Conflict Resolution in the Mexican Labor Courts
An Examination of Local Conciliation and Arbitration Boards
by Kevin J. Middlebrook and Cirila Quintero Ramirez
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The enactment of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its parallel labor agreement, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), have focused new attention on the operation of Mexico's labor justice system. Although the NAALC established national administrative offices and a trinational secretariat to examine labor issues, individual and collective labor grievances will continue to be resolved through each signatory country's established labor institutions. In the case of Mexico, some critics of the NAFTA argue that although Mexico's federal labor code formally provides ample safeguard of workers' rights, in practice these rights are often sacrificed to political and business interests. What is often missing from such debates is objective information concerning such matters as the registration of labor unions, the handling of strikes, and the resolution of individual grievances filed by workers in Mexican labor courts.
Tripartite labor conciliation and arbitration boards (juntas de conciliación y arbitaje) play an especially significant role in the Mexican labor justice system. Although conciliation and arbitration boards do not become involved in such matters as internal union disputes, they are legally responsible for registering collective labor agreements, resolving individual and collective labor disputes, and (in local-jurisdiction economic activities) registering labor unions. Yet surprisingly little is known about their operation. Meyers (1979), for example, summarized the type of grievances filed before the Federal Conciliatión and Arbitration Board (Junta Federal de Conciliacion y Arbitraje, JFCA) in 1976, and he made useful observations concerning the Board's overall operations. Roxborough (1984) examined grievance cases filed by automobile workers before the JFCA in the mid-1970s, focusing particularly on the impact of democratic unionism on the conduct and outcome of the grievance resolution process. However, only one study (Middlebrook 1995) has systematically examined the JFCA's resolution of individual worker grievances over a long period of time (from the early 1930s through the mid-1970s). Quintero Ramirez (1995) is the only serious study of unions' role in conciliation and arbitration board grievance proceedings in northern Mexico. And only scattered information exists (Carrillo 1991) concerning the handling of worker grievances by local-level conciliation and arbitration boards.
Given the absence of baseline information in this area, the main purpose of this study was to shed new light on the operation of local-jurisdiction (state-level) conciliation and arbitration boards, focusing particularly on the role that these boards play in the registration of labor unions and the resolution of individual worker grievances. The authors undertook exploratory field research at three sites--Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas--in the period between July and November 1995. In order to establish the larger political and economic context in which local-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration boards function, the authors conducted interviews with conciliation and arbitration board personnel, attorneys, labor union representatives, and other individuals familiar with the Mexican labor court system. In addition, the authors sampled individual grievances submitted to local conciliation and arbitration boards in these three cities in the period between 1990 and 1994. These case samples permit a detailed examination of how grievances such as those alleging unjustified dismissal have been handled over time.
This study begins with a brief overview of Mexico's conciliation and arbitration boards and the legal criteria governing union formation and individual grievance resolution. This section of the report also includes a summary discussion of the organization and operation of local conciliation and arbitration boards in the states of Chihuahua and Tamaulipas. The second section examines government policy toward union formation in these states, including the role played by conciliation and arbitration boards in the union registration process. The third section analyzes in detail individual worker grievances filed before these boards in the period between 1990 and 1994.
Mexico's conciliation and arbitration board system was established during and after the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920 in order to permit practical experience to guide the administration of labor legislation. Their tripartite composition (with business, government, and labor representatives) allows labor representatives to play a significant role in shaping the procedural and substantive criteria that govern the labor justice system. At least in principle, these boards provide an effective forum for the redress of workplace grievances even when an employee's own union leadership is unresponsive. Juntas de conciliación y arbitraje operate at two levels: federal-jurisdiction industries (those activities placed under direct federal government supervision because of their size, strategic economic importance, or special character),(1) and local-jurisdiction economic activities (those in which state governments have responsibility for enforcing the federal labor code).
Conciliation and arbitration boards perform a variety of functions. They have responsibility for determining the legality of strike petitions, and they enforce a variety of specific legal requirements regarding collective labor contracts, working conditions, minimum wages, and so forth. Moreover, they are responsible for investigating and approving a firm's request for contract modifications, wage cuts, or personnel reductions when economic conditions threaten the viability of the enterprise. In local-jurisdiction industries, conciliation and arbitration boards are also in charge of registering unions. In both federal- and local-jurisdiction economic activities, conciliation and arbitration boards are the principal administrative channels for the resolution of individual worker grievances not settled in workplace negotiations between workers and employers.
Mexican labor law imposes a number of restrictions on the formation of unions.(2) They may be formed without prior authorization, and membership is formally voluntary. However, a union has no legal right to represent workers, negotiate a collective contract with an employer, or engage in other activities such as strikes until it is officially registered. Registration procedures are in principle relatively straightforward, but in practice they are sometimes subject to political influence and purposeful delay.
The criteria for union registration, originally set in the 1931 federal labor code, have not significantly changed: unions must have a minimum of twenty members, all of whom must be at least fourteen years of age, and the union must submit to the appropriate authorities notarized copies of the minutes from its organizational assembly and the meeting at which the union leadership was elected, a list of members' names and addresses (as well as the name and address of the employer), and the union's statutes. Registration petitions may be rejected if any of these requirements is not met, and the registering agency may cancel a union's registration at any time it ceases to fulfill these various conditions. (Similar requirements govern the registration of labor federations and confederations.) Labor law also defines the purposes for which unions may be formed ("the study, improvement, and defense of members' interests"), their legal obligations, the minimum content of union statutes, and the specific kinds of unions that may be organized.
State regulation of union formation has a double significance in Mexican politics. On the one hand, legal recognition of unions as legitimate social actors strengthens workers' positions vis-á-vis both employers and politicians. Yet the institutionalized capacity to regulate the right of association also enhances state control over labor. Even though legislation enacted during and after the Mexican revolution of 1910-1920 required entrepreneurs to join national business associations, Mexican governments' commitment to active private-sector participation in the economy has meant that these rules have rarely been applied as restrictively as those concerning union formation. Moreover, because organization is a more important source of workplace bargaining leverage for workers than for employers, state controls on association are in practice a more significant constraint on labor's ability to influence political and economic decision making than they are for business. The state's authority to deny (or reward) registration to an affiliated union thus constitutes an important potential constraint on the activities of major labor confederations.
The grievance resolution process before federal and state-level conciliation and arbitration boards includes the following steps: presentation of the worker's demand; investigation of the dispute by board members and testimony by the conflicting parties and relevant witnesses; a formal decision regarding the case; and enforcement of the board's ruling. Federal labor law and conciliation and arbitration board internal guidelines have always emphasized that the grievance resolution process should be flexible, permitting a board to reach a decision that takes into account all available evidence and reflects the particularities ot an individual case.
Each stage of the process normally requires a separate meeting (scheduled at legally specified intervals) between the parties involved in the dispute and the junta's president, sectoral (labor and capital) representatives on the board, and administrative staff members. The junta's president and his or her auxiliary are legally empowered to conduct most such meetings if no sectoral representative is present; federal labor law requires that at least one sector's representative(s) be present only for a final ruling on a case. If neither the worker nor the employer attends a scheduled meeting, the board normally suspends review of the case until one of the parties takes further action. The board terminates a case only when neither party pursues the grievance for a period of six months.
All affected parties may examine and appeal board rulings at each step. Labor law and conciliation and arbitration board guidelines protect the conflicting parties' rights and maintain procedural flexibility in a great diversity of worker-employer disputes. However, the result is a complex, time-consuming, often highly legalistic process that is susceptible to considerable delay.
This sub-section outlines the formation and current organization of local conciliation and arbitration boards in the states of Chihuahua and Tamaulipas.
