Transcript of Public Hearing on U.S. NAO Submission 2000-01
So thank you very much for that and welcoming us this morning.
My name is Lewis Karesh; I am the Acting Secretary of the U. S. National Administrative Office, and I'll be conducting the hearing this morning. I am assisted by Peter Accolla from the National Administrative Office, as well as Matt Levin, George Henshel and Steve Paskal from the U. S. Department of Labor's Office of the Solicitor. Also, Tina Faulkner and Silvio Gonzales from the NAO are here this morning and will be assisting us.
As part of this process, we consult with the Mexican National Administrative Office and other Mexican governmental authorities; this is a cooperative process in which we seek a mutually beneficial resolution to the issues that have been raised in the submission.
Before I continue, I'd like to just take one moment to thank Mayor Howard Peak and the City Council of San Antonio for their gracious hospitality and providing this wonderful city council chambers for us to hold this hearing this morning.
For those of you who need them, headsets are available at the rear of the room. Also at the back of the room, you'll find documents pertaining to this hearing. We do ask you to make sure that you do not leave the room with these headsets; these need to be returned at the end of the day.
For those wishing to take pictures or to videotape the hearing, we ask that you please respect the privacy of the witnesses and only do so from behind.
This hearing is being conducted in accordance with the procedural guidelines pursuant to Article 16 of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation; these guidelines were duly published in The Federal Register in 1994. Notice of today's hearing was timely published in The Federal Register on November 8 of this year.
The purpose of this hearing is to gather relevant information that will assist the U. S. NAO in preparing a report with respect to U. S. NAO's Submission 2000-1. Submission 2000-1 was filed with the U. S. NAO on July 3, 2000 by the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, current and former workers of Auto Trim and Custom Trim and 22 additional unions and non-governmental organizations. NAO accepted the submission for review on September 1, 2000.
Review of this submission is intended to further the objectives of the NAALC as set out in Article 1, which include improving working conditions and working standards in each party's territory, promoting to the maximum extent possible the labor principles set out in Annex 1 of that agreement, among them the prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses, promoting compliance with and effective enforcement by each party of its labor laws and fostering transparency in the administration of labor law.
This submission raises safety and health issues, including injuries and illnesses related to exposure of toxic substances and muscular and skeletal disorders caused by poor ergonomics. The submission also states that illnesses and injuries are often unreported or under-reported and inadequately treated and compensated.
The submission alleges that the Mexican government has failed to fulfill its obligations with respect to Articles 3, 4, 5 and 7, which pertain to NAALC objectives, governmental enforcement action, private action, procedural guarantees and public information awareness. Also, the submission alleges that the Mexican government is in violation of the Mexican federal labor law, Social Security law and the general health law, as well as several other national regulations and standards and international agreements.
Several parts of the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation are at issue, including: Article 3, which reads in the pertinent section, "Each party shall promote compliance with and effectively enforce its labor law through appropriate government action"; Article 4(1), which commits the parties to ensure that persons with a legally recognized interest under its law in a particular matter have appropriate access to administrative, quasi-judicial or labor tribunals for enforcement of that party's labor law; Article 5(1), which commits the parties to ensure that its administrative, quasi-judicial and labor tribunal proceedings for the enforcement of this labor law are fair, equitable and transparent; Article 7, which commits the parties to promote public awareness of its labor law, including ensuring that public information is available related to its labor law and enforcement of compliance procedures and promoting public education regarding its labor law.
The issue raised in the submission, if substantiated, would indicate practices inconsistent, also, with the preamble of the NAALC, which commits the parties to protection and enforcement of basic worker rights, as well as the degree of labor principles contained in the annex, specifically, the principle committing the parties to the prevention of occupational injuries and illnesses.
U. S. National Administrative Office will issue a public report at the end of its review process. The objective of today's hearing is to gather information to assist the NAO to better understand the public report on the government of Mexico's promotion of and compliance with labor laws and appropriate government action.
The purpose of the hearing is not to adjudicate individual rights and, therefore, is not an adversarial proceeding; as such, the Rules of Evidence are not in effect, and there will be no direct or cross-examination of witnesses. The hearing format is used as a means of providing the public and opportunity to present information relevant to the NAO's review. I will be the only person questioning witnesses here today.
In accordance with procedures established by my Office, witnesses filed timely requests to testify today and provided the NAO with summaries our outlines of their testimony. I will permit 10-minute presentations by each witness unless I deem it appropriate for additional time, and I will note that at the time that the witnesses are going to present.
The oral presentations and written statements will be entered into the record and will be considered by the NAO in the formulation of its public report. These documents, along with the other relevant materials submitted, will be available to the public through our National Administrative Office Information Room in Washington.
I will call recesses when I think it is appropriate, most likely, mid-way through the morning session for a break and at lunch time. I ask that you cooperate with the times that I announce and be back in your seats when the hearing is ready to resume.
Should any of you experience trouble with your interpretation receivers, please see one of the technicians or one of the support staff from the National Administrative Office, and they'll be happy to assist you with that. I also ask, to assist the interpreters and to allow for an accurate transcription, that everyone please speak slowly and speak into the microphone when you're addressing us.
We're now ready to proceed with the first panel. I ask everyone to please identify themselves before they speak.
The first panel this morning is Monica Schurtman, the Supervising Attorney at the University of Idaho Legal Aid Clinic.
MS. SCHURTMAN: Okay. Great. Let's just adjust this.
MS. SCHURTMAN: Thank you, very much, for holding these hearings today. And I also want to thank the City of San Antonio for donating the use of this space.
I would also like to thank the Maquiladoras workers and former workers who have spent countless hours on this case despite threats of repression and who have never given up hope that they will one day be able to achieve healthier and safer working conditions for themselves, co-workers and workers throughout Mexico.
Additionally, I thank the expert witnesses, who will testify today, for volunteering so much of their time and knowledge for this effort, and I also want to recognize the many friends in this city who welcomed the workers here and showed their support in myriad ways.
As most of you here know, I worked with several law students to conduct field work and legal research over a period of more than two years in support of the NAO submission, which is the subject of today's hearing. And this case is the first submission to the U. S. NAO which focuses exclusively on work place health and safety.
The submitters believe that the Mexican government, through its labor department, the STPS, it's Social Security institute, the [untranslated Spanish], or IMSS, and the secretary of health have violated the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation, the NAALC, by persistently failing to enforce Mexico's own occupational health and safety laws.
The submitters believe that this failure to enforce at Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana in particular allowed the persistence of health and safety violations which resulted in the workers suffering illnesses and injuries, sometimes so severe that their ability to support themselves and their families is compromised and their capacity to perform basic tasks becomes impaired.
The basis of the submission is simple: It's about the fundamental right of workers under Mexican law to work place conditions that will not destroy their health and well-being; it is about the need to respect health and safety laws which the Mexican government is legally bound to enforce and which Breed Technologies and other businesses are obligated to follow when they establish operations in Mexico. It is about what happens to human beings when laws meant to protect their health and safety are not respected.
It is important to remember, as MR. KARESH explained in the beginning, that this case is neither a tort action nor an adversarial process nor an action brought directly against private companies. Under the NAALC, the workers and former workers involved in the submission cannot ask for damages for the illnesses and injuries they and their co-workers have suffered, but only for proper enforcement of Mexico's occupational health and safety laws.
The submitters are not anti-business as some critics have charged; they simply asked the NAO for assistance in defending their rights to safe and healthy conditions of work which are guaranteed to them by Mexican law. As the workers in this submission have put it, they, and I quote, "Are for a free-trade agreement that respects their right to health and their right to life."
Similarly, the submitters are not anti-Mexico. My experience with the workers, in fact, is that they are devoted to their country; the submitters respect Mexico's sovereignty and ask only that the Mexican government enforce the laws it has enacted.
Workers at Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana stretch, sew and glue leather covers onto steering wheels and gear shifts. They will describe to you today the conditions of their work: The close quarters, the high production quotas, repetitive motions in the extreme, the use of toxic glues and solvents, non-existent or highly inadequate ventilation and personal protective equipment and lack of health and safety training.
They will also describe to you the illnesses and injuries that they and their co-workers suffer, which typically fall into two broad categories: Those related to unsafe exposure to toxic substances, including respiratory and nervous system disorders, dizziness, headaches, chronic sore throats and coughs, eye and nasal irritation, nausea and a high incidence of miscarriages, anencephaly and spina bifida and other fatal conditions in children born to workers.
Then there are those related to sub-standard ergonomic practices, including: Ongoing, severe pain in their hands, wrists, arms, shoulders and backs, carpal tunnel syndrome, cuts and gashes and reduced mobility in their limbs.
The witnesses today will describe how their health and well-being were further compromised by the frequent failure of Mexico's IMSS to provide proper treatment and compensation to workers who suffered illnesses and injuries.
They will also tell you that when the injuries and illnesses workers sustained at Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana rendered them unable to perform work at the pace required by the Maquiladoras, management would often fire them or pressure them into leaving by relegating them to an area known as the junkyard; managers refer to these injured and ill workers as [untranslated Spanish], or "junk."
Prior to filing this submission, the workers at both maquiladoras tried for years to obtain improved health and safety conditions and enforcement of their country's occupational health and safety laws; they asked their supervisors to provide better protective gear and ventilation, to re-design unhealthy production processes and to provide complete information about the materials with which they worked every day.
In 1997, workers at Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana asked both the company and the Confederation of Mexican Workers, the CTM, Mexico's official union, for safety improvements as part of their negotiations for a new contract. The CTM refused to provide support. The company responded by firing workers at the forefront of the negotiation effort.
But the workers didn't give up their struggle for better work conditions. Some of the Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana workers, along with workers at Auto Trim, continued to educate themselves about work place hazards and learned that many of the symptoms that they and their co-workers had experienced for years were consistent with scientific findings.
They attended health and safety workshops organized by member organizations of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. They filed petitions with STPS, with IMSS and with the secretary of health asking for inspections of Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana.
In those petitions, which are included as appendices to our submission, they asked for inspections and they detailed specific violations of Mexico's occupational health and safety laws.
No improvements resulted, and, despite efforts by the submitters to find out whether inspections had been conducted at all, the agencies did not respond. The workers now turn to the NAO for assistance in making the rights accorded them under Mexican law and under the NAALC a reality.
I briefly want to touch on those specific legal rights which we detail in length in our written submission. In establishing the NAALC, the NAFTA countries resolved to protect, enhance and enforce basic workers' rights, including the right to a safe and health working environment. I won't go into detail into the provisions that the submitters believe have been violated in this case, because MR. KARESH has already summarized that for us.
Suffice it to say, however, that the Mexican government's persistent failure to enforce its occupational health and safety laws at Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana does violate a number of provisions set out in the NAALC, particularly Articles, 1, 3 and 5.
Mexico has also ratified numerous international human rights and labor treaties which require specific measures to protect and promote the health of workers. Under the Mexican constitution, treaties are incorporated into Mexico's domestic law.
