JUAREZ — As labor unrest continues to ripple across this Mexican border city, a group of workers has managed to start the city’s only independently organized factory union.
Close to 200 workers are now members of a new union approved by the Chihuahua state labor tribunal. The union got its registration in December and is now in contract negotiations with the American telecommunications company CommScope.
Most of the workers claim they were fired by the company for their organization efforts and are suing to get their jobs back. In a written statement CommScope denies this saying it fired only eight workers in the fall for violating work rules.
“This is something historic,” said Cuauhtemoc Estrada, the local labor attorney representing the workers. “Independently organized unions are hard to find.”
More common in Mexico are so called paper unions, which are set up and largely controlled by companies. But even those unions are rare in Juárez. For half a century multinational companies have flocked to this city in search of cheap labor located at the doorstep of the United States. Today it has the largest labor force along the U.S./Mexico border which, in good times, employes about 200,000 workers at more than 300 factories. Workers manufacture everything from chew toys to Dell computers to giant wind turbines.
Late last year hundreds of workers from at least four factories, including Lexmark, Eaton-Busman, Scientific Atlanta, and CommScope, began protesting poor working conditions and low wages. CommScope workers are the first to unionize. Estrada, their attorney, said it’s the beginning of what could be a long battle.
“Their union petition was rejected by the state three times,” Estrada said. “These workers have prevailed out of sheer tenacity.”