The local-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration system in Chihuahua is organized under the jurisdiction of the state government's Department of Labor and Social Welfare (Departamento de Trabajo y Previsión Social).(3) Because of the state's geographical extension (Chihuahua is Mexico's largest state) and dispersed population, the conciliation and arbitration board system was decentralized at a comparatively early date. The Local Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JLCA) in Ciudad Juárez, for example, was established in 1936; by the mid-1980s, local boards had been created in most of the state's major economic centers. In 1995 there were five local boards in operation, with jurisdictions surrounding the cities of Ciudad Chihuahua (the state capital), Ciudad Juárez, Hidalgo del Parral, Ciudad Delicias, and Nuevo Casas Grandes. There has also been some discussion of the possibility of establishing a sixth board in Ciudad Cuauhtemoc, which would significantly increase access to the labor justice system for the Tarahumaras, the state's principal indigenous group.
Although Chihuahua's five local-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration boards operate independently, board presidents meet regularly (approximately once each month) to coordinate policies and review recent developments in labor law. Each board has jurisdiction over cases arising in the geographic area surrounding its seat; Ciudad Chihuahua's Local Conciliation and Arbitration Board, for example, hears cases from 26 municipalities in the surrounding region. In August 1993, professional, administrative, and technical staff members totalled 58 in Ciudad Juárez, 54 in Ciudad Chihuahua, 9 in Hidalgo del Parral, 9 in Ciudad Delicias, and 8 in Nuevo Casas Grandes.
The largest and most active boards are those located in Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez. The former has three separate sections (juntas especiales) to handle grievances arising from, respectively, commercial activities, industry, and services. The JLCA in Ciudad Juárez has four special sections with the following functional jurisdictions: commercial activities; industry; services, construction, agriculture, and university affairs; and overload cases from the other three boards. Both JLCAs began using a computerized case management system in 1992-1993 in an effort to speed proceedings and improve their operating efficiency. Office and communications facilities in both Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez are modern. For example, the JLCA's general secretary used a walkie-talkie to maintain contact with a staff member observing off-site negotiations during a restaurant workers' strike in Ciudad Chihuahua in July 1995.(4)
Because the conciliation and arbitration board system forms part of the state government's executive branch (the Secretaría de Gobernación, or Ministry of Government), JLCA presidents typically change when a new gubernatorial administration takes office. As a reflection of the dominant position held by the Confederación de Trabajadores de México (Confederation of Mexican Workers, CTM, Mexico's largest and most politically influential labor confederation, which is affiliated with the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party, PRI) in the Ciudad Chihuahua area, all three of the labor representatives on the JLCA in mid-1995 were affiliated with the Federación de Trabajadores del Estado de Chihuahua (Chihuahua State Federation of Workers, FTEC, the CTM's state federation).
Although these local conciliation and arbitration boards perform a variety of functions, their principal activity is the resolution of grievance petitions filed by individual workers. For example, the JLCA in Ciudad Chihuahua received an average of 1,913 individual grievances per year during 1992-1994. In comparison, during the 1992-1994 period the board examined an annual average of 53.7 strike petitions (50 in 1992, 59 in 1993, and 52 in 1994); the number of actual strikes was even smaller (4 in 1992, 2 in 1993, and 3 in 1994).(5) In 1994 alone, the JLCA convened 3238 conciliation and fact-finding proceedings (audiencias) and supervised the negotiation of 734 settlements (convenios).
A similar pattern held in Ciudad Juarez. Workers filed a total of 2,999 individual grievances in 1993 and 2,770 in 1994. In comparison, the board received 74 strike petitions in 1993 and 34 in 1994. There were 11 actual strikes in 1993, but none in 1994.(6)
Local-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration boards in Tamaulipas are also organized within the state government's executive branch (the Secretaria General del Gobierno) as part of the Dirección Estatal del Trabajo y Previsión Social (State Directorate of Labor and Social Welfare).(7) One measure of the JLCA's importance in state politics is that four of its fourteen past presidents later became governor of Tamaulipas. CTM affiliates within the state have traditionally controlled labor representation on these tripartite bodies.
The JLCA in Tamaulipas was founded in June 1925 as a consequence of the promulgation of the state's first labor law. Three subsidiary juntas especiales (with responsibility for conflicts arising in, respectively, industry, commerce, and agriculture and the food products industry) were established in 1970. In response to demands for increased functional specialization, a fourth special section was created in 1977 (transporation and miscellaneous economic activities), and a fifth was established (with jurisdiction over labor conflicts arising in universities) in 1981. Through the 1980s, all JLCA business was concentrated in Ciudad Victoria, the state capital.
Over time, however, it became increasingly problematic for all labor conflicts to be adjudicated in Ciudad Victoria, located in south-central Tamaulipas. The growth of the maquiladora (in-bond processing) industry along the state's northern border with the United States was an especially important development in this regard. Thus in June 1990 the state government established four additional juntas especiales in Tampico (#6), Reynosa (#7), Matamoros (#8), and Nuevo Laredo (#9), which replaced the municipal-level conciliation boards that had previously operated in these cities.(8) The government's principal goal was to establish institutional channels capable of addressing the increasing volume of individual worker grievances emanating from these areas; collective conflicts from these and other parts of the state are still forwarded for resolution to Ciudad Victoria.(9) In 1993 the junta especial in the petroleum-production center and port city of Tampico was upgraded to constitute a separate junta local de conciliatión y arbitraje (with two special sections operating under its jurisdiction), an administrative reponse to the large volume of individual and collective demands arising in southern Tamaulipas (especially in the cities of Tampico, Ciudad Madero, Altamira, Gonzalez, and Aldama).
The legal requirements regulating union formation are the same throughout Mexico. Nevertheless, local labor histories and union strength vary substantially between Chihuahua and Tamaulipas. Indeed, there are often significant differences in labor influence among different areas within these two states as well. The following discussion of conciliation and arbitration boards' role in union registration processes in Chihuahua and Tamaulipas must, therefore, be understood in local and historical context.
Organized labor has traditionally had less political influence in Chihuahua than in Tamaulipas. Until the mid-1970s, the state's economy was primarily based on agriculture and the export of raw materials (lumber, for example). Exceptions included the mining and metallurgical industries centered in Parral and Ciudad Chihuahua. The economy of Ciudad Juárez was based primarily on commerce and services, stimulated in part by the city's proximity to Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. By the early 1980s, however, substantial socioeconomic change had occurred. The maquiladora industry expanded rapidly in Ciudad Chihuahua and especially Ciudad Juárez, which in the late 1980s was the site of some 300 in-bond processing plants (about four-fifths of those in the state) employing approximately 145,000 workers.
In August 1993 there were a total of 800 labor unions registered in the state of Chihuahua. They were distributed among the five JLCA jurisdictions as follows Ciudad Chihuahua, 308; Ciudad Delicias, 116; Ciudad Juárez, 313; Hidalgo del Parral, 49; and Nuevo Casas Grandes, 14.(10) However, not all of these unions remain active. For example, JLCA personnel and local union leaders interviewed in Ciudad Juárez indicated that only about 95 unions are active in the area. They were distributed among the following major confederations: CTM, 68 unions with approximately 23,000 members; Confederación Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos (Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants, CROC), 25 unions with some 20,000 members; and the Confederación Revolucionaria de Trabajadores (Revolutionary Workers' Confederation, CRT), 48 unions with approximately 7,000 affiliated workers.(11)
Although its strength varies considerably from one part of the state to another, the dominant labor organization in Chihuahua is the CTM's Chihuahua State Federation of Workers (FTEC).(12) The center of FTEC strength is Ciudad Chihuahua, where it occupies a large headquarters building (the Edificio Fidel Velázquez, named for the CTM's long-time secretary general) just a block from the state capitol. It controls about three-quarters of the unions operating in the area.(13) FTEC affiliates include such prominent maquiladora plants as Kelsey Hayes (pistons), Cable Productos de Chihuahua (wiring harnesses), Essex International (wiring harnesses), Electromex (spark plugs), Productos Delco (batteries), RCA (electronic products), and SEATT de México (alarms and smoke detectors).