I'll just mention a couple of these treaties that are particularly relevant to this case: ILO Treaty 155, under which Mexico agreed to ensure that employers observe practices to make work places as safe as possible, that workers are provided adequate protective gear and health and safety training, as well as information about the use of chemicals in the work place; Article 7 of the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights requires State parties to recognize the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favorable conditions of work which ensure in particular safe and healthy working conditions; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights requires signatory governments, such as Mexico, to agree to promote and respect the right to just and favorable conditions of work.
Mexican law relevant to the submission includes: The federal labor law, the LFT; the law of Social Security, the LSS; the general health law, the LGS, and; the regulations and norms issued pursuant to these laws. Mexico, through the STPS, IMSS and the [untranslated Spanish], is responsible for enforcing these laws.
The laws require the government, in sum, to conduct meaningful and transparent health and safety inspections to determine compliance with Mexican law, investigate reported violations, ensure that the plants provide information about health risks and implement effective training and hazard prevention programs, reconfigure unsafe production processes, provide proper ventilation and personal protective gear, issue corrective orders, impose sanctions for violations and guarantee that employees who suffer work-related injuries and illnesses receive proper medical treatment and compensation.
Our written submission and the witnesses testifying today will demonstrate that the Mexican government has failed to enforce these laws with regard to Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana.
Although this case focuses specifically on the failure to enforce in these two maquiladoras, the research we did for the submission would indicate that the case of Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana are illustrative of the Mexican government's general pattern of failure to enforce its occupational health and safety laws.
The ultimate goal of this submission is simple: The participants want the Mexican government to enforce laws designed to protect worker health and safety, at Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana specifically and Mexican work places generally, and they want companies producing goods in Mexico to respect those laws.
To this end, the submitters ask the NAO to pursue all remedies available under the NAALC to ensure that occupational health and safety laws are properly enforced at Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana.
These measures include: Assessing the health and safety violations and required fines and penalties at each plant; establishing a meaningful inspection commission to oversee the plant's compliance with health and safety regulation and the plant's assumption of responsibility for work-related accidents and illnesses; developing mechanisms to ensure that workers receive appropriate treatment and compensation from the IMSS; convening ministerial consultations and, if the matter is not successfully resolved, assessing monetary sanctions. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, MS. SCHURTMAN. I have just a couple of questions. I think you need to come back up here. We have a microphone that you can use at the table, or whatever you prefer.
MR. KARESH: I was wondering if maybe you could give me a little more detail. You've talked about the complaints that the workers filed with STPS and IMSS and SSA. Can you give me a little more detail about the chronology of that, the timing for that, and exactly who those were filed with?
And I think you indicated there was no response, but I mean there must have been some acknowledgement that they were filed or some kind of response. If you could give just me a little bit more detail on that, I'd appreciate it.
MS. SCHURTMAN: Yes. I can give you an overview of that. And several of the workers who actually went to file the petitions will also be testifying later. So they can give you some more detail on that.
As I recall, the first petitions that the workers filed were with the STPS. And it was -- they were petitions filed by workers from Auto Trim and from Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana, and those were field, as I recall, in May of 1998. And they were filed with the federal STPS office in Ciudad Victoria in the State of Tamaulipas. And they did receive, I believe, a stamp on the copy of the petition they filed to show that in fact it had been filed.
When they didn't get a response, they began to follow up by telephone. Ciudad Victoria is many hours away from Matomoros and Valle Hermosa, and it was difficult for them to go back on a regular basis to check personally. During the phone calls to the STPS in Ciudad Victoria, they were not given any information.
In, I believe, August of 1998, several of the workers from Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana accompanied workers from a different maquiladora, where workers were having similar health and safety problems, to the STPS offices again in Ciudad Victoria. And while they were there, they asked about the status of the petition for inspection that they had filed.
And they were told by a gentleman there that there had been possibly some kind of verification conducted. And when the workers asked what verification meant, what was the difference between a verification and an inspection, the person who was in charge of the office that day said that he didn't know. When they asked to see any results or reports, they were told that they were not available.
About a year later, the workers from Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana filed follow-up petitions with the STPS, again at its offices in Ciudad Victoria. That same day, they also filed petitions with the IMSS office in Ciudad Victoria and with the secretary of health's office in Ciudad Victoria.
Responses were never received by the petitioners from the STPS or the IMSS. There was one letter that was sent by the secretary of health to one of the petitioners stating that an inspection would be conducted on a particular day. And that letter arrived weeks after the designated day for inspection, and it's not clear whether an inspection ever took place. As far as the workers know, no inspection took place.
Alfonso Otero will testify later about his efforts going personally to the STPS offices in Ciudad Victoria to ask for inspection reports; he was told that everything having to do with Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana was -- had been sent to Mexico City.
So he went to Mexico City, to the STPS offices there, to try to obtain copies of documents or, at least, view the file to see if in fact any inspections had been conducted. And he was not allowed to see anything.
MR. KARESH: Thank you. In the submission and again here today, you've mentioned quite a litany of violations of safety and health regulations and laws. Can you give me a sense of the time period of these allegations, I mean, how far back they go and whether -- you know, from your understanding in talking to the workers or your personal knowledge from seeing any of these things, whether there have been any changes or improvements in that area?
MS. SCHURTMAN: In terms of the time frame, we have interviewed workers complaining of conditions as far back as 1988; there is at least one worker here today who began to work at Auto Trim in either 1988 or possibly '89. The bulk of the violations that we document, I would say, occurred between about 1993 or 1994 and the present time.
And from the research we conducted and the many workers that we spoke to at both plants, it would seem that there were no improvements -- no material improvements. From time to time, there were perhaps cosmetic improvements.
I recall, for example, one of the workers telling me that shortly after some of the petitions were filed, there was a change in the work configuration at Auto Trim specifically and that it had been presented to the workers as something that would make the work place safer possibly. But, in fact, what the workers found was that the new configuration was even worse than the old configuration, and the production quotas were raised.
There were -- I believe, in 1993, at one of the plants, there were no air extractors. Air extractors were then put in, but, as a number of the witnesses will testify later, not all of the workers have them, and the ones who did have them found that they didn't function effectively and didn't do much of anything to dissipate the chemical vapors in the air. So in terms of real, concrete improvements, no, I am not aware of any.
MR. KARESH: Now, on the research you mentioned, can you give me a little more information on who did that or what that involved? And is there any report of that that's available?
MS. SCHURTMAN: Is there a report available? Basically, the bulk of our findings are included in the submission and its appendices. What we began to do -- and by, "We," I mean myself and the students that I was working with. We began to review documentation of violations that had been compiled by the workers themselves at Auto Trim and Custom Trim. And on the basis of that, we began to formulate our own follow-up questions.
And we conducted extensive interviews with workers. With each worker, for example, who has provided an affidavit or other written statement, we've probably interviewed each of those, I would say, five or six times.
There were many workers who we interviewed, as well, who did not want to give a written statement, and we used their information, as well, to try and flesh out the picture of what was -- what is the situation and Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana.
A number of the workers had been trained in identifying work hazards by the time we began our research. And that, of course, was very helpful to us because they were able to draw us maps, some of which you'll see today, of the various work place hazards, where things were located and how close together they worked.
So, basically, the methodology was one of intensive interviewing --
MR. KARESH: Did you --
MS. SCHURTMAN: -- and --
MR. KARESH: Did you include --
MS. SCHURTMAN: -- explanations --
MR. KARESH: I'm sorry. Did you include workers other than just at Auto Trim and Custom Trim? Were there workers from other facilities, either owned by the same company or other companies?
MS. SCHURTMAN: Our focus was on Auto Trim and Custom Trim simply because we needed to -- because of personnel and time and monetary limitations, we needed to focus on just these two plants. But, certainly, in the course of our work, yes, we did talk to other workers from other plants. We reviewed reports that had been prepared by workers or by worker organizations about violations in other plants.
And one of the things that was very interesting to us was that when the Auto Trim and Custom Trim workers prepared their petitions, they taught workers from other maquiladoras who were suffering from similar problems how to file petitions and what needed to be included in a petition.
And we were able to assist workers from other maquiladoras in preparing petitions that could be filed, as well. And in the course of doing that, we were able to learn about the lack of enforcement in other maquiladoras in Tamaulipas in particular. And I think some of the other witnesses today, particularly the experts, will testify about poor working conditions and lack of enforcement at many other maquiladoras in Tamaulipas.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, very much.
MS. SCHURTMAN: Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Our next witness will be Alfonso Otero.
MR. OTERO (Via interpreter): Good morning. Let me first begin my presentation with some interesting and important remarks to better understand the federal labor law in Mexico and the constitution of Mexico, from where we get the rules and provisions on health and safety in the work place.
The constitution of Mexico of 1917 is a product of the revolution of Mexico that was basically due to differences among classes and workers and businesses and estates. There were captive stores, and workers had to work under probably slavery conditions.
And when we had those captive stores, they weren't -- they didn't have wages. Actually, they were paid with other goods and with coupons to buy their food, and from -- those they would use to buy their food. Instead of getting money, they had some coupons. And they had to use those coupons at the same place where they were working.
So with the success of the Mexican constitution, the constitution tried to provide better protection for workers. And one of the greatest achievements of the working class in 1917 was Article 123 guaranteeing the rights of workers and basic principles in work safety. And one of them was Social Security -- and the protection of women, the stability of work and the protection of minors and minimum wages.
With this brief introduction just to give you some historic background on the idea of Mexican laws regarding labor law, I would like to begin with -- by stating the articles that include workers' rights, and not necessarily referring to health but the protection of health.
Article 4 of the constitution of Mexico states that anyone within Mexico has the right to the protection -- health protection. Article 23, as a triumph of the constitution, states in Paragraph 5 that pregnant women should not carry out work that requires a great amount of physical effort and that may pose her at a risk due to her pregnancy state.
The applicable laws in this case are the Federal Labor Law, the Social Security Law and the Health Law; there are also regulations and provisions for the protection of health, specifically in occupational health. The main obligations from the departments of state in Mexico regarding the application of laws in health and safety -- the ones in charge are the following:
The Department of Health, or STPS; the IMSS and [untranslated Spanish], the health Department. With this framework basic of the constitution of Mexico regarding the labor laws in Mexico, I would like to begin with the powers and the special, specific obligations of each of the departments or secretariats. I will attempt to address them briefly because I would not be able to fully deal with them in the time allotted to me.
However, I can mention that the powers to apply and to enforce work laws -- and, specifically, on occupational health -- are from Article 40 from the Federal Administrative Law. This articles states that the Department of Labor of Mexico will observe all of the relative provisions contained in Article 123 of the Constitution, in the Federal Labor Law and its corresponding regulations.
Article 40, Section 6, of the same law states that the Ministry of Labor shall promote the development of training and education in the work place, as well as to carry out audits and research and provide training courses to its personnel. Section 11 states that STPS should study and review all the measures required for industrial safety and health to protect the workers and to oversee its enforcement.
