in order to block workers from organizing democratic unions and defending their rights.

In response to the demands of the CROC, the JFCA consented to bend the rules set out in the law and postponed hearing dates in order to give the CTM and the CROC sufficient time to organize workers against the union organizing drive of the independent, worker-led union. Tactics often used include buying votes, intimidation and threats towards workers. The Conciliation Board did NOT set a date for the union election. They did set another hearing date for January 18th to give the CTM and CROC more time to intimidate the workers. With three parties entering the election, the winner will be the union that gets the most votes.

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PHANTOM UNION AND CROC BACKGROUND

Several years ago in Tijuana the Han Young workers, represented by their democratic union - STIHMAC - had to face the same corrupt strategy of phantom corporate unions when they were vying against the CROC in a union election. The CTM appeared from nowhere and with no base among the workers. The CTM entered into the conflict and the result was third party chaos. Despite the fact that they had no base in Tijuana, the CTM made a deal with the CROC and the company to enter the representation elections as another way to block the workers from winning justice.

Now it appears that the CROC is reenacting this scenario in reverse for the CTM at Duro. With no presence in the state of Tamaulipas, let alone at Duro, the CROC suddenly appeared out of the blue with membership forms signed by the workers, demanding to represent them in an election against the Duro Bag Workers Union which has struggled since June to win its official registration and against the CTM (National Paperworkers Union). Thus the CROC returns the favor that the CTM did for it in Tijuana.

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BACKGROUND ON DURO STRUGGLE

Duro is a maquiladora located in the city of Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas bordering Pharr, Texas, and about 15 minutes from Reynosa (across the US border from McAllen, TX). Duro assembles gift bags for different corporations such as Hallmark and Neiman Marcus. The company is a privately held, family-owned company and is based in Ludlow, Kentucky Duro workers put up their strike banners on June 18 after going out on strike on June 12 in order to establish an independent union and force the reinstatement of their elected leaders who were illegally fired. The workers demanded a union willing to negotiate better conditions such as: medical attention inside the plant, life insurance, bathroom breaks, basic safety equipment and sanitary conditions in the bathrooms and cafeteria.

The governor's office has acknowledged that Duro has some of the worst working conditions of any of the maquiladoras (factories producing for export) in the area.

The workers were forcefully and illegally removed from the Duro premises by police armed with machine guns on the first day that they put up their strike banners. Mexican law grants workers the right to strike and to close the production facilities with such banners. Since then they have been occupying an encampment in the city plaza in Rio Bravo.

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HOW TO ORGANIZE A LEAFLETING AT YOUR LOCAL HALLMARK STORE

The Cross Border Network is organizing a leafleting on December 23rd at Hallmark which buys gift bags from Duro to pressure them and thus Duro to respect the workers' right to choose a union democratically and to refrain from taking sides in the union election or intimidating the workers.

If you'd like to organize an action at Duro or at a Hallmark store, contact Judy Ancel at jancel@igc.org or 913-677-2158.

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SEND A LETTER SUPPORT FOR THE DURO WORKERS TO THE NEW PRESIDENT

Lic. Virgilio Mena Becerrahas been appointed as the new president of the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board. Welcome the new President of the Federal Conciliation and ArbitrationBoard by sending him a letter of support for the Duro workers and a copy to Mexican President Vicente Fox. A sample is below:

Lic. Virgilio Mena Becerra
President of the Federal Conciliation & Arbitration Board
Undersecretary "A" of the Department of Labor and Social Welfare
Fax: 01152 (5) 6452345--5722-8768--5722-8769 --761-0022 Conmutador
E-mail:

Dear Mr. Mena:

We are aware that the Duro Bag Workers Union in Rio Bravo, Tamaulipas have petitioned for a union election to represent the workers there and replace the National Paperworkers Union of the CTM. When the Duro Workers leaders appeared at the hearing conducted by your office on December 13th, they were confronted by a phantom union in the form of the CROC which without any existence in the State of Tamaulipas, much less at the Duro Company presumes to demand to represent the workers. How long must the workers endure these phantom unions, which promote only protection contracts for the employers? How long must they wait for the right to freedom of association supposedly guaranteed in the Federal Labor Law and the Constitution?

We thought that with the fall of the old system, the workers would get justice and democracy especially with the signing by then candidate Fox of the Twenty Principles for Freedom of Association. However, it appears that your government will start the New Year by continuing the anti-democratic practices of phantom unions.

Please make the process work. Schedule the union election as soon as possible and protect the rights of the workers to a free and democratic union election without being obstructed by phantom unions. Please guarantee that all workers be permitted to vote and that they have a secret ballot.

Sincerely,

Cc: Vicente Fox Quezada
President of Mexico
E-mail Address:

(Remind him of his having signed the 20 Principles of Freedom of Association during his campaign.)




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