The FTEC's position has been challenged, but not fundamentally undermined, by the election in 1992 of a state government led by the Partido Acción Nacional (National Action Party, PAN).(14) The FTEC initially came under pressure from the administration of Governor Francisco Barrio, and the PAN has sought to undermine the FTEC's dominance in such sectors as public transporation by deregulating licensing procedures and passenger and freight transportation rates. However, early tests of strength (including a bitterly contested, 20-day strike over staffing levels and contract terms at Ciudad Chihuahua's municipal water authority) produced a modus vivendi which recognizes the FTEC's size and organizational strength. Thus while the FTEC no longer exercises the hegemony it once did over the state's Department of Labor and Social Welfare and the Local Conciliation and Arbitration Board in Ciudad Chihuahua, it remains the dominant labor organization in much of the state.
Other labor groups play a much less prominent role in the state. Almost all of the politically independent labor organizations represent employees of universities and other institutions of higher education in Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez. (Indeed, many of the independent unions originally organized in the late 1960s and early 1970s by the Frente Auténtico del Trabajo [Authentic Labor Front, FAT, whose founder originated from Ciudad Chihuahua] have subsequently affiliated with the FTEC.)(15) Some plants in both Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez--especially those operated by companies based in the northern industrial city of Monterrey--are represented by company-controlled "white unions" (sindicatos blancos). Neither of these tendencies, however, was expanding significantly in mid-1995.
Two factors shape the outcome of the union registration process in Chihuahua: the FTEC's dominance in the state's organized labor movement (especially in the Ciudad Chihuahua area), and the economic importance and political influence of the maquiladora industry. Paradoxically, the FTEC may enjoy greater relative autonomy in its organizing efforts under a PAN government than when the PRI was in power because it is no longer constrained by the need to balance its own interests against the state government's need to promote a favorable business environment. On the basis of the available evidence, however, it is not possible to determine whether the FTEC has significantly increased its unionizing efforts in recent years, though it does continue to control the great majority of new union registrations granted.
The PAN government's stated intention to adhere strictly to established legal criteria in the union registration process should in principle make it easier to form labor organizations that are not affiliated with the CTM or other major national confederations. However, labor attorneys interviewed in the course of this study emphasized that the PAN government decidedly favors "apolitical unions dedicated to the defense of workplace interests; politically-motivated, opposition labor groups such as the FAT may well encounter greater obstacles to unionization. The principal consideration, however, appears to be the state government's concern with promoting a pro-business labor relations environment, especially in the crucially important maquiladora industry. Indeed, the consensus among informants interviewed for this study was that maquiladora plant managers who are firmly committed to preserving a non-union workplace would find a supportive audience among key state government officials.(16)
As a result of such considerations, the politics of union registration in Chihuahua is generally resolved well before a registration petition reaches a local conciliation and arbitration board. The question is often not whether JLCA personnel follow established legal procedures in a nonpartisan fashion. Rather, the issue more frequently is whether--given CTM dominance in the state, and government officials' interest in promoting investment--company managers hostile to unionization find political support for actions (firing union organizers, for example) that make union organizing efforts more difficult. However, even where this occurs, the data examined in the following section show that grievance petitions arising from the unjustified dismissal of union activists rarely reach local conciliation and arbitration boards.
There is a long history of labor union activity in Tamaulipas dating from the 1920s. The number and diverse characteristics of major economic centers in the state--petroleum production in the Tampico and Ciudad Madero areas, customs collection in Nuevo Laredo (astride an important commercial link between the United States and Mexico), cotton production in the Matamoros-Ciudad Camargo corridor, and the maquiladora industry along the U.S.-Mexican border--have given rise to a varied but important labor movement.
In 1993 there were a total of 977 local-jurisdiction unions registered in the state.(17) Some 28.5 percent of these were located in the Tampico region. The other areas of heaviest union concentration are in the maquiladora industry in Matamoros, Reynosa, Nuevo Laredo, Río Bravo, and Ciudad Victoria. Other economic activities with important numbers of labor organizations are the construction and food products (including restaurants) industries and passenger and cargo transportation.
From the 1940s through the 1990s, the CTM has been the dominant labor confederation in Tamaulipas.(18) In the late 1970s, for example, CTM affiliates constituted 98.3 percent of the 419 federal-jurisdiction labor organizations registered in the state.(19) The CTM's influence is reflected both in its organizational hegemony (a partial product of its national political alliances) and its value as an electoral ally of the governing Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), especially in state-wide gubernatorial elections. In 1993, the CTM-affiliated Federación de Trabajadores de Tamaulipas (Workers' Federation of Tamaulipas, FTT, founded in 1952) claimed approximately 600 union affiliates, with as many as 65,000 affiliated workers in the maquiladora industry alone.
In the late 1980s and early 1990s, the administration of Carlos Salinas de Gortari (1988-1994) sought to undermine the position of several local labor bosses as part of a concerted campaign to promote more flexible production arrangements and enhance labor productivity in key economic sectors. Among other actions, federal prosecutors temporarily imprisoned Agapito González, the long-time CTM leader in Matamoros, on charges of tax evasion. Federal prosecutors also arrested Diego Navarro, leader of the FTT, in August 1993 on charges of tax evasion, thus bringing his nine-year reign to an end.
Although these actions have weakened the CTM presence in some areas, it clearly remains the dominant labor force in Tamaulipas. Interviews conducted for this study with labor attorneys and JLCA personnel indicated that the union registration process is usually uncontroversial, principally a matter of fulfilling the diverse criteria established by federal labor law. In practice, this may well be a consequence of the CTM's continued hegemony in the state. Indeed, internal union conflicts within a CTM affiliate have at times been resolved by permitting the formation of a separate union--an outcome preferable, from the perspective of the CTM, government officials, and many employers, to the registration of a union under the auspices of another confederation.(20)
This section of the report analyzes individual worker grievances filed before local conciliation and arbitration boards in Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. The discussion of each JLCA begins with an examination of the general characteristics of the individual grievances submitted to the JLCA for resolution between 1990 and 1994. The next sub-section analyzes in detail a random sample of 25 worker grievances heard by each Local Conciliation and Arbitration Board during these years (a total 75 cases for the three boards studied). Sampling procedures are discussed in Appendix A.
This sub-section examines individual worker grievances filed before the Local Conciliation and Arbitration Board (JLCA) in Chihuahua's state capital, Ciudad Chihuahua.
A very substantial number of individual grievances are filed each year with the JLCA in Ciudad Chihuahua.(21) In 1992, 1993, and 1994, the board received 1,892, 1,943, and 1,905 individual demands, respectively, for an annual average of 1,913 cases.(22) In only the six-month period between January and June 1995, the number of grievances rose sharply to 2,073, reflecting the severe economic dislocations caused by Mexico's post-December 1994 financial crisis and the continuing recessionary effects of prolonged drought in Chihuahua. In May 1995, for example, the officially-recorded unemployment rate in Ciudad Chihuahua was 8.2 percent, somewhat higher than the national average.(23)
Because some case proceedings stretch over a period of months or years, the JLCA's workload at any given time is even larger.(24) For example, the total number of individual grievances under review averaged 2,433.5 per month in 1993 and 2,632.3 in 1994. In June 1995 the number of active cases totaled 2,741. As of June 1995, 50.0 percent of these cases were in conciliation or under investigation; the remainder were in various stages of final resolution (the preparation of a final JLCA decision, 18.0 percent; execution of a JLCA decision, 20.0 percent; or awaiting a Supreme Court resolution of an injunction petition filed by one of the contending parties, 12.0 percent).(25) In 1992, 1993, and 1994, the JLCA issued, respectively, 268, 621, and 800 formal rulings (laudos).