There's also a set of regulations that do not fall under the normal hierarchy of the Federal Labor Law, but it is a requirement that is used as an instrument for methods and standards to try to protect health and safety of workers, and it's Section 71. It states that the STPS will enforce all the work provisions on health and safety in the work place.
The inspection functions are carried out through verifications and inspections in the work places. Such inspections at work places have to fulfill the following: First of all, to oversee that work standards are being kept, and, also, provide assessment and advice to workers and companies as to how to better meet all of these standards. And Article 31 speaks about the obligations and attributes of the inspectors carrying out such inspections.
The inspectors are public servants working under the same STPS and are the ones in charge of carrying out verifications and inspections in the work places and the different businesses. Their main powers and special attributes is, basically, to oversee work standards, especially those on workers' rights, and determining, also, health hazards and setting standards for the companies, visiting the companies and interviewing workers or interviewing companies or employers regarding any issue regarding the application of labor laws, and to also examine the substances and materials used in the companies and businesses when hazards are involved.
By the kind of witnesses and the exhibits and the research carried out throughout these years, from -- and from the analyses of the statements made and all the exhibits regarding this report, the people in charge of verification, inspection and enforcement of labor laws, do have the powers to do that.
And at no time do we see during the investigation that there has been any kind of investigation conducted; we don't know from what we've been able to gather that such inspectors even arrived at the work place, at the plants. And that's one of the duties and obligations of such inspectors, and by STPS.
One of the most important the way I see it is to inspect substances and materials used within the companies when there's a hazard-related activity, for example, those that are a health hazard or that may pose a danger to human beings, but there are some other obligations that inspectors have to carry out under Article 32 of the Federal Labor Law, and, basically, it's: To carry out periodic inspections on businesses, perform special inspections when they receive a report or a submission regarding violations of the Federal Labor Law.
Article 11 also states that inspectors should also cooperate with the workers in spreading and applying regulations to reduce hazards relating to health and safety and to suggest methods and ways of correcting and reducing hazards. In this sense, once again, I would like to discuss what we have been able to gather from all of the information throughout so many years and from many witnesses or people that we interviewed.
And we do not recognize that such inspections were ever carried out at any day or at any time. Furthermore, they have the obligation to perform special investigations when they receive a report regarding possible violations of labor law.
And in the appendix, as Monica mentioned just awhile ago, there are some petitions made before STPS very specifically to carry out an inspection of the plant and to assess the health hazards and the many violations that were carried out at those -- at such plants. But the inspection never took place, and the workers never received any information about what was done with their petition.
The inspectors should also cooperate with workers in telling them about all the different information and health hazards in the work place, and, from the witnesses, we don't get such information. Personally, I had the opportunity of interviewing many people in Valle Hermosa and in Matomoros, and I never learned from workers that such advice was ever given, nor were any measures taken to reduce work hazards.
I don't know if they would suggest that. I don't think so, due to the same exhibits that have been included here and from experience.
From my personal experience when I traveled to gather information to the border region of Mexico, one of the important items and, I think, one of the core items in how the Mexican government did not enforce and did not meet its commitments as it should have is the obligation of levying sanctions because, if it is true that we -- well, that the only thing we have is our own research and the witnesses' reports.
If we would have carried out an inspection -- we know that the conditions at that plant do not fall within the parameters as set forth by the law. The obligation of levying sanctions by STPS are based on Article 512(d). Basically, it states that there will be sanctions for employers who do not meet the requirements set forth by the STPS to correct work hazards. Such sanctions may include total closure or partial closure of the business.
The businesses -- due to all of the information that we have received and, I repeat, in all the interviews that we carried out, such businesses were never closed down. And, also, in Articles 164 and 168 of the regulations on health and safety are monetary sanctions in case of lack of compliance with the federal labor laws. And we are not aware that such sanctions were ever levied.
Articles 171 and 174 refer to sanctions to employers who do not meet the labor laws, and it's important to mention the lack of some sanctions. And this is what we've been able to gather from all the testimonies and the exhibits and from the research and from the investigation reflected in the submission: There is no proof -- there is no element of proof that such sanctions were ever levied.
And, furthermore, STPS, through the Federal Labor Law, has the obligation of coordinating the coordinating offices in the State and in the Federal bodies with IMSS to implement and enforce programs to avoid and prevent work-related accidents. And it establishes these national councils to adopt preventive measures to reduce work hazards. And these commissions will be made up by members of the STPS, IMSS and Ministry of Health.
Furthermore, Article 512(b) sets forth the commission mix or combined joint commissions to try to reduce work hazards, and they will work together with STPS, the SSA, the IMSS and State authorities and the representative from the STPS, who will be the secretary of such commission.
I had the chance, as mentioned by Monica, of trying to get some report or some kind of document regarding the verifications on the plants. No such report. Well, there is no law saying that those documents are private; those documents should be made available to the public, as well.
And in that sense, when I went to Ciudad Victoria, the person in charge, Mr. Oscar Martinez, of that office informed me that he could not disclose anything because I had nothing to do with those companies, that those were matters that had become too political, that there were some people from the Senate of the Republic that were also involved in this matter and that there had been a lot of noise made about workers and that the IMSS was also in some deep mess because of that and that it was just not possible to get any information.
His reply after I insisted on trying to get these documents was that I should go to Mexico City and get those documents from the head offices in Mexico. When I traveled to Mexico City, I went to the floor where they have the inspection office. As soon as I mentioned the name of the plant, Auto Trim and Custom Trim, the people in charge -- and one of them actually took me by the arm and took me to a separate office.
I was quite surprised at that attitude, and I asked why that had happened. And I asked them if any inspections had been carried out. And the reply was, No; I cannot disclose anything.
Well, I insisted on getting more information, and the person somehow accepted being the person that had carried out such inspections. I insisted again that he should provide me with more information. I requested to speak with him. I asked to have a meeting with him. And during the meeting, the only thing he said was that he could not say anything at all.
I said, Listen; The only thing I need to know -- the only thing we need to know is: Have inspections been carried out on a regular basis, as set forth by the law; And if such inspections were carried out or some verification was carried out, a recording to submission to the petition submitted by the workers, are you implying it was the same? He was unwilling to say anything.
He stated that he could not say anything and that he was not going to disclose anything and that he was not going to show any documents and that I had to state my legal representation there; otherwise, he would not give me anything. So I was unable to get anything from there.
I went to the Department of Health, SSA, and didn't find anybody. I went to IMSS, and I didn't find anybody there, either. So that's basically what we've seen.
From what I've already said, we can conclude from the Federal Labor Law and the investigation and the exhibits that have been submitted that the Ministry of Labor, the STPS, did not meet their obligation as set forth by the law. It never carried out an inspection. It did not carry out any testing on the materials and did not levy any information and did not provide any training to the workers or information on the workers, nor did it provide any information on ergonomic conditions.
The plants have violated the labor laws regarding the protection of labor rights, specifically rights for the protection of fault. Such rights include: Protective gear and ventilation within the plants specifically when hazardous materials are being used; accident reporting; training and education specifically relating to the handling of chemicals and, also, information regarding the hazardousness of chemicals as set forth in the Federal Labor Law in Norms 001, 005, 010 and 017, 018, 019 and 021.
In a given moment, Dr. Mercado will discuss the specific content of those standards. Now, regarding the STPS --
MR. KARESH: Alfonso, Let me interrupt you for a second. I just want to ask you a couple of things before we move too far along.
MR. OTERO: Sure.
MR. KARESH: When -- you said you visited STPS. What office was that in Mexico City?
MR. OTERO: The General Office of Inspections. The General --
MR. KARESH: And --
MR. OTERO: -- Office or Bureau of Inspections.
MR. KARESH: Okay. And the local -- you went to the local labor department authorities, and they told you to go to Mexico City? Is that -- did I understand that correctly?
MR. OTERO: Well, there are two kinds of methods and relationships with the State and the Federation regarding work standards and the enforcement of the same. The STPS, the Ministry of Labor and Social Provision, mandates the application of the standards.
The companies like Auto Trim and Custom Trim that perform manufacturing of auto parts fall under the Federal regime according to Article 123, Section 31, Paragraph 2, that includes the auto industry, auto parts and electrical parts. The way they work -- the way these ministries or departments work is that they have different offices or branches in each State.
There is a central office, or the headquarters office, like STPS, that is located in Mexico City. But it will have a branch office in each State. I went to both offices. First I went to the State office in Ciudad Victoria, and then I went to the offices in Mexico City.
MR. KARESH: Thank you.
MR. OTERO: Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Let me ask you this. We've heard a lot of information this morning about these complaints that were filed. In your view, what should have been the response of STPS, IMSS and SSA when they received those worker complaints; under the law, what would they be required to do?
MR. OTERO: According to the laws in Mexico, there are two different principles. And depending on the department that you address regarding the STPS, they should have performed an -- a special inspection.
Special inspections are set forth in Article 541, where they state -- excuse me -- 542, where it outlines the duties to be performed by inspectors. And one of them is to carry out special inspections when they receive a report regarding alleged violations of the work laws.
The logical reaction -- when they received a petition or report that there were violations to the work laws, their reply should have been to carry out an inspection on the plant.
Now, regarding the Ministry of Health, SSA, there is also a constitutional right under Article 8 of the Constitution -- and this is the article that we call the right to petition -- the right to petition states that the authorities should reply to all petitions submitted by citizens when done in writing and in a respectful manner. Thus SSA, Ministry of Health, should have performed an inspection of the plants when it received the petition from the workers.
MR. KARESH: Okay. So you're saying that under they law, they're required to do a special inspection. Is that every time they get a complaint from a worker, or is there some preliminary review of a complaint to determine credibility or the issues raised before they make a determination about whether to inspect or not?
MR. OTERO: Well, the law is very clear in that sense. It does not state that no time -- no prior procedure when there's a report made or a petition submitted. The only states that all you need is just a report on a violation of the work laws to carry out an inspection. And the only thing that you need is to put it in writing and do it before the proper office.
MR. KARESH: Let me ask you something about inspection reports. You said that you tried to get information as to whether there had even been inspections, and then you had asked for information about or copies of inspection reports.
What does the law say about inspection reports, whether those are public, whether they need to be shared with workers or with the union representatives? Or is there any specificity in the law about the nature of those reports?
MR. OTERO: There is no such thing that I'm aware of in the Federal Labor Law, in the Mexican Constitution or other similar laws, and this is one of the issues that I mentioned to the person of STPS in Mexico City. And the response that I got was that it was a policy of STPS.
And I asked him to please tell me if there was any norm or any regulation that mentioned if these were public documents or if they were private documents, and he didn't know. He said that it was a policy of his office.
MR. KARESH: Let me ask you a couple of questions about once inspections are done and if safety and health violations are found at a facility. And what I'm wondering is in -- with regard to, example, first instance: What the requirements under Mexican law are about issuing citations or fines in the first instance and what the law says about subsequent instances.
MR. OTERO: In the violations section, I guess, it would -- can happen when an inspection in a work place. The inspectors must write in their record what the violations are and suggest corrective measures, besides mentioning a term for these measures to be corrected or applied.
