Public Report of Review 9703 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY
PURPOSE OF THE REPORT
Submission No. 9703 was filed pursuant to the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) on December 15, 1997, by the International Brotherhood of Teamsters (IBT), the Union of Needletrades, Industrial and Textile Employees (UNITE!), the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), the United Auto Workers (UAW), the Canadian Auto Workers (CAW), the United Paperworkers International Union (UPIU), the United Steelworkers of America (USWA), the USWA Canadian National Office, and a number of local unions affiliated to these national organizations. An additional thirty U.S. and Mexican union, human rights and non-governmental organizations are cited as concerned parties in the submission. The NAO accepted Submission No. 9703 for review on January 30, 1998.
Submission No. 9703 raises issues of freedom of association and health and safety, at the ITAPSA export processing plant in Ciudad de los Reyes, in the State of Mexico, Mexico. ITAPSA is a subsidiary of Echlin Inc., a U.S. corporation with headquarters in Branford, Connecticut, that produces and distributes automobile replacement parts in the U.S., Canada, and Mexico. The ITAPSA facility employs approximately 350 people and exports to the U.S., Canada, Europe, and South America.
In accordance with its procedural guidelines, the NAO completed its review of the case, which included a public hearing on March 23, 1998. In the attached report, the NAO recommends that the Secretary of Labor consult with the Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare of Mexico on the issues raised in the submission.
SUMMARY OF SUBMISSION AND ALLEGATIONS
Submission No. 9703 raises issues of freedom of association at the ITAPSA plant beginning in 1996. According to the submitters, workers attempted to organize a union to address problems of workplace safety and health as well as economic issues. Once the union organizing effort began, the established union at the plant, in alliance with plant management, began a campaign of threats and intimidation against the workers, including threats of dismissal, surveillance, and increases in the workload of selected employees. About fifty workers were fired from their jobs for supporting the independent union (STIMAHCS).
At a representation election held on September 9, 1997, workers were required to publicly vote in the presence of the contending unions, management representatives, and about 170 aggressive thugs hired by the established union to intimidate the workers. Furthermore, the submitters maintain that a number of these thugs, who were not employed at the plant, were allowed to vote. The election was allowed to proceed by government authorities and the result was a resounding defeat for STIMAHCS. Additionally, workers were dismissed from their jobs on the basis of the exclusion clause, allegedly for how they voted in the representation election.
According to the submitters, the labor tribunal with jurisdiction in the case conducted a hearing on the objections to the election without providing proper notice to the petitioners, who were not afforded an opportunity to present their case, and collective bargaining rights remained with the established union. A Federal Court later overturned the CAB and ordered a new hearing. In the meantime, representation has remained with the established union.
A major concern of the workers at the plant is safety and health, especially exposure to asbestos and other toxic substances without adequate personal protective equipment (PPE).
ANALYSIS AND DISCUSSION
The review indicates that a group of workers who attempted to exercise their right to freedom of association were subjected to retaliation by their employer and the established union in the workplace, including threats of physical harm and dismissal. They were required to vote for union representation in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation and to cast open ballots in the presence of representatives of the contending unions, the representative of a management that had clearly expressed its union preferences and had already retaliated against workers for their union activities, and before a large number of aggressively acting and boisterous individuals who were not employees but were brought in by the company.
Workers engaged in lawful organizational and informational activities outside a workplace were subjected to physical attack by persons associated with the established union at the plant and in the presence of company officials. The events described in the submission are not consistent with the principle of freedom of association and, for the most part, do not appear to be consistent with Mexican law.
The information obtained by the NAO during its review is consistent regarding the actions of the Federal CAB, including the first postponement of the representation election, the conduct of the election itself, the review of the challenge to the election, and the delay in hearing the case of workers dismissed under the exclusion clause. The proceedings conducted do not appear to be in accordance with Mexican laws and regulations in all instances. When viewed in the context of the composition of the CAB and the interest of the CTM in the outcome of the proceedings before that tribunal, review of this submission raises questions about the impartiality of the CAB and the fairness, equitableness, and transparency of its proceedings and decisions.
With regard to the health and safety issues raised, the information available indicates that the ITAPSA plant may suffer serious health and safety deficiencies that are hazardous to its employees. The fines that were assessed were minimal and the NAO has been unable to ascertain if they have been collected. Also, there are serious questions as to the efficacy of the inspections themselves. However, the information also indicates that the factory has been subjected to ongoing health and safety inspections by the authorities which have noted numerous shortcomings and that corrective action was undertaken on many of these.
While Mexico's Constitution and Federal labor Law protect workers' freedom of association, in the instant case it appears that they were not afforded the protections to which they were entitled.
The conduct of the proceedings by Federal CAB No. 15 was not always consistent with the Federal Labor Law and the obligation of the Parties to the NAALC to ensure impartial tribunals for the resolution of labor disputes.
The attack on workers outside the premises of a factory raises troublesome questions as regards the rights of workers to engage in legitimate organizing activities without being subject to reprisals, including physical attack.
The conduct of health and safety inspections of the ITAPSA facility appears to have been consistent with Mexican law, though questions are raised regarding the efficacy of the inspections. These questions are of special concern because of the presence of asbestos and other toxic substances at the plant which may not be adequately monitored.
In consideration of the above, the NAO recommends that the Secretary of Labor consult with the Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare of Mexico on (1) the freedom of association afforded Mexican workers in the conduct of an organization campaign and representation election; (2) the application of union security clauses in the context of freedom of association; and (3) the safety and health conditions prevailing at the plant, the efficacy of inspections and the effectiveness of Mexico's efforts to improve compliance with its safety and health laws.
With regard to the incident of physical violence, the U.S. NAO will seek additional information on the matter from the Mexican NAO.