Of the 7,488 cases filed with the Board between January 1992 and June 1995 for which information is available concerning the cause of the grievance petition, 79.8 percent involved workers' claims of unjustified dismissal.(26) Other claims included charges of employers' contract violations (rescisión del contrato), 9.6 percent; workers' claims of unpaid fringe benefits, 6.9 percent; petitions from workers or employers asking the Local Conciliation and Arbitration Board to certify a legal heir (declaración de beneficiario), 2.5 percent; and various miscellaneous claims concerning workplace health and safety issues, the legally-mandated distribution of enterprise profits to employees, and related contract violations (1.1 percent of the total).
There are no overall data available concerning the economic activity in which grievants were employed. However, JLCA personnel report that the Ciudad Chihuahua area's maquiladora industry accounts for a lower proportion of all grievance cases than the maquiladora sector's share of the economically active population.(27) Plant managers generally seek to resolve workplace grievances before they reach the labor justice system (for example, by paying discharged workers their wages, benefits, and legally-mandated separation indemnity, if this is what is required). In the view of JLCA officers, maquiladora managers are inclined to contest a worker's grievance petition before the Local Conciliation and Arbitration Board only if they believe their case is strong.
It is also worth noting in this context that the JLCA hears only worker-employer conflicts; it lacks jurisdiction over internal union disputes. Thus a worker seeking redress over union governance issues, access to copies of a collective contract or union statutes, and so forth cannot appeal to the JLCA. Her or his only recourse is to seek a change in union governance or union officials' conduct that would rectify the situation.
Because of the very large volume of grievance cases involving alleged unjustified dismissal, it was impossible to examine each grievance in any detail. The project researchers addressed this problem by selecting a sample of JLCA cases for detailed analysis. The following section reports the results of this work.(28)
Of the 25 cases from the 1990-1994 period selected for detailed analysis, 21 were filed by individual workers. In two cases, 2 workers appeared as co-grievants; in one case, 3 workers did so; and in yet another case, 16 manual workers (peones de obra) employed by a construction firm collectively filed a grievance petition before the JLCA. Of the 44 grievants involved in these cases, 36 (81.8 percent) were men and 8 were women. They were employed in diverse economic activities, ranging from maquiladora plants producing clothing and electrical products to brickmaking, domestic service, construction, and commercial sales.(29)
In all but one of these cases, workers charged that they had been unjustifiably dismissed from their job.(30) The circumstances surrounding their firing varied considerably--ranging from a parking lot attendant who was fired for failing to loan her employer a small fan on a particularly hot day in June 1992, to a worker accused of negligence in repairing production equipment, to a maquiladora worker whose employer alleged a long history of unexcused absences from work. However, the most common reason given by the employer (mentioned in 8 of the 24 cases alleging unjustified dismissal) was that economic circumstances--the completion of a particular contract, the absence of new orders, and so forth--compelled him or her to dismiss the worker.
None of the cases of alleged unjustified dismissal arose as a result of the worker's union activities. Indeed, in only one of these 24 cases in the Ciudad Chihuahua sample case were more general wage and employment issues involved in the unjustified dismissal. In June 1992, a worker employed making cheese in a Ciudad Chihuahua dairy was fired by his employer because he joined with other workers in seeking a wage increase. Thirty-six days after filing a grievance with the JLCA, the grievant reached a settlement with his former employer in which he accepted a financial award equal to 39.3 percent of his original demand.
Nor was any of the grievance cases in the Ciudad Chihuahua sample filed after the worker had accepted her or his constitutionally-mandated separation indemnity payment. In three grievances the case file indicates that the employer sought (sometimes quite persistently) to persuade the worker to resign voluntarily, and in one instance workers accepted a proportional payment for fringe benefits owed them before initiating JLCA proceedings. In no instance, however, was this the mandatory separation indemnity payment required by the Mexican constitution of 1917 and federal labor law.
In some cases the former employer recognized some merit in the worker's demand. For example, even while maintaining that the worker had left his or her position voluntarily or arguing that there were no legal grounds for the grievance proceedings, some employers accepted that the former employee was entitled to additional compensation. This typically involved payment for accrued vacation time, a proportion of the workers legally-mandated annual bonus (aguinaldo), or seniority benefits (prima de antiguedad). Nevertheless, in at least 14 of the 25 cases under examination (56.0 percent), the employer actively contested the worker's claim.
Although Mexico's conciliation and arbitration board system was originally established in the hope that a flexible grievance resolution process would permit workers themselves to present their demands before tripartite juntas, all of the workers in the Ciudad Chihuahua case sample were represented by counsel. Interviews with JLCA personnel and on-site observation of JLCA proceedings indicate that this is consistently the case. Given the small number of labor attorneys in Ciudad Chihuahua, relatively few attorneys handle a substantial share of cases brought before the board.
Private attorneys are generally paid a proportion (estimates range from 10-30 percent to 30-50 percent) of the grievant's financial award at the end of grievance process. However, in some cases an attorney may pay the grievant a specific amount at the beginning of JLCA proceedings, and then take the entire financial award as fee compensation.(31) Union representatives are generally not involved in individual grievance proceedings before the JLCA.(32)
One-fifth of the cases in the Ciudad Chihuahua sample were handled by a public defender from the state government's Procuraduría General de la Defensa del Trabajo (Labor Legal Defense Office). Grievants in all the other cases were represented by a private attorney.(33) Public defenders were more successful than private attorneys in advancing their clients' cases. They won favorable JLCA rulings or private settlements in 2 of the 4 cases for which complete information is available, whereas private attorneys prevailed in only 6 of the 18 grievances they handled for which complete information is available. The one case ending on terms equally favorable to the worker and the employer was also handled by a private attorney.
Overall, workers prevailed in 8 of the cases (34.8 percent, N=23) in the Ciudad Chihuahua sample, either by winning a favorable ruling from the JLCA or by negotiating a settlement with the employer which was equal to at least half of the financial award initially sought in the grievance proceeding. In a ninth case, the final junta decision was equally favorable to the two parties in dispute. Because workers may have inflated their initial financial claims (thereby reducing the proportional value of the financial settlements they received), this standard for judging private settlements (convenios) may in fact somewhat underestimate workers' success before the JLCA.(34)
It is worth noting that this success rate was significantly lower than that estimated by JLCA officials, one of whom judged that some 56 percent of the grievance cases heard in the 1993-1995 period ended on terms favorable to workers.(35) It is possible that the JLCA official's estimate referred only to cases ending in a formal junta ruling (laudo). Indeed, workers won 6 of the 8 sampled cases (75.0 percent) ending in this fashion.
Yet workers' overall success rate before Chihuahua's JLCA was also lower than the 53.6 percent success rate that railroad workers had in grievance proceedings before the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board in the years between 1934 and 1975.(36) Among other factors, the lower success rate in Chihuahua may reflect the fact that--unlike Mexican railroad workers from the early 1930s to the mid- 1970s, who were members of a large, powerful national union with a detailed collective contract and long years of experience in the conciliation and arbitration system--none of these grievants enjoyed union support (either financial or legal) during the grievance process. Nor did any of the case files examined include a copy of a workplace collective contract, evidence that a worker would normally have submitted in support of her or his claim. This absence suggests that these workers lacked detailed contractual safeguards of their employment rights.
The average time required to conclude JLCA grievance proceedings was 165.5 days in the Ciudad Chihuahua sample (N=23).(37) During the period under review, the average resolution time varied significantly--ranging from 60.5 days in 1994 to 329.8 days in 1992.(38) Similarly, the average resolution time differed considerably depending on how the JLCA grievance proceedings ended. The two cases that ended when the worker withdrew from the JLCA proceedings (desistimiento) had an average duration of 93.5 days, while the 13 cases concluded by private agreement between the contending parties averaged 97.8 days. In contrast, cases resolved by a formal JLCA ruling on average lasted 293.5 days.(39)
There has been some speculation that partisan change in state government may have affected the length of JLCA grievance resolution proceedings. When the PAN came to office in 1992 it promised to simplify the labor justice system and accelerate grievance proceedings. JLCA officials speak with pride of the steps they have taken to speed the resolution of worker complaints.(40) Although the JLCA's computerized case management system was initiated during the previous PRI government, the PAN administration has invested substantial resources in extending it. As a result, clerical operations and notifications of JLCA hearings are handled more expeditiously.