And once the plants have been inspected and -- if these measures have not been corrected, if the violations have not been corrected, then they can put some fines or some sanctions. This is the way it works, and, also, it is based on the history of each company.
MR. KARESH: Okay. And once there is a sanction or a fine, are you aware as to whether there's anything in the law about whether that kind of information is public or not?
MR. OTERO: I am not aware of anything in the Mexican law that establishes that this is private information. It should be public, and I do not believe there's any privileges that exclude this from being public information.
MR. KARESH: Is this information that would normally be shared with the Commission Mixia that might exist at the facility normally? Do you know?
MR. OTERO: It should be. This is one of the functions of the Commissiones Mixia: To share a commission with STPS to write reports, write diagnoses and recommendations and present these to the STPS. This information must be shared with the Commission Mixia or any employee.
MR. KARESH: With regard to the inspection process itself, we understand that there has been some recent regulations and some activities in Mexico, as, I think, there has been in the United States and some other countries, about the notion of monitoring and inspecting facilities and whether there are enough inspectors in any government to inspect every facility out there.
So there's questions about self-monitoring by employers or third-party monitoring of employers. I was wondering if you could provide any information on what Mexican law says about an employer self-monitoring or third parties being hired to do monitoring.
MR. OTERO: We have the self-management programs. These programs, which are included in the legal issue -- it should be important to talk about it at a given time. These self-management programs hired this management to survey the company, to inspect the plant and to fulfill the labor laws. And this commission is in charge of writing a report and presenting it to STPS. This includes the STPS to inspect the plant or -- make inspections to the plant.
However, STPS has the obligation to verify these inspections. And when these verifications are done, they have to verify that the procedures of self-management must be done in the proper way.
What I mean when I say that there is a controversy that maybe will reach to a conclusion soon is that there are some allegations that -- Article 4 of the Constitution guarantees the protection of health, but the protection of health, obviously, by the State, and not private companies.
When there is a self-management program and you are the employer self-inspecting your plant, being in charge of fulfilling or complying with the laws -- of course, the right to protect the law is granted by the constitution -- it has been found that it has not support and it's not sound because, instead of the State verifying that the norms and regulations are being met, the State is delegating this responsibility to the same plant where there can be many things like an employer and employee relationship -- this is not a fair relationship.
This means that the employer, of course, pays the salaries and wages. And he's the one opening the doors, and he's to state with what will be done. And when the federal labor law grants the right to a person or an individual that works in this company and that dominates this economical system, it's denying the right to the health of the employees. And that's why we'll see some of these cases right now and in the future.
MR. KARESH: When -- you mentioned the notion that it's the responsibility of STPS to verify the self-monitoring or the third-party monitoring. How does STPS do that?
MR. OTERO: The STPS must and can request the books and the records. The Commissiones Mixia or the people in charge of the self-management programs are responsible for writing reports and present them to STPS.
The STPS has to make sure that the procedures of these programs are being met; however, there are some contradictions, of course, and I must talk about it. If there is a self-management program and there's a claim or a complaint of some violations in the system, some violations of the labor law and the health laws, the inspection must be done. Am I making myself clear?
MR. KARESH: Yes.
MR. OTERO: The inspection must be performed because there have been certain violations, and the inspectors aren't responsible for doing these inspections; although we have this self-management program, when there is a complaint, the inspection has to be done. And the inspections have to continue to make sure that the self-management programs are working properly.
MR. KARESH: Is that based on complaints, or is there like some kind of periodic certification that happens every year or every three years or something? Or --
MR. OTERO: The inspections must be done periodically, and the verifications must be done periodically, as well. And this is the way they are carried out. However, these are different procedures.
When there is no self-management program in a company or in a business, the STPS is responsible for the inspections in this place; when there is a self-management program, the STPS has to do verifications and has make sure that the self-management program is working properly. However, if there is a violation -- if there is a complaint of a violation to the laws, the STPS has to carry out an inspection.
MR. KARESH: If verification reports have yielded basically a clean bill of health or safe levels of use of chemicals, is there still a responsibility to inspect the facility by STPS, or, once those verification levels come in, is there no need to do periodic inspections by STPS?
MR. OTERO: When there is a self-management program, this is a program that -- the same company will do self-diagnoses and self-inspections, but the STPS is in charge of making sure that these self-inspections are done properly. However -- I'm repeating myself.
But when there is a complaint about certain risks and hazards and some violations -- of course, it depends on the degree, not necessarily the degree of the violation of the hazard, which is another important issue, but it is important to have the verifications or inspections, and it is not required to cause a harm and it is not required to have a cause between the hazard or the risk; the only thing required is that there is a complaint that there is a violation to the security, safety and health laws.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, very much.
MR. OTERO: I need to finish about the --
MR. KARESH: Okay. Well --
MR. OTERO: -- health department.
MR. KARESH: -- are you going to be testifying on a later panel, as well? You were supposed to have ten minutes, and you were at about 20 minutes, which was why I started to ask you some questions. But if you have just a couple more minutes, you can finish up.
MR. OTERO: I would just take five more minutes. It's important in Article 39 of the Organic Law of Public and Federal Management. And its responsibilities are the following: To apply the laws to conservation of health of the employees and industrial health. This Article 39, in Section 21, must comply with the healthy laws.
Article 3, Section 14 of this law sets forth that this law is applicable in cases of occupational health. Article 1 of the general regulation of this department sets forth that this department has the power and obligation to supervise that these laws are complied with -- and the Mexican laws set forth.
And there's a place -- Articles 130 and 131 of this law set forth that this department must, in coordination with the Federal agencies, promote and develop research -- multi-disciplinary research to avoid and control some diseases. They need to -- Article 131 makes this department carry out some programs to prevent accidents, subject to Section 120 -- Section (a) of Article 123 of the Constitution, dictates the norms to control diseases and accidents.
Article 128, Sections 1 and 2, set forth that industrial activities of any type will be subject to the general laws of health and that the health department must establish the maximum limits of exposure of -- from the employees to certain contaminant substances and, together with the Federal and State laws, establish good control and -- other occupational activities.
Maximum limits of exposure must be surveyed by the health department, and the department must be in charge of -- have control of sanctions and chemical substances.
And, very briefly, one of the things that I consider the most important in this case and maybe has had more consequences and has hurt the lives of the employees in a significant way is the lack of monitoring, the lack of making sure that the maximum limits of exposure to these chemical substances that Dr. Mercado will be talking about in his testimony, is the lack of compliance of these norms and regulations.
To the best of our knowledge and -- after the research we did and the information you have in your files and of the interviews that we performed along the border zones, the border area -- in these two plants, we had an emissions test. And we determined certain levels in blood and urine which didn't find anything, and this is the reason why they were hired. After the first medical analyses, these were never performed again, and they were -- never requested another urine sample or blood sample.
And, of course, the issue is that the health department did not comply with the law, trying to make sure that these exposure limits to chemical substances were observed.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, very much, MR. OTERO.
The next panel should be Linda Delp, along with a group of workers: Matias Pecero, Pedro Lopez, Isabel Morales and Veronica Lopez.
MR. PECERO: Good morning. My name is Matias. And at this moment, I will tell you the date I started working with Auto Trim. I started May 19, 1989, through March 30, 1999. I worked there for ten years at this company, and, later on, I will describe to you the -- my functions, my duties and responsibilities.
And also, I will show you a general map of the company. Here you can see that the largest area is the production area. This is where the workers work eight hours a day. And on the upper part, you can see the chemical area -- chemicals area. Each square means a production line. Each circle -- each small circle on the sides is a station, a work station, where we were working. The two lines here is the aisles.
And, also, I will show you -- this line represents only one of the 30 production lines in the production area. The red circles represent the work station where we used to work -- do our work -- the red circles with large numbers.
The small, red circles show the yellow glue that we used to glue the leather to the steering wheel. The green symbols is where the solvents are found, the solvents that we used, like Varsol, for the production. And the light blue is where the glue was found -- white glue.
Next to the green figure, there's a small rectangle. And this shows where a solvent was found -- trichloroethane. In between Numbers 9 and 8 next to these two, we have two symbols that represent the vents.
The next chart. This chart right here goes from one to six on both sides and shows the sewing area. This is where I used to work, in the sewing area. In this area here, we did manual operations using thread, nails -- needles. And the movements we used to do were about 4,000 repetitive movements throughout our shift. Later on, I will show you a chart for a small study that we carried out.
The description of the operations here: We used to take the steering wheel and we would put it in a metallic base that the company had manufactured. In this space, we would hold the steering wheel. We started sewing. We did these movements, stitching.
Each steering wheel had approximately a hundred stitches. So it was 100 movements done with our hands and with our shoulders. This type of movement was causing serious harm in our muscles in our wrists, our fingers. And, also, due to this type of movement, we were hurting our shoulders, our backs and our necks.
And as you can see, the work stations were very, very close to one another. So sometimes we had accidents due to this proximity. And due to the -- by doing these movements, we had to open our arms to be able to perform our duties.
In this work station, we also used the yellow glue, which is a solvent; this is found in different places of the plant. The production quota in this area was 20 pieces per worker. In our eight-hour shift, we had to do these 20 units.
In this other slide, our production quota was 20 pieces, or 20 units, per worker. The steering wheel needed a hundred stitches, and we had needed to make a hundred movements. But besides these hundred stitches, we had to readjust the stitches so they were completely tight and that the leather was completely done. So if we multiply our movements, we have a total of 4,000 repetitive movements that we had to perform throughout the day with our arms.
In the following slide, the two shady, yellow sections mean the assembly area; this is where the leather is glued to the steering wheel. In this operation, we used this yellow glue, and the way of applying the glue was with a brush, using an open container, eight hours a day. And that helped us facilitate and speed up our production.
And in this area, we also used the Varsol and trichloroethane, which are the solvents that helped us for the production. We also used tweezers and pliers so that the leather was completely glued to the steering wheel, and then our other co-workers would stitch along the process.
The next section. In this chart, we can -- I want to show you the section we did the final. It was the finish line of the operation. And in this area, we received the steering wheels that were already stitched or sewn. And in this area, we did the finished touch. And here we used a white glue which is a solvent that glues instantly.
We used the heat-gun to eliminate any wrinkles and to give a better presentation to the steering wheel. And we also used Varsol to eliminate the excessive glue that, in -- the prior operations, our co-workers had put too much. So in this section, we were responsible for the finished touch and to have the steering wheels ready to ship and put them in boxes to ship them out.
In these two operations that I just mentioned, we could see that the impact was stronger with the chemicals because you would have more different kinds of chemicals and, during eight hours, we were in direct contact with the glue in our hands or the Varsol in our hands and with the vapors that the heat-gun produced by having contact with the solvents. This is what we had in our work station eight ours a day.
And I also want to mention that throughout the plant, there were containers of glue -- about 440 containers of glue in all in the production area. We had 90 containers of a solvent that was also helping for this production. We had 180 containers of Varsol that helped us eliminate the excessive glue, plus others that were in some other places -- because there was not a good control on this type of solvent. We also had about 90 containers of trichloroethane in the production area.