There is general consenus among the Ciudad Chihuahua attorneys interviewed as part of this study that JLCA proceedings are now more efficiently organized than in the past. Indeed, one attorney with extensive experience handling cases before the JLCA (representing both workers and employers on different occasions) went so far as to complain that, in their vigorous efforts to handle cases as expeditiously as possible, JLCA personnel at times gave insufficient attention to questions of legal precedent and procedure.(41) Some of these problems apparently originated in a supplementary body (mesa auxiliar) created to help the board's Junta Especial No. 1 handle its large case volume. This body has since been disbanded.(42)
In 4 (16.0 percent) of the 25 cases in the Ciudad Chihuahua sample, one of the parties in dispute sought an injunction (amparo) from the Supreme Court against the JLCA's decision. Three of these amparo suits were filed by employers (two were granted), and one was filed (not granted) by a worker. The average length of the amparo proceedings was 89.8 days. All of these suits arose from original claims of unjustified dismissal.(43)
Like its counterpart in Ciudad Chihuahua, the JLCA based in Ciudad Juarez hears a very substantial number of individual grievances in the course of a given year. Workers filed 1,844 new grievances in 1990, 2,103 cases in 1991, 2,589 grievances in 1992, 2,999 cases in 1993, 2,770 cases in 1994, and 1,600 cases between January and June 1995.(44) In 1993 and 1994 the board had an average monthly active case load of, respectively, 2,757.7 and 3,102.4 grievances, a volume which declined somewhat to a monthly average of 2,674.8 active cases in January-June 1995.
A total of 2,812 cases were under consideration in June 1995. Of this total, 62.5 percent were in conciliation or under investigation; the remainder were in various stages of final resolution (the preparation of a final JLCA decision, 21.9 percent; execution of a JLCA decision, 10.4 percent; or awaiting a Supreme Court resolution of an injunction petition filed by one of the contending parties, 5.2 percent). The board issued 625 formal rulings in 1993, 764 in 1994, and 405 between January and June 1995.(45)
Of the 25 cases from the 1990-1994 period selected for detailed analysis in Ciudad Juarez, 23 cases (92.0 percent) were filed by individual workers. In one case, two restaurant workers appeared as co-grievants, and in another case four construction workers collectively sought to reverse their dismissal. Of the 29 grievants in the case sample, 20 were men (69.0 percent) and 9 were women. As in Ciudad Chihuahua, they represented diverse occupations, ranging from security guards, secretaries, and restaurant and bar employees to bus drivers and construction workers.(46) Six of the 29 grievants (20.7 percent) were employed in in-bond processing plants, a reflection of the maquiladora industry's economic prominence in the local economy.
In all 25 of these cases, the issue that produced workers' legal action was their charge that they had been unjustifiably dismissed from their job. As in Ciudad Chihuahua, the specific circumstances surrounding their dismissal varied widely. In one case, for example, an engineer employed at a maquiladora plant producing electronic products was dismissed for alleged "lack of professionalism" on the job. After he had filed an unjustified dismissal claim with the JLCA in Ciudad Juarez, the engineer and his employer reached a private settlement in which the grievant received the wage and benefits payment he sought--although he failed to collect the 90-day indemnity payment he would have received if he had been able to prove that his firing was illegal under Mexican law. In another case, a secretary/receptionist was accused of leaking confidential information to a competing firm. Although various discussions occurred under JLCA auspices in an effort to reach a settlement, the worker eventually dropped her suit. In other grievance cases, the employer charged that the worker had been repeatedly absent without permission, was negligent on the job, and so forth.
In 7 (28.0 percent) of the 25 cases selected for intensive examination, the employer dismissed the worker on the grounds that his or her services were no longer required. That is, there was insufficient work available to justify maintaining the existing number of employees. Nevertheless, in an effort to avoid a formal arbitration decision by the JLCA, the employer in one case offered to reinstate the worker on previously existing terms. This response reflected, at least in part, the employer's desire to exploit a technicality in Mexican labor law: Mexican courts have ruled that a conciliation and arbitration board cannot conclude that a worker has been unjustifiably dismissed if the employer offers to rehire the grievant on the same terms and conditions that existed before the alleged firing.
None of the Ciudad Juárez cases examined as part of this study involved a worker's alleged dismissal as a result of union activities. Indeed, none of the case records made mention of any labor organization at all. However, in 4 instances the worker's dismissal resulted from his or her pressing the employer or workplace supervisor for a wage increase or the payment of wages due. In one case the employer sought energetically for the worker to sign a voluntary resignation form. Yet none of the Ciudad Juárez case records indicates that the worker received her or his constitutionally-mandated separation indemnity payment before filing a formal JLCA greivance.
As in Ciudad Chihuahua, all of the Ciudad Juárez grievants were represented by legal counsel. However, a higher proportion of the Ciudad Juárez grievants (88.0 percent) had a private attorney. Indeed, in only three cases was the worker represented by a public defender from the state's Labor Legal Defense Office. Two of the cases handled by a public defender ended in a formal JLCA laudo, decisions in which the grievant prevailed.(47)
A very high proportion (68.0 percent) of Ciudad Juárez cases ended in a negotiated settlement (convenio) between the conflicting parties. Of the 17 cases concluded in this fashion, 11 (64.7 percent) favored the employer. The worker clearly prevailed in 4 of these cases (23.5 percent), and in two others (11.8 percent) the settlement terms were equally favorable to each of the parties in dispute. The employer also won in the 6 cases which ended when the worker failed to pursue the grievance proceeding (desistimiento).
Overall, workers prevailed in 24.0 percent of the 25 Ciudad Juárez cases selected for close analysis. If one also credits as worker victories the two cases ending in a decision equally favorable to the grievant and the defendant, then this proportion rises to 32.0 percent. It is worth noting that the grievant won both cases ending in a formal JLCA decision. (Both these JLCA rulings came in 1994, although there is no evidence to suggest that they represent a departure from the general Ciudad Juárez pattern in which most cases end with a private agreement between the parties in dispute.) On the basis of the information available, it is not possible to explain why the percentage of worker victories was lower in Ciudad Juarez than in either Ciudad Chihuahua or Ciudad Victoria (see below). It is possible, however, that this outcome is a consequence of organized labor's lower political weight in the area.
The average time required to conclude JLCA grievance proceedings was 114.5 days in the Ciudad Juárez sample (N=25). The average resolution time varied considerably during the 1990-1994 period, ranging from 60.8 days in 1991 to 229.8 days in 1990. Resolution times did not, however, vary in response to any clearly identifiable shift in economic conditions or political circumstances.
As in Ciudad Chihuahua, the average resolution time differed considerably depending on how the JLCA grievance proceedings ended. The six cases that ended when the worker withdrew from the JLCA proceedings averaged 113.3 days, while those 17 cases concluded by private agreement between the contending parties averaged 116.0 days. However, in contrast to the Ciudad Chihuahua sample, the two Ciudad Juárez cases ending in a JLCA laudo were resolved in an even shorter time (105.0 days). Given the small number of cases ending in this fashion, one should perhaps be cautious about concluding that this represents a general pattern.
In 2 of the 25 cases in the Ciudad Juárez sample, the employer sought an injunction (amparo) from the Supreme Court after the JLCA issued a ruling in favor of the grievant. Indeed, in one instance the employer initially ignored the JLCA proceedings, failing to appear at any of the preliminary hearings. But when the JLCA interpreted the employer's actions as an implicit admission guilt (as provided for under Mexican labor law) and quickly issued a decision in favor of worker, the employer sought first one, and then a second, injunction against the JLCA's action. In neither this instance nor in the other case involving an injunction appeal was the employer successful; in both cases, the Supreme Court issued rulings that left the JLCA decisions in force. The average time required to conclude the amparo proceedings was 87.0 days, almost exactly the same time required in the Ciudad Chihuahua cases involving an amparo appeal.
The volume of individual demands filed with the JLCA in Ciudad Victoria during the 1990-1994 period was considerably lower than in either Ciudad Chihuahua or Ciudad Juárez. A total of 2,733 individual demands were registered during this period (912 in 1990, 438 in 1991, 390 in 1992, 483 in 1993, and 510 in 1994). The comparatively small number of individual demands may reflect government-led efforts in the 1990s to limit labor conflicts in the state and to resolve problems via conciliation. Moreover, many conflicts may be resolved through the union in the workplace, further reducing the number of workplace conflicts brought before tripartite conciliation and arbitration boards.
Of the 25 cases from the 1990-1994 period selected for detailed analysis, 21 (84.0 percent) were filed by individual workers.(48) In three cases, two workers appeared as co-grievants; in one case, three workers did so. Of the 30 grievants involved in these cases, 26 (86.7 percent) were men and 4 were women. They included a heavy equipment operator, a metalworker, restaurant cooks and waiters, and individuals employed in various other service activities such as tourism. A relatively high proportion of the Ciudad Victoria grievants (4 grievants, or 14.3 percent of the total, N-28) were engaged in agricultural activities, including workers employed on ranches, farms, and fruit orchards.(49)
All but one of the grievants came before the JLCA(50) charging that they had been unjustifiably dismissed by their employer. In the single exception, the grievant claimed that existing contract conditions had been unilaterally altered by the employer, and he sought JLCA support to restore his previous working conditions.
As in the Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez case samples, the circumstances giving rise to these grievances varied widely. In five cases the employer argued that there was insufficient work to justify retaining the worker (although in one instance the firm dismissed employees, closed, and then subsequently reopened under another name). In other instances, the employer alleged that the worker had been absent without permission or had performed poorly on the job.
None of the cases of alleged unjustified dismissal arose as a result of the worker's union activities. (Indeed, none of the case records examined suggests that unions were involved in any way in either attempting to resolve the workplace problem resulting in the alleged firing or in resolving the grievance before the JLCA.) Nevertheless, six grievances arose when workers were fired for seeking back wages or protesting against shift changes, or because they sought a higher wage for longer working hours or increased job responsibilities. None of the grievance cases in the Ciudad Victoria sample was filed after the worker had accepted her or his constitutionally-mandated separation indemnity payment.
In all of the 24 cases for which information is available, the grievant was represented by private counsel. The apparent absence of public defenders in these grievance proceedings is one element that contrasts the Ciudad Victoria cases with those from Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez.
Three of the cases in the Ciudad Victoria sample remained active as of November 1995 (all of them had been initiated between August and November 1994). Of the 22 cases that had been completed, 14 (63.6 percent) ended in a formal JLCA ruling (laudo),(51) and 4 cases (18.2 percent) ended in a private settlement between the parties in dispute. In another 4 cases (18.2 percent), the worker dropped her or his case before a settlement or ruling could be reached. In one of these cases the elderly grievant died of a heart attack after filing the grievance petition, and the worker's widow declined to pursue the case.
Overall, workers prevailed in 11 (55.0 percent) of the cases (N=20) for which information is available, either by winning a favorable ruling from the JLCA (eight cases) or by negotiating a settlement with the employer which provided the grievant with at least half of the financial award initially sought in the grievance proceeding. In two cases workers successfully sued to retain their job, as well as receiving some compensation for lost wages and benefits. In one of these instances, however, the case record indicates that the grievants did not return to their former jobs at a tourist camp.
Workers prevailed in at least 8 (61.5 percent, N=13) of the 14 laudos issued by the JLCA and in at least 3 of the 4 private settlements negotiated under the JLCA's auspices. Of the 20 cases in the Ciudad Victoria sample which were concluded as of November 1995 and for which complete information was available, then, workers won in a total of 11 grievance proceedings (55.0 percent). This was a substantially higher success rate than workers enjoyed in either Ciudad Chihuahua or Ciudad Juárez.
Yet the grievances filed in Ciudad Victoria also took longer to resolve than those submitted to juntas in either Ciudad Chihuahua or Ciudad Juarez. The average time required to conclude grievance proceedings for the entire 1990-1994 period was 427.6 days (N=20). Average resolution times varied from 275.5 days in 1994 (N=2) to 727.5 days in 1991 (N=4). Thus the shortest average annual resolution time in Ciudad Victoria was longer than the 1990-1994 average for either of the other two case samples examined in this study. Convenios (N=4) were on average concluded in 99.5 days, while formal JLCA rulings (N=12) required 546.5 days on average. Workers who desisted in the course of JLCA proceedings (N=4) did so on-average 399.0 days after filing a grievance.
In 3 (13.6 percent) of the 22 Ciudad Victoria cases which had been concluded at the time case records were examined in November 1995, one of the parties in dispute sought an injunction from the Supreme Court to overturn a JLCA ruling. In one case the worker successfully used amparo proceedings to prove that she had been employed at the firm in question, and she subsequently won a favorable ruling from the JLCA in which she received her constitutionally-mandated separation indemnity payment and most of the back wages and benefits she had originally claimed. Another worker similarly won an injunction to demonstrate that a contractual relationship had existed and to win a second, favorable decision from the JLCA. However, the employer in this case then filed for an injunction on the grounds that the JLCA had miscalculated the worker's base pay rate. When the JLCA issued its third ruling in this case, the worker retained his financial award (though somewhat reduced in amount)--1279 days (3.5 years) after JLCA proceedings had begun.(52)
This study has examined the operation of local-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration boards in the states of Chihuahua and Tamaulipas. Its chief goal has been to assess the day-to-day operation of these tripartite bodies, including their role in the registration of labor unions and the resolution of individual worker grievances. Toward this end, the authors undertook detailed field research at three sites (Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez in Chihuahua, and Ciudad Victoria in Tamaulipas) between July and December 1995. In addition to reviewing relevant secondary materials, the authors interviewed junta personnel, local union officials and labor activists, employer representatives, attorneys, and other individuals with knowledge of the conciliation and arbitration board system. The authors also examined a representative sample of individual grievances filed before three local conciliation and arbitration boards in Chihuahua and Tamaulipas between 1990 and 1994. This research provides new insight into the historical development of conciliation and arbitration boards in these states, their administrative organization, and their significance within the Mexican labor justice system.
In order to place the operation of these local-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration boards in appropriate social and political context, the authors also gathered information concerning the historical development and contemporary profile of the organized labor movement in Chihuahua and Tamaulipas. In both states, the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) is by far the dominant labor organization. Although CTM strength varies among different regions, especially in the state Chihuahua, it has far more affiliated labor organizations and members than any rival confederation. Both the CTM's strength and the economic and political influence of the maquiladora industry may explain the limited presence of politically independent unions in these states; most such unions represent university employees or other nontraditional sectors. One reflection of the CTM's organizational and political dominance is that, as of mid-1995, labor representatives on the three local juntas examined in this study were all CTM affiliates.