After being in contact with these substances, we started having throat problems due to the vapors, some other lung programs that maybe later we'll mention when we'll hear some testimonies about it. Here we also had problems in our noses, eyes and skin due to the direct contact and very rare cases and very alarming cases of some children that were born that died. And this was an impact of -- in the reproductive lives of the workers.
In the next chart, we can see -- as I mentioned, in the first chart, this is the chemicals room. Each circle represents a drum -- a solvent drum. The six drums in the lower section is the -- where they were located. These remained in this room.
They were -- it was outside of the company, but the access was through the same facility. We had to go through this room to get some glue to supply our production area to be able to carry out the production. This type of -- the drums were totally open.
In this next slide, you can see a container that helped us receive the vapors directly through the aisles because they were totally open, emanating vapors throughout the production area. And the people who were closer to these types of containers did not use any type of protection.
The next slide shows another container with Varsol. This is the most common solvent we had in the plant. This is how we received it in our work station. Sometimes, we needed two or three containers a day -- we needed to fill them up in our work stations -- because the use of the solvent was high. And with -- just one container was not enough.
What we're seeing here is a lay-out of the air extractors. At the top part, the rectangle, we see the central drive for the air extraction system. The red lines that you see there are the vents that are along the ceiling in the plant. And the connection to the work line was through a pipe -- a hanging pipe that connected the vents under the tables.
So at each work station or at each line station, we only had four chances of performing the air extraction. There was only four air extractors.
And as you can see from this lay-out, perhaps the first two or three at the beginning, where you have the drive, we could assume that there might be some air extraction, but, at the last parts, at the end, there was no air extraction or it was inadequate because the power of the drive is lost because it's too much of a system. So we didn't have an adequate air extraction system.
In this part, in the air extractors, we performed a study. And we were able to determine that there was only 120 air extractors for all the personnel, for 540 workers. And percentage wise, we're saying that only 28 percent of these -- of the air extraction system is present in our work area, and 72 percent of workers were totally without the benefits of the system. And thinking that the distribution of the vapors was throughout the company, that was totally inadequate.
So this is where I end my discussion. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you.
Ms. Lopez, are you next?
MS. LOPEZ: Good morning. I am Veronica Lopez. During the time that I worked for this maquiladora was for six months, from February through August, of 1999. My tasks that I had to perform at the maquiladora were to work at the finishing station for the steering wheels. And on several occasions, I also worked in the sewing area.
I'd like to show you -- as my friend was telling you -- he spoke to you about 1997. I'd like to discuss during the period that I worked, from -- during 1999 to the current year, 2000. We're going to see one of the current charts at the plant.
As you see here, things are basically the same. The lay-out is the same within the plant, but the only change that was performed was in the assembling and sewing area. Before, they had lines with 18 people; right now, they're handling lines or groups of eight people, and each of these units is called a cell.
On the next chart, we're going to see specifically one of the cells or work groups. Here we see that we have eight people. Beginning with Number 1, that's the person that starts with the initial assembling; he's the one that starts to put the steering wheel. From Two to Seven, we have people in charge of sewing the steering wheel. Now, Number 8, that's the person doing the finishing part on the steering wheel.
Before, three people were used for assembly and -- three people for final assembly, and six people were doing sewing. Now there's only one for assembly and one at the finishing goods part or station. And in this lay-out, we can also see, as my friend was saying, that everyone was using the glue at each work station. Currently, that is still being performed in the same manner.
And in each of these eight work stations, all of them use glue. In the finishing goods, in Number 8, they still use Loctite, the white glue and the blue glue. And we can also see that the same six people are still working, performing sewing duties.
And one of the differences that we currently see is that before, with 18 people on the line, they would work 20 steering wheels per person. In carrying out a study on repetitive movements, that's 4,000 repetitive movements on an eight-hour shift.
And now 152 steering wheels are performed per day. And sometimes, in some positions, in this case in the Number 3 work station, some 10,000 repetitive movements are carried out; that is twice as many more movements. So this leads to problems, the same kinds of problems that were mentioned by my colleague, and that is: Problems in your wrists and your hands and your shoulders and your back.
But now it's in a shorter period of time. If before, let's say, it took one year to develop these kinds of problems, now problems are beginning to appear after a month or two months.
We also see on the next chart the manner in which the air extractors are laid out. We still have the same distribution system or -- air distribution system, but here we also have air extractors -- Position 1 and Position 8 are the only ones. That is the assembly and the finishing goods parts. That is one air extractor that -- unfortunately for us, they're either broken down, they're not working, malfunctional, or they just don't want to turn them on.
Air extraction for the plant -- well, the extractors -- the large extractors or air handlers would not be turned on. And, of course, during our shift or our mid-shift, we would feel dizzy, drowsiness and irritation in our eyes, allergies, nausea, vomiting and dizziness spells.
Another thing is that at the end of our shift -- our work shift, an eight-hour work shift, before concluding, we were so pressed to carry out our work at that time that our hands just could not withstand any more continuous movement, and it would just fall -- the steering wheel -- sometimes. Just the weight of the steering wheel was two to three kilos or, sometimes, maybe up to five kilos. We would have to hold them, and they would fall off unwillingly from us.
Our materials were -- our tools were scissors, blades, needles, a spatula and, to start spreading the leather on the steering wheel -- this was something that I did -- a heat-gun. And if we didn't have the air extractors, all of that heat would be conveyed to my body. So unfortunately, all of this has led to now all of the problems are surfacing earlier than before.
This is just what I wanted to say. Thank you, very much.
MR. KARESH: MR. LOPEZ?
MR. LOPEZ: Good morning. My name is Pedro Lopez Morales. I began to work for Custom Trim at Valle Hermosa on April 4, 1995, when I was 16 years old. The Custom Trim is devoted to applying the leather to steering wheels for cars.
When I began to work, my work station was made up just like at Auto Trim. There was a work table with some 14 people around it -- 14 workers. And my operation consisted of assembly, and we had 12 assemblers. And we would apply the leather to these stick-shifts, and the same yellow glue was used just like in Auto Trim; it was the same glue process.
We would use a brush to apply the glue. We would put the leather on with some pliers. And, basically, as assemblers, we had to carry out -- perform 288 of these stick-shifts per day. And this work table was also made up with eight persons in charge of sewing, who used the same thread and the same needles and carried out the same movements as at Auto Trim, and that is the pulling movements like this.
And each person sewing had to meet a quota of 172 stick-shifts per day. And in order to just perform one, you have to perform 44 repetitive movements. Here were saying that in order to meet their quota, that's 3,568 repetitive movements per shift.
Perhaps a bit different from Auto Trim, we had two people that were using Sicomet. Sicomet is a white type of glue that had immediate bonding characteristics, but it does affect your respiratory tract. And this operation of those two workers was to put the adhesive to the leather and onto the stick-shift.
And in the next process, we had two people from finishing goods. These two people were also using the same solvents as Auto Trim workers. They carried out the same operation and the same finishing.
Perhaps a bit different from Auto Trim, here each worker had his own air extractor, but it was the same thing with the air handlers or extractors; they were not functional or they did not have enough power to dissipate the vapors and the contaminated air, with so many solvents and chemicals that we had at the plant.
And that's why we have the same consequences to our health just like with Auto Trim, with headaches, nausea and our hands and wrists hurting -- and shoulders. And as workers, we began to complain to the supervisors, the manager and with the person in charge of human resources. We told them about our headaches frequently, that we were hurting from our muscles, and their reply basically was, Well, yours is just psychological; You're -- there's nothing wrong with you; These are just general illnesses, and you're okay. But they never wanted to acknowledge that it was because of the amount of the chemicals, the repetitive movements, the poor ergonomic positions and the amount of chemical substances used.
And we're also saying that back in April of 1997, there was a collective negotiation process where we wanted to include one of the clauses on information on toxic substances and consequences in the short and long term. And another item we wanted to include in the negotiating process was protective gear -- adequate protective gear so that we would be able to handle those toxic substances.
And this is what we tried to negotiate with the company, but such negotiation never took place. That's why, on May 19 of 1997, we had a walk-out strike with 150 workers to demand that we have these clauses included in our collective bargaining. But there were no -- never any negotiations took place. They were not included in the collective bargaining process.
We had to resume our work on May 23 of 1997. We had to resume our work -- on May 23 of '97, we began to work under the same working conditions. Everything was the same; nothing had changed. And on July 2 of 1997, some 28 workers were discharged, and those were the 28 workers who were trying to include those clauses in the bargaining process. We were discharged.
And, of course, we submitted our report before the office of arbitration and conciliation for unjustified discharge, and we asked to be reinstated. So we set up a committee made up of workers and former workers to carry out, follow up and see what was happening to our other workers and find out more information about chemicals and the kinds of consequences, health consequences.
And on May 19 of 1998, we submitted an inspection petition -- in coordination with the workers of Auto Trim of Matomoros, we submitted an inspection request to STPS. And such inspection never was performed. We never got a reply from that office, as already stated by my other friends and the lawyers. And we're still gathering more information.
And on April 14 of 1999, we again submitted a petition before STPS and IMSS and SSA for an inspection. And such inspections never were performed. We never got a reply from any of these offices. And that is why the company's still working under the same working conditions, and nothing has changed. And every time, there's more people that are suffering from all of this, and that's why we are here. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you.
MS. MORALES: Good morning. I am Isabel Morales; I am a nurse. I've been working for the last two years in general medicine and labor medicine. I began to work at Custom Trim in February of '95, and then I was fired in June of '97 for confronting the employers for the lack of healthy conditions and safe conditions at the work place.
As a nurse, one of my duties included to perform medical exams for first-entry workers in order to select the personnel. And we did have some CPR training. And we had a little records where we had to write down the name, the time that the worker would arrive at the nursing unit and the kind of complaints he had; we kept a daily record of all of this.
And as a nurse, the workers would come to me complaining about wrist problems and soreness in their shoulders, neck and back. And they also complained about muscle weakness, and even the minimal or smallest things they could not pick up in their family duties, nor could they pick up any heavy items. And they said that all this had to do with the repetitive movements that they performed at their work stations.
They also complained greatly about irritation in their noses and in their throats, irritated eyes and that with their hands, they had something wrong with them -- allergies, dryness. And all of this -- they thought it was related to the solvents that they were using during their work shifts.
Another symptom -- in August of '95, there was five women that became pregnant, and they had problems of -- a miscarriage -- miscarriages at the plant. They were just not allowed to go to the doctor because they were still on their work shift. And the company would just say, Well, just try to use what we have here; For example, we have some aspirin that will help reduce the pain; And go back to work.
And then, sometimes, when there were some work accidents or work illnesses and they would go to the IMSS, the IMSS would not consider it as an occupational health hazard. And there's an MT-1 sheet that must be filled out and be recorded as a health-related work issue.