Despite the problems that characterize the operation of Mexican conciliation and arbitration boards (including administrative delays produced by personnel shortages and communications difficulties in serving contending parties with legal notifications, as well as difficulties in enforcing board decisions once they are rendered), local-jurisdiction juntas such as those examined in this study serve a vital function in Mexico. The high volume of individual grievances handled by tripartite boards in Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez may indicate that many workers in local-jurisdiction economic activities in Chihuahua are cognizant of their legal rights and willing to seek the protection of the labor justice system. Alternatively, their recurrence to JLCAs may indicate the absence of intermediate institutions (especially labor unions responsive to their members' interests) capable of resolving workplace grievances. Indeed, although juntas' reputation for legalistic, often time-consuming grievance resolution processes may deter some potential claimants, one of the most striking aspects of the case samples examined in this study is that grievants of quite humble socioeconomic status appear to be broadly aware of-and, with some qualifications, able to seek protection of their legal rights through--conciliation and arbitration boards. Most grievants in these case samples were represented by private attorneys, but the availability of public defenders may be especially important to preserving broad access to the labor justice system. At least in the state of Chihuahua, public defenders had a very good record of winning their cases.
In both Chihuahua and Tamaulipas in the years between 1990 and 1994, a very high proportion of individual grievances filed with local conciliation and arbitration boards (79.8 percent in Ciudad Chihuahua in the period between January 1992 and June 1995) involved workers' alleged unjustified dismissal. Junta grievants represented a diverse range of economic activities, and the specific circumstances surrounding their dismissal varied greatly. One of the most common reasons workers gave, however, was that their employer had fired them arbitrarily when their services were no longer required.
Grievance proceedings at the three local boards examined in this study varied considerably in length and outcome. The time required to resolve a case depended in large part on whether the employer contested the grievance, whether there were exceptional difficulties in communicating with the parties and scheduling fact-finding and conciliation hearings, and its outcome--that is, whether the case ended with the worker's decision to drop his or her demand, a negotiated settlement between worker and employer, or a formal junta decision. In the case samples examined in the course of this study, average resolution times during the 1990-1994 period ranged from 114.5 days in Ciudad Juárez, to 165.5 days in Ciudad Chihuahua, to 427.6 days in Ciudad Victoria.
How workers fared in the grievance resolution process also varied considerably among the three juntas examined. An analysis of representative samples of junta cases shows that between 1990 and 1994 grievants prevailed in 34.8 percent of the cases filed in Ciudad Chihuahua, 24.0 percent in Ciudad Juárez, and 55.0 percent in Ciudad Victoria. An especially high proportion (68.0 percent) of the Ciudad Juárez cases ended in a negotiated settlement between the parties in conflict; a substantial proportion (63.6 percent) of the Ciudad Victoria cases ended in a formal junta ruling. On the basis of the evidence available, it is difficult to explain these substantial differences in outcome among these sites. However, organized labor's much more influential presence in Tamaulipas than in Chihuahua may have had some impact in this regard, giving grievants in Tamaulipas some confidence that they would prevail if they pursued their cases through to a formal junta decision.
In some cases, one of the contending parties appealed the local board's final ruling. This occurred in 16.0 percent of the sampled cases in Ciudad Chihuahua, 4.0 percent in Ciudad Juárez, and 13.6 percent in Ciudad Victoria. In one of sampled cases, the employer charged that junta personnel had miscalculated the appropriate wage base on which the victorious plaintiff's compensation was to be calculated. Yet none of the appeals cases in the JLCA samples examined as part of this study alleged illegal behavior by junta personnel or collusion between them and employers or labor union leaders.(53)
It is important to note, however, that local-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration boards function in a larger political and economic context. Given the importance that state officials (regardless of their partisan affiliation) in Chihuahua and Tamaulipas attach to preserving labor peace and a favorable business climate, it would not be surprising if they at times sought to erect administrative obstacles to politically sensitive worker grievances or to union organizers, especially if the case involves the formation of a labor union identified with an opposition political party. Certainly the labor histories of these states include high-profile conflicts in which secondary information plausibly suggests that this occurred. Yet based strictly on the representative samples of individual grievance cases which were examined in the course of this study, one cannot conclude that conciliation and arbitration boards played more than a subsidiary role in such conflicts. Indeed, the cases sampled in Ciudad Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez, and Ciudad Victoria included no instances in which grievants alleged they had been dismissed by their employer for union activities. In fact, none of these cases included any reference at all to labor organizations, either in the workplace or as a supporting participant in the grievance resolution process. If labor activists in Chihuahua and/or Tamaulipas have sometimes encountered significant obstacles to their organizational efforts, how might one explain the absence of "union activity" grievances in the case samples selected as part of this study? One possible explanation lies in the strategies adopted by employers seeking to avoid the unionization of their labor forces, especially by personnel managers in the large and economically significant maquiladora plants that one might logically expect would be the preferred target of union organizers. Interviews with junta personnel and labor attorneys in Ciudad Chihuahua, for example, suggest that maquiladora managers energetically seek to keep most workplace grievances from reaching conciliation and arbitration boards. Larger enterprises often employ quite sophisticated in-plant personnel management strategies, and some firms are said to prefer to pay legally-mandated separation indemnity payments to dismissed workers rather than permit potential grievants to seek recourse in the labor justice system. Indeed, at least in Ciudad Chihuahua, maquiladora workers appear to account for a lower proportion of individual junta grievances than maquiladora employees represent in the local labor force. It is important to note, moreover, that the jurisdiction of conciliation and arbitration boards is by law limited to conflicts between labor and capital. As a consequence, internal union conflicts concerning workers' representation or union rights cannot legally be brought before such boards.
Because of the very large volume of individual demands handled by local-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration boards in the three sites examined in this study and the limited amount of field research resources, it was impossible to review all the cases filed by these boards. Therefore, the analysis of individual grievance proceedings that appears in this report is based on a random sample of grievances filed before the local-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration boards in Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, and Ciudad Victoria, Tamaulipas. The sample for each site included twenty-five cases (five per year) for the 1990-1994 period.
The Ciudad Chihuahua sample was drawn in two steps. First, a sample of twenty-five cases per year was drawn by dividing the total number of grievances filed by 25 and then selecting each nth case. Because the same number of cases was selected for each year between 1990 and 1994, this sample overrepresents those years in which smaller numbers of grievances were filed. However, because it was necessary for collaborating researchers to agree upon a uniform sampling procedure before actually visiting Junta Local de Conciliación y Arbitraje (JLCA) offices in the three cities chosen for study (and thus before it could be learned whether precise annual JLCA case load totals were available), this procedure was adopted to ensure a total sample of reasonable size.
This first sample included information concerning the date on which each case was initiated, the grievant's name, the kind of demand filed (unjustified dismissal, contract violations, and so forth), the junta especial to which the demand was directed, and (in some instances) the way in which the case was concluded. In the absence of more detailed information concerning the character of individual grievances brought before local conciliation and arbitration boards, this larger sample (125 cases for each of the three sites for the 1990-1994 period) establishes a profile of JLCA activity.
A second, smaller sample was selected for more intensive analysis. Using a random numbers table, five demands were selected from the cases for each year in the original Ciudad Chihuahua sample, producing a second sample of 25 cases for the 1990-1994 period.
In Ciudad Juárez and Ciudad Victoria, a random numbers table was used to select five cases per year (a total sample size of 25 cases for each JLCA) from the total universe of individual grievances filed between 1990 and 1994.
The cases in these smaller samples were located in the JLCA archives in Ciudad Chihuahua, Ciudad Juárez, and Ciudad Victoria; when a case could not be found, a replacement case was selected from the same year using a random numbers table. The following information was compiled-the name of the worker(s) filing the demand and the number of grievants involved (whether a single worker or a group of workers); the number of the special junta hearing the case; the nature of the grievance and whether a monetary award was sought; the date on which the case was filed and the date when the JLCA reached its decision or the case otherwise came to an end; the date on which the employee was first hired, when available; the grievant's legal representation (whether the worker represented himself or herself, or was represented by private counsel or a public defender from the state-level Procuraduría de Defensa del Trabajo); whether the employer actively contested the case; the outcome of the case (a formal decision by the special junta; a private settlement by the employer and the worker; the worker failed to pursue the grievance; or the special junta terminated the case because the worker and/or the employer failed to pursue the grievance for a specified period of time); in cases involving a formal junta decision, whether the ruling favored the worker or the employer and the vote of the three-person board, when available; in cases involving a monetary settlement, whether the agreement was generally more favorable to the worker or the employer; whether the worker or employer sought a legal injunction (amparo) from the Supreme Court against the special junta's action, and whether an injunction was granted.
In cases in which either the worker or the employer sought an injunction against a JLCA decision, the date of the special junta's initial decision was used for the purposes of computing a case's duration. However, if the ILCA reopened a case as the result of Supreme Court action and subsequently issued a new ruling, this second date was used to calculate the case's duration.
Carrillo V., Jorge. 1991. "The Evolution of the Maquiladora Industry: Labor Relations in a New Context" In Unions, Workers, and the State in Mexico, edited by Kevin J. Middlebrook. La Jolla: Center for U.S.-Mexican Studies, University of California, San Diego.
Gobierno del Estado de Tamaulipas. 1995. 70 aniversario de la Junta Local de Conciliacion Arbitraje de Tamaulipas.
Meyers, Frederic. 1979. Mexican Industrial Relations from the Perspective of the Labor Court. Los Angeles: Institute of Industrial Relations, University of California, Los Angeles.
Middlebrook, Kevin J. 1995. The Paradox of Revolution: Labor, the State, and Authoritarianism in Mexico. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
Quintero Ramirez, Cirila. 1990. La sindicalización en las maquiladoras tijuanenses. Mexico City: Consejo Nacional para la Cultura y las Artes.
--1993. Sindicalismo en la frontera tamaulipeca: Los casos de Matamoros, Reynosa y Nuevo Laredo (Matamoros: Programa Cultural de las Fronteras/El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 1993).
--1993. "Sindicalismo en Reynosa: Una historia de faccionalismo y divisionismo," Programa Cultural de las Fronteras/El Colegio de la Frontera Norte.
-- 1995. Reestructuración sindical en las maquiladoras mexicanas. Mexico City: El Colegio de México.
Roxborough, Ian. 1984. Unions and Politics In Mexico: The Case of the Automobile Industry. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Zazueta, Cesar, and Ricardo de la Pena. 1984. La estructura del Congreso del Trabajo: Estado, trabajo y capital en México. Mexico City: Fondo de Cultura Económica.
1. Examples include the railroad, petroleum, petrochemical, electrical power generation, steel and metalworking, mining, rubber, automobile manufacturing, banking, textile, sugar, and cement industries.
5. Seven legally-recognized strikes occurred in Ciudad Juárez between January 1993 and June 1995. A strike lasting some three minutes occurred in Nuevo Casas Grandes in 1992. No legally-recognized strikes occurred in either the Hidalgo del Parral or the Ciudad Delicias jurisdictions during the January 1992-June 1995 period, nor in Nuevo Casas Grandes in 1993 or 1994.
18. For a discussion of labor movement formation in Tamaulipas, see Cirila Quintero, Sindicalismo en la frontera tamaulipeca: Los casos de Matamoros, Reynosa, y Nuevo Laredo (Matamoros: Programa Cultural de las Fronteras/El Colegio de la Frontera Norte, 1993).
20. For a study of the formation of new CTM affiliates in Reynosa, see Cirila Quintero, "Sindicalismo en Reynosa: Una historia de faccionalismo y divisionismo," Programa Cultural de las Fronteras/El Colegio de la Frontera Norte (1993).
22. JLCA data concerning total annual case volume are not consistent. However, internal JLCA documents indicate that 1,047 individual demands were filed in 1990 and 1,340 in 1991. If these data are accurate, then the number of individual grievances filed with the Board grew very significantly during the 1990s, more than doubling between 1990 and 1995.
24. As of September 1995, there were 232 cases submitted before 1990 which were still in process in Ciudad Chihuahua. The earliest of these cases dated from 1983; about half of the total (225 cases) dated from 1989. Middlebrook field notes, September 1995.
26. Workers' claims of unjustified dismissal constituted 78.3 percent, 80.5 percent, and 72.5 percent of all grievances filed in, respectively, 1992, 1993, and 1994. Data for 1994 are incomplete; information on the originating cause of the petition is available for only 1,580 of the 1,905 grievances filed with the JLCA in that year. Claims alleging unjustified dismissal constituted 79.8 percent of all grievances filed in January-June 1995, a period of serious economic crisis in Chihuahua.
29. The sectoral distribution of workers filing demands was: light manufacturing activities (including the production of concrete pipe, electrical products, clothing, paper products, chemical products, and processed foods), 10 cases (40 percent); services and general commercial activities (including domestic service, parking lots, shoe sales, fruit marketing, and janatorial services), 8 cases (32 percent); construction, 6 cases (24 percent); and cargo and passenger transportation, 1 case (4 percent).
33. In two cases, the grievant was originally represented by a public defender but later retained a private attorney. In the former case, the worker won a favorable ruling from the JLCA, but in the latter case the employer prevailed in a 2-1 ruling by the board. In yet a third case, the grievant switched from a private lawyer to a public defender late in the proceedings in an apparent effort to reduce her legal costs and therefore safeguard what promised to be a very large financial settlement.
34. Using this standard to judge the outcome of grievance proceedings, workers prevailed in only 2 of the 12 cases resolved by private agreement (16.7 percent) for which complete information is available. Workers also lost in another two cases in which the grievant withdrew from the proceedings, thus leaving unchanged the alleged unjustified dismissal which he or she had sought to reverse by bringing suit before the JLCA.
39. By way of comparison, railroad worker grievances filed before the Federal Conciliation and Arbitration Board between 1934 and 1975 lasted on average 1,122 days (3.1 years). See Middlebrook, Paradox of Revolution, 199.
40. The volume of cases resolved by formal junta decision, private agreement between the parties in dispute, or as a result of the grievant's decision to drop the case did rise sharply between 1993 and 1995. The average number of cases resolved rose from 68.8 per month in 1993, to 152,2 per month in 1994, and 204.3 per month between January and June 1995; JLCA internal documents. Unfortunately, the available data do not distinguish fully among these quite different ways of terminating grievance proceedings. The number of laudos, however, did rise from 268 in 1992, to 621 in 1993, and 800 in 1994; internal JLCA documents examined by Middlebrook.
43. In 1994 a total of 377 amparo suits were filed in cases before the JLCA in Ciudad Chihuahua. Of this number, 147 were granted by the regional office of Mexico's Supreme Court; internal JLCA documents examined by Middlebrook in July 1995.
46. The sectoral distribution of grievants (N=29) was as follows: light manufacturing (20.7 percent), services and general commercial activities (55.2 percent), construction (20.7 percent), and transportation (3.4 percent).
48. Two cases were filed by the same worker against two different employers in, respectively, September and November 1994. Both cases remained active at the time case records were examined in November 1995.
49. The grievants (N=28) were distributed among the following economic sectors: light manufacturing, 14.3 percent; services, 64.3 percent; construction (including quarrying), 7.1 percent; and agriculture, 14.3 percent.
50. Unlike the Ciudad Chihuahua and Ciudad Juárez case samples, two of the grievances in the Ciudad Victoria sample were initially filed before the federal-jurisdiction conciliation and arbitration system. In both instances the federal junta declared itself incompetent to hear the cases, and they were brought to the JLCA.
52. In the third case, the employer filed an amparo suit as procedural protection because the original JLCA ruling had not been properly signed. The injunction suit did not alter the outcome in the case.
53. For references to cases in Ciudad Juarez where such problems have arisen, see Cirila Quintero Ramirez, "Sindicalismo en la frontera norte," unpublished manuscript (El Colegio de la Frontera Norte-Matamoros, 1995), p. 18 n15.