So when the worker would go to the IMSS, what they would be told is, Well, that's just a general disease; Maybe you did something last night or it's an illness; I mean it's nothing, really; Go back to work; It's just psychological. The company -- you had to seek the appointments to go to the IMSS or the hospital.
And there are some 18 companies at Valle Hermosa, and IMSS gave us one hour for our appointments for our workers. Within that hour, we had to call all of the personnel from the 18 maquiladora plants, we had to call from 1:00 to 2:00 to request an appointment for the workers. Of course, that was just not enough time, because we would call and be calling and calling, and the company would be on-line.
And a lot of workers simply could not get an appointment to go to the hospital or see a doctor at IMSS. During the time I worked there, the Ministry of Health or STPS and the IMSS never went to the company to carry out an inspection or anything like that because they never saw that there were ever any accidents that were work related.
And we did have accidents that were work related, but they were tended to there or sent -- they would be sent to a private doctor so they wouldn't go to the IMSS. This way, the company could get this title of "No accidents" or "Accident-free" certificate. This is -- my boss would say, No, because this year, we're not going to have any accidents; Otherwise, we won't get a "No accidents" or "Accident-free" certificate.
So that's what would happen with the workers. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you.
I think what I -- there's a number of questions that I'd like to ask the four of you, but I think what I'd like to do is give the interpreters a break. Maybe we could take a ten-minute break, and then I could come back and ask some questions of the workers.
And then, MS. DELP, if you could, you can provide some testimony. And we can ask you some questions, as well.
So maybe we could come back at 11:20. Thank you.
(Whereupon, a short recess was taken.)
MR. KARESH: Okay. Thank you. I think we'll try to get started again.
I'm going to ask some general questions. And, obviously, any of you, you know, answer as you see fit; there's not necessarily a need for all of you to respond to all of the questions. So just however you see fit, and, if you have something you want to add, that's fine.
Let me just ask first whether any of you received training and what kind of training you received when you were at the facilities.
MS. LOPEZ: When I first started to work for Auto Trim, I received what is called one month of training before that. We received just general information about the plant lay-out, but they never told us where the chemicals were stored and they never told us what kind of chemicals we were going to be using. They did say that it was heavy work, but we were never told the kind of risks involved by working there.
So the training basically consisted of showing us how to work, and that was it, but no specific training on protecting ourselves. The only safety items that we had were the goggles so we wouldn't poke ourselves with the needles, and those were mandatory -- and where we -- the stretchers were and where the nurse's office was. And that's it.
MR. LOPEZ: At Custom Trim, when you start to work there, they take you to your work station and they tell you, Watch how that worker is doing things; That's how you are going to do it. There's no formal training.
You have to learn from the person who's working next to you, and you have to care -- you have to be able to meet your quota within a month. And the safety equipment that you get are just some goggles and sometimes maybe an apron to identify or show that you work for that maquiladora plant.
MR. PECERO: I'd like to add something else regarding this question on training. There's a training curve, as they call it. When the worker starts to work for the company, every day he must meet a certain production quota subject to that learning curve or training curve.
So this learning curve period is for 29 days, and the worker must show that he is capable of meeting the production requirements. But there is no other kind of training regarding chemicals, as I had mentioned; just this training curve process.
MR. KARESH: What about the chemicals that you were using? Were they labeled, making you aware of what they were and whether any of them were hazardous?
MR. KARESH: You need to turn on the microphone.
MR. LOPEZ: The chemical substances -- the yellow glue -- there is no labeling. Some of the solvents did have labels, but the information was labeled in English. So none of the workers knew what it said. Nor was any information disclosed by supervisors, managers or human resources about the content of the solvents or the consequences of using those solvents or any kind of information regarding those toxins or the solvents.
They would just tell you, Here it is; Start to work. And some did have labels, but, as I say, in English, not in our language.
MS. LOPEZ: In my case, Loctite -- we all knew that it said, "Loctite," but, in truth, we didn't know what it meant. There were instructions -- use instructions, but we didn't know because they appeared in English. And the white glue that we were using came in small containers that they emptied out themselves. So they didn't have any labeling, nor did the green glue have any kind of labeling that was used there that we could understand.
MR. KARESH: You -- now, yourselves and some other workers have expressed concerns about the chemicals that you're using. Where did you get the information -- how did you gather the information that gave you concerns about the chemicals that you were using?
MR. PECERO: During the work process and during trying to find a solution to our problem, we began to look for alternatives since we were not getting them through our authorities and we were not getting them from within the company. And I think they were the ones responsible for relaying the information regarding the kinds of chemicals that we were using.
We began to get in touch with the Coalition; they provided their support with information as to the chemicals. And we understand that here in the U. S., the chemical substances used in the work places are published. And all of that information we were able to get because -- we learned that some of the solvents here are banned from use in the U. S. And we were using them over there.
So that's how we began to access all of this information, but it was through a third party, the Coalition in this case.
MR. KARESH: Did any of the three of you have any injuries or illnesses that you believe were related to work?
MS. LOPEZ: Well, later on, you will hear about specific cases of people that are affected because of the work place. Personally, in the six months that I worked, I had a swelling of the respiratory tract and then dryness in my nose and bleeding sometimes. And my arm -- in my right arm from the wrist up to my neck, I suffer some severe muscular pain, and I have to be on medication sometimes.
I haven't had to resort to blockage, but the pain is very strong. And I have to use medication.
MR. KARESH: Did you report that to your supervisor or the medical personnel? And what happened with the history of that? Did you see an IMSS doctor, or, you know, what particularly happened in your case?
MS. LOPEZ: Well, I would report my arm pain to the nurse's office. At the nurse's office, they would just apply an ointment on the skin to get rid of the muscle pain, and that was it. That's all they would say, that it was just muscle pain. And that was all. I never went to a doctor because the doctor was maybe only one hour a day at the company, so we really couldn't rely on him for anything.
MR. PECERO: I'd like to add regarding chemicals' consequences. I did suffer a tragedy in my family, and I think it's due to the use of chemicals during the time that I was working. We -- well, that is, my wife and I -- had a baby. It only lived two days.
I think that if I had not known about the substances that I was using, perhaps I wouldn't correlate it to this or these substances. But due to the kind of information that we were able to gather and due to the information on a more specific basis, I can now relate this tragedy to my work place and to the use of the chemicals, which was an exposure to chemicals for a period of eight hours. I think that, later on, we will hear more statements about these issues, as well.
MR. KARESH: Did any of you go to the union at the work place? And what was the response from the union officials?
MR. LOPEZ: Yes. We -- at Custom Trim, we did go before the workers' union because we did see the kind of consequences on our health. We were noticing many miscarriages and some people that had eye irritations.
So we went to the union. And we told the union that we had already talked to the managers and the supervisors and that we had already talked to the person in human resources and that they told us it was psychological and that it was just a general disease or a general illness.
And the representative -- the union representative didn't really provide his support. He just ignored all of our requests, our statements and everything that we were requesting -- petitions.
And that's why when we -- at Custom Trim, as I said, from May of 1997, that's when we decided to carry out a strike -- a general strike to exert pressure on the company so that they would give us the adequate protective gear and more information regarding the consequences of using chemical substances in the short and long term and for the frequent use of all these substances.
MR. PECERO: As my colleague was stating, I think our union was like the first resource where we went to report these kinds of abnormalities. As he stated, they didn't really pay attention to our needs or our petitions, and that's why we are here before this hearing.
MR. KARESH: The federal agencies that exist -- [untranslated Spanish] -- for the defense of workers -- did any of you or any of your organizations speak to the lawyers at that agency? And if so, did -- what kind of response did you get from that agency?
MR. PECERO: The co-worker already mentioned in his statement that we prepared the inspection petition before the Ministry of Labor and the Ministry of Health, which are the agencies in charge of enforcing work standards. But this was just a process where we didn't get any kind of positive response.
Things would take too long, and they were just having us beating around the bush in circles, going around in circles. And we never got a positive result back.
MR. KARESH: Let me ask you folks one more general question. And I think all of you indicated that you worked for either Custom Trim or Auto Trim and you've worked for other facilities. Do you have a sense or a view as to how Custom Trim and Auto Trim may compare with the other facilities that you've worked at and the response of government agencies with regard to safety and health issues at the other facilities?
MR. PECERO: Within this frame work, we feel that perhaps we cannot say specifically how other plants operate, but we do know that the working conditions at -- in Matomoros in the maquiladora industry are very poor.
We also know that all of this is set within an economic frame work and that it's basically geared for production. And we as workers are subject to exploitation; we're only there to produce and make products to enrich others, and there's no true concern for our rights. There's no true concern for our health. It seems that the only motivating factor they see in us are our hands, which are the tools for production.
MR. KARESH: Okay. MS. MORALES, I'd like to ask you a couple of questions if I may. You testified --
MS. DELP: Excuse me. There was a translation question that was -- we had just a minute ago. When you asked the question about, "Did you ever go to government agencies or speak to them," there was a question about which government agencies.
MR. KARESH: Right. The agency that I was talking about -- the acronym is PROFADET [phonetic]. It's [untranslated Spanish], I think. It's a federal agency for the defense of workers. They're supposed to provide legal advice to the workers.
MR. OTERO, did you have some information on that?
MR. OTERO: Yes, sir. In my personal experience with the attorneys' offices for the protection of workers' rights, PROFADET, I litigated in labor issues for several years; I never worked with them, but I did work against them. And my personal experience is that they don't do anything. They go to the hearings without any preparation.
And some -- and there is a conciliation process at the beginning. And this conciliation process, the company is summoned or the party is summoned. The summoned party goes to a meeting to try to conciliate or reconciliate the differences between the workers and the employers. In most cases and through -- my personal experience is that things never went beyond that conciliation meeting, and conciliation results were not really favor to the worker.
At many times, their needs are not met, and they have a lot of work. But at the same time, with all of the work that they have, they really don't do anything at all.
MR. KARESH: Okay. But I'm wondering if in this particular instance, did any of the workers or any of the submitting organizations speak to that agency about the particular problems that are raised in this submission.
MR. PECERO: Well, personally, I don't think any of us participated in that. But maybe later on, from other statements, we might be able to hear about that, about some friends and colleagues that were discharged and that did find themselves under such circumstances.
MR. KARESH: MS. MORALES, I just want to ask you a couple of quick questions if I may. As a nurse, as medical assistance, at the facility, did you tell the employees to let you know if they had an injury or an illness? And if so, when they came to you, what did you do? What happened in that process?
MS. MORALES: What would happen is: When one of the workers would come to the nurse's office and he had some problem, either an illness -- well, I would have to advise my boss, which was the doctor, which was only -- who would only go one hour a day to the plant, and then, also, inform human resources.
At that time, it was Mr. Argeta [phonetic] heading the office, and he was the one in charge. He would be, I think, the best person to explain what would happen to you. He would say, Well, don't make an appointment to go to the hospital, to the IMSS, and just give them some aspirin and tell them to go back to work.
Basically, this is what human resources did in that sense. The nurse's office is a requirement that a company's meeting because, when you have more than a hundred workers, you do have to have a nurse on staff.
MR. KARESH: And I believe there also was some testimony today and, also, in the submission itself about workers who did see IMSS doctors and that the doctors either indicated that there wasn't an injury or that there was no work-relatedness of that injury. And in your view, what was preventing or what was keeping the doctors from saying that these injuries were work related?
MS. MORALES: Well, what -- well, the doctors at IMSS when they would see the workers -- they would tell them, You know, what's truly happening is that it's not only the work from your company; You have a lot of work outside; And that's why you have some pain in your wrist and your arms and your shoulders.
The people who were working at home, for example, women -- they would tell them. And I mean who does all the household chores? I mean besides -- all the work here plus your household chores? That's a lot.
So they didn't really want to relate it to the work being performed. And the pain -- the muscle pain -- they wanted to refer it to something personal so it wouldn't be declared as a work-related health problem.
MR. MONDRAGON: I am Manuel Mondragon from one of the organizations that has been providing support from Auto Trim and Custom Trim. I would like to go back to the frame work of Mexico, specifically, Tamaulipas on this issue of why workers do not go to PROFADET or any of the higher authorities to defend their rights.
Tamaulipas has been one of the pioneers in going into a project -- this started back in '92 -- to increase productivity. And this is with the new work culture, as it's termed.
And in this new work culture has been a commitment, a very strong commitment, among the different productive sectors of Tamaulipas at the head -- starting from the government and the union sectors and the employers or industrial workers. And the basis for all of this new culture is based on conciliation or reconciliation and solving everything without getting into the tribunals.
What does this mean? That there's a commitment to not have any kinds of strikes, that there's a commitment to not have any kind of reporting and that who negotiates are the people at the top. And the workers never even get a chance to negotiate at that level because everything has to be solved through dialogue and conciliation.
And I don't have the stats at this time, but we can get specific figures where we've seen the reduction of cases, the reduction of accidents and the reduction of strikes -- statistics on everything, because all of this is not reaching the courts and all of these things are going unrecorded.
MR. KARESH: Okay. Thank you, very much.
I think I'd like to move on to MS. DELP now if we can. Okay?
MS. DELP: I'm very happy to be here testifying on behalf of the University of California, Los Angeles, the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program. I want to speak briefly about hat we do at LOSH, our health and safety training program on the U. S./Mexico border, and my experience with the workers from Auto Trim and Custom Trim.
UCLA LOSH in Los Angeles has done occupational health and safety training since 1978 in English and Spanish on topics such as toxic waste handling, asbestos, lead, solvents, ergonomics, OSHA regulations and workers' rights. And I've been working in the field since the mid-'80s in occupational health education and research.
During that time, I've been in a variety of different work places, from hospitals to furniture manufacturing to large manufacturing places, like aerospace, to meat packing, and have worked with both union and non-union workers to try to resolve health and safety problems in the United States.
And that includes working with unions to try to negotiate health and safety contract language, to establish health and safety committees, how to file OSHA complaints and being a representative on California OSHA advisory boards to develop regulations on chemicals and on infectious diseases.
In about 1993, we initiated a health and safety training program on the U. S./Mexican border by collaborating with [untranslated Spanish]. We offered together a 40-hour health and safety hazardous waste handling course that was attended by workers, by health professionals and by government agency representatives. At that time, it was [untranslated Spanish] instead of [untranslated Spanish].
And after that, I also got with the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras and served on it as a board member for three years. CJM, the coalition, has a health and safety committee with union, community-based organizations and worker and health professional representatives.
And we started hearing about some of the concerns from workers at Auto Trim and Custom Trim, as well as from workers in other maquiladoras along the border, and decided to develop a series of health and safety training work shops.
The first slide just shows -- the first two slides show some of the work shops that we've done together in collaboration with CJM, with the APHA maquiladora health and safety network, with UC/Berkeley and with the UAW: A coalition of groups that helped to develop these training programs. And we put it in the context of what was happening at Auto Trim and Custom Trim, starting in 1997 with Custom Trim.
I've since learned that there was efforts in '96, even before this, from Auto Trim workers to try to deal with health and safety problems, as well.
So we started in 1998 doing a series of health and safety work shops. The first one was in early May, and I'll talk a little bit more about that in a minute. We followed in June with another one, and that's the one where workers from Auto Trim and Custom Trim were actually helping to do the work shop to train other workers how to file petitions with the STPS.
In November, we did an advanced health and safety work shop, which is a train the trainer kind of work shop, and that was for [untranslated Spanish] so they could actually go out and educate their co-workers since, obviously, not all workers could come to the work shops.
In 1999 -- we had realized in '98 that there were serious problems with chemical exposures and with ergonomic conditions, so we decided that we should do some more specialized work shops focusing in those areas. So we did some on toxicology and ergonomics starting in June of '99, continuing up to this day, actually. There were three earlier this year that the UAW sponsored.
I want to say that at each of these work shops, workers from Auto Trim and Custom Trim did attend and participate actively. And just so you'll have a sense of what we focus on in the health and safety work shops, there are four key areas.
Number 1: We teach people how to identify hazards in their work place by actually doing risk maps, which you saw a demonstration of this morning, the only difference being that in the work shops, we use flip-charts and markers. And they've taken it to the next technological level and put it on Power Point. So we actually learned to do risk maps in the work shops.
The second was how to research the hazards once they're identified. So we would bring sample material safety data sheets in Spanish so people could learn how to read them.
The third was how to document the health problems by doing surveys, by interviewing other people and by collecting information about chemical hazards. And the fourth was using specific work place situations where there were problems -- and Auto Trim/Custom Trim was one of them we used in our work shop -- to determine which regulations of Mexico applied to that situation and which ones were being violated.
Just speaking from my personal experience, I've been involved in several of these work shops, but what I most clearly remember is one that we did in 1998, which was the first one where I was really aware -- in early May of '98 -- of some of the health and safety problems at Auto Trim and Custom Trim. And in 1998, at that work shop, there was a series of health problems that people spoke about and discussed, and you already heard some of them.
What I clearly remember were sort of the classic solvent exposure symptoms: The headaches, the light-headedness and skin and eye irritation. There were also problems that -- people expressed concerns about their reproductive health outcomes. And that was a very serious concern, and particularly given the frequency of miscarriages and birth defects among workers at Auto Trim and Custom Trim.
We talked at that work shop in early May about the frustrations that people had in trying to get changes through the company and through the union and took a look at the option of, you know, them filing a complaint with STPS. And soon after the work shop, they actually did that, as you've already heard, and they submitted a complaint.
A year later -- and there were several work shops in between -- I was also personally involved in the one in June of 1999. And I remember four different things very clearly. Number 1: The same problems were expressed at that work shop as in the one the year before.
Secondly, I was extremely impressed at the amount of information the workers had collected over the time. Personal stories from other people -- they were really documenting the problems and more information about chemicals. They had looked at -- gotten the labels and looked at the safety data sheets that went along with them.
And so their persistence -- and you've heard already about the committee that they established to continue working on these problems over a period of time. So their persistence in trying to gather information about these problems was really outstanding to me.
The next thing that I remember very clearly was the frustration that people had expressed; by this time, they had filed two complaints with STPS and complaints, as well, with IMSS and with the Secretary of Health. And there was considerable frustration, particularly with STPS, that there had not been a response from them.
And that -- at that time, people were starting to discuss already the possibility of a submission to your office because they felt like there really weren't too many alternatives left. And so that sort of brings us to where we are today, with the complaint actually submitted to your Office.
I want to just express my personal concern about the -- in following this whole case over the last couple of years about the -- sort of the lack of attention to the problems by the company, by the union and by the government agencies in Mexico.
And I just feel like -- that we have both a legal obligation, as you've already heard, after NAFTA was passed to make sure that the governments in all three countries are really enforcing our regulations. That's what was predicated with the labor side-agreement of NAFTA, and, presumably, that was designed to protect workers' health and safety.
From my experience, hazards are, unfortunately, common in the United States, as well. In Los Angeles is what I can speak to specifically. But the -- sort of the inequalities and the injustices of U. S.-based companies going to Mexico and allowing and permitting worse conditions in Mexico for Mexican workers than in the U. S. is really unjustified.
Along with my testimony, I've submitted two other things. One is letters that have been signed by occupational health professionals in the United States.
I'm a representative to the occupational safety and health section of the American Public Health Association, which has about 30,000 members and is the largest public health association probably in the world. And so we discussed this at our annual meeting in November, and people expressed considerable concern and wanted to be sure that their voices were reflected here.
There's also signatures from labor and community leaders in Los Angeles. And the second set of letters that I've submitted are personal letters from high school students in Los Angeles. They heard a worker from Custom Trim speak about the conditions, and several of them, about 20 of them, were concerned enough that they wrote their own personal letters and asked me if I would bring them down here to the hearing to represent to you.
And I just want to end with a quote from one of the students, which is a little hard to see, but this is like their very heart-felt expression of their concerns. And I totally agree that we have -- in the words of one of the students, he says it's a moral -- well, I'm sorry. That one's not up there.
But let me just start with -- Vincent says, "It's a moral obligation of United States and Mexican governments to see that all workers are given conditions which are safe and without hazard." And Luce and Vincent and several of the students have relatives that are in Mexico, so they were also speaking on behalf of themselves as young workers, as well as their relatives.
"My purpose in writing this letter is to express my concern for the injured workers in the Auto Trim and Custom Trim maquiladoras, for those who have chosen to seek safety regulations and work place health, as well as for those who are too afraid to speak.
"I urge the U. S. and Mexican governments to support the workers' attempt to improve their working conditions and to ensure that they are not threatened in any way for having the courage to try to improve their well-being. It is they who are putting their lives on the line by being exposed to harmful conditions at their work place in an effort to support themselves and their families. Luce Rodriguez."
Vincent Medina adds, "It is unfortunate that such atrocities can occur in modern times. This is why I ask that my voice be heard and justice be done for those workers who work and live in fear." Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, MS. DELP. I have just a few questions that I wanted to ask you.
I think you mentioned in the submission and some of the workers talked about certain products being used that they believe are banned in the United States, that certain products are known to cause miscarriages. And I'm wondering if you know where that information was received from and who reported those kinds of facts about the chemicals being used.
MS. DELP: Actually, let me first clarify that I actually don't think that was in my submission that you saw that, but that's okay -- not about products being banned. But I think that that is probably true.
As I mentioned before, the Coalition has a health and safety committee. And on that committee, we have representatives of occupational health professionals from Canada, from the U. S. and from Mexico, as well as workers and community-based organizations and unions.
So if -- a lot of the information that people obtained about the safety of chemicals and whether they were used in the other countries were from members of that coalition. Was that your question?
MR. KARESH: Yes. And I guess I was also curious about this notion -- I mean in the submission, it talks about dangers to women and miscarriages occurring.
MS. DELP: Oh.
MR. KARESH: And I'm curious as to where data about that information comes from with regard to the chemicals being used.
MS. DELP: Oh, okay. You know, there are actually a lot of toxicological studies, and Francisco Mercado is prepared to actually speak specifically to that.
MR. KARESH: With regard to the training that you do -- you've been doing -- and I'm really happy to hear about it. I mean it sounds just like, you know, a tremendous program that you're putting together with some other folks. I'm wondering, have you had any support or participation from any of the governmental authorities in Mexico, be it at the Federal, State or local levels?
MS. DELP: We've had a couple of people who worked for the government agencies who participated not specifically in their role as working for the government agencies.
MR. KARESH: Well, let me ask you this: Is there anything, and if so, what would it be, that you think the government of Mexico or the government of the United States perhaps in response to this submission would be able to do in that area to assist?
MS. DELP: To do what? I'm sorry. I missed that because of the bell.
MR. KARESH: To do in that area in order to assist this training.
MS. DELP: Oh, okay.
MR. KARESH: I assume there's something that we could do besides just get in the way.
MS. DELP: I think it would be great -- well, first of all, it would be great if the Commissiones Mixia really functioned well. But we've heard not only from Auto Trim and Custom Trim workers but from people at other maquiladoras that they really don't.
This -- in Los Angeles, we've done work shops before where we did have official representation from government agencies, where they came and, you know, participated as part of the work shop and talked about what their agency did, how workers can understand better what the regulations are, how they can use the process -- the government agency complaint process to improve their working conditions.
I mean it would be great if, you know, in Mexico, that kind of service was available, but, of course, first of all, it has to be actually operational and functional for people to be able to use that. So I think that's -- really, the main thrust of the whole submission is to make sure the government agencies really are functioning adequately to make sure that working conditions in the work place are observed.
I think training is really only one piece. And we have done training with the goal of helping workers to understand what their rights are so that they can use their rights under the law.
The second piece is making sure that the government agencies are willing to back up those rights and actually enforce the regulations. So that's the bigger question, and I think that's why we come to you: Because that is something that is -- as I understand it, part of the process of the NAO office is to try to make sure that those regulations are enforced.
MR. KARESH: What about individual employers or employer organizations? Have they participated with you in this training? And the workers who have attended -- have they been sent there by the employers, or are they just doing that on their own time? Are the employers involved in any way?
MS. DELP: The first work shop that I mentioned, in 1993 with the [untranslated Spanish], the university and Tijuana, was something that was done with the university, and we did have some participation from government agencies. The Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras' goal -- and other people can speak to this probably even better than I can, but the goal is to educate workers.
So we did not specifically do outreach to company representatives; we feel like they have, you know, plenty of resources on their own. And our goal is to educate workers so that they know what their rights are.
MS. DELP: Oh. And to the second part of your question: No, they were not paid by the company to come to the work shops. People did -- a lot of this work has been done on people's own time, and I really am impressed by that.
MR. KARESH: Have you -- I mean I assume the word spreads. Have you received any requests or contacts from the employers or the maquiladora association or anything like that with regard to this training?
MS. DELP: Through UCLA, there have been some other courses that have been done primarily in Tijuana. And when we're -- one of my co-workers, who's an industrial hygienist, did participate in a health and safety conference for the maquiladora association that was on the other side of the border -- I mean on the east/west other side of the border. So yes.
And that has been rare. I mean there haven't been very many requests. I just want to add that.
MR. KARESH: You haven't actually visited Auto Trim or Custom Trim, have you?
MS. DELP: No. I would love to.
MR. KARESH: So --
MS. DELP: I visited the maquiladoras primarily in Tijuana.
MR. KARESH: All right. So the information you have basically has come from workers who have attended the training?
MS. DELP: Yes.
MR. KARESH: And what did the workers who attended that training say about training at the Auto Trim and Custom Trim facilities?
MS. DELP: Well, they came to the CJM and the coalition work shops because they were desperate for information which they were not receiving in the companies.
MR. KARESH: Let me just ask your opinion on something if you think you can respond to it, and that is: Do you think that it would make sense or be worth your effort to reach out to the maquiladora association and see about working with them for this type of training for workers?
MS. DELP: Do we think that it would make sense to for us, or for you all?
MR. KARESH: No. For you.
MS. DELP: You know, I would actually leave that up to the people that live and work on the Mexican side of the border to respond to that question. I am from Los Angeles, and my goal is to provide technical and education support. And they primarily do the outreach. And I feel like that's a decision that's a judgment call of organizations on the Mexican side of the border about what that strategy would be.
MR. KARESH: In your experience with workers on both sides of the border, do you have -- I mean do workers on the U. S. side give a different impression about training in their facilities and awareness of hazardous materials and protection and things of that sort than you have seen on the Mexican side of the border?
MS. DELP: I think so, I mean, clearly, union places, yes, that I've worked with in California. And they're far better educated.
But I would say even the non-union places -- and in Los Angeles, I've, as I said, done a lot of work with both union and non-union workers, working through unions and community-based organizations. And in English and in Spanish -- there are, unfortunately, lousy working conditions there, too, and I'm not going to pretend there aren't.
I think what -- let me tell you, what really impressed me with hearing these stories here is [untranslated Spanish], and I don't really know how to say that in English. But it's -- the whole idea that workers are basically used up and put aside to do work that is degrading so that they're sort of forced to leave is something that I have not heard of or seen in the United States.
I mean there are occasions like -- more individuals who are injured and feel like they are sort of forced out in the United States. But to this degree that has been happening at Auto Trim and Custom Trim? That, I think, is really quite remarkable in a negative way.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, very much.
I think we'd like to move on to the next panel now. The next panel will speak to chemical hazards: Joaquin Gonzalez, Ezequiel Tinajero and Bruno Noe.
MR. KARESH: Are you MR. GONZALEZ?
MR. GONZALEZ: Yes, Joaquin Gonzalez.
Well, first of all, I am a former worker of Auto Trim from Matomoros, Mexico. What I'd like to do now is provide a brief demo of the kind of work I performed back then. This is just an idea about the design, because I would like to add something else. There's a variation regarding the design, the model design. So that would also differ regarding the amounts, quantities or amounts of steering wheels. Let me begin.
Here's a steering wheel. And let me show you this. This is a container with the Varsol, a chemical solvent. And I'm going to say that this the yellow glue, and here I'm going to use it to apply to the steering wheel to be able to place the leather. So here's what I do, these kinds of movements.
I begin to place the glue. I turn it around, the same movements -- quick. I turn it one more time. I place it at an angle on the base. Of course, this is not the work base. I place the brush here on the container for the green glue, and then I take the leather, which is the raw material -- that's what we were using before. I take it, and I make sure that the leather is in good condition.
I begin to place glue on the leather. And once again, I place the brush inside the green -- the yellow glue container for this leather. Once I place glue on the leather, I begin to place it on the steering wheel. And depending on the design of the steering wheel, I would place then the leather. Could someone help me with this?
MR. GONZALEZ: Just to make it more descriptive, I'm going to make use of my friend here. In order to center the leather onto the steering wheel, the wheel has some angles like these, these, these and these -- on some wheels, but not on all of them.
So I begin to center the leather, and I begin to pull the leather on to the wheel so I get the perfect angle from one side, then to the other side, several times until I can angle the leather on to the wheel. All right?
Now, the next step after assembling it -- let's put it that way -- we again return to this operation. The wheel should be totally clean from any yellow glue to be able to go to the next station, so what I do is the following: I stick my hand inside the container, and I put in a piece of rag into the Varsol. I begin to clean off the excess glue where ever I have excess glue.
I turn it around, and I've got something else here. I put glue on the leather. But, basically, due to the accuracy with which I should apply all of this, there's no exact time to be so careful that the leather will not bring about more work in this cleaning process that is getting rid of the excess glue. As I see it, this is just more time added to all of the process.
Okay. The wheel is clean now. I check it, and then I prepare it to be able to turn it over to the next work station, to my co-worker. Now I have to do the following: With a rag, I get rid of all the yellow glue from my hands. So far, just as -- this just shows -- basically shows you what I used to do at Auto Trim.
Now, it's just a theory now, but, in order to go to the next step -- I don't know if I may be allowed to do it from the table or from over here. Or what --
MR. KARESH: Whatever you prefer is fine.
MR. GONZALEZ: The table?
MR. GONZALEZ: I was exposed to Varsol for some 11 hours, exposed to the yellow glue and trichloroethane. I assembled from 13 to 18 steering wheels per day, and it took me about ten to 15 minutes using the glue and the Varsol to be able to clean a steering wheel from any excess glue. That is -- I was -- all of that was in direct contact with my skin for some three hours per day.
For some three hours per day, I was exposed -- and for some 15 minutes, depending on the substance. Sometimes, I would be -- I would have exposure of over four hours to the products.
That's what I can say regarding the part of assembly as a former assembly line member from Auto Trim in Matomoros, Mexico. Now, I'd like to go around to the following: To the addiction to the yellow glue and to the rest of the chemical substances, Varsol and trichloroethane.
It's difficult to accept, but I think I did suffer an addiction to the chemicals that I used during my work at Auto Trim. I'd like to state what I felt and I feel today: Anxiety, despair, uncertainty, nervousness and the fear of probably having a baby that has no brain, anencephalia.
I would also forget places and the names of persons that were introduced to me that I met. It was very difficult for me to retain names and addresses. I even had sleep disorders. When I would go to sleep, I felt a sort of suffocation that stopped my breathing short. And sometimes, I had to change my posture and use a pillow to be able to recover my breathing at least to what I thought was normal.
I also see and I imagine things that in reality do not exist; that scares me. That scares me. The most critical thing is that I cannot concentrate. Just to recall all of this has been quite an effort; it is not anything short of pleasant.
When I was fired from Auto Trim, I suffered the withdrawal symptoms from the Varsol and the solvents. Even today, it is very difficult for me to accept my addiction to the yellow glue in an involuntary manner. I'm very ashamed of that. Unfortunately, I witnessed the problem in other co-workers.
This refers to the damage caused by Auto Trim. I would look at plastic containers with yellow glue. I would hear a strong breathing from some of my co-workers. For me personally, it seemed like a voluntary addiction.
I'd like to add something else regarding the damage to me: The damage to my forearm. I didn't have this problem before. And with that injury -- I didn't start at work at Auto Trim at Matomoros, Mexico, with that injury. When I started to work there, I was healthy; I did not have that in my body back then. My health was good; it was not unsound.
When I was discharged in 1998, the company fired me, stating that it was because they had to cut down on the size of their labor force; I think they fired me because I had lost my ability to work. I'd like to report a violation of my worker rights at Auto Trim/Mexico.
I wish to add something else, a few words that I feel that we all have a right to in the world, not just in Matomoros or San Antonio. I think this involves everybody. It involves all of mankind because I think we're dealing with a universal right, a global right for me, personally. It is of great concern, dangerous, where we're living. I feel that regarding health, you cannot beg for that; you have to defend it. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, MR. GONZALEZ. Maybe -- I'd probably like to hear from the other two, and then I can come back and ask questions to you all three.
MR. LOPEZ: Good afternoon. I am Bruno Mantagna Lopez, also a former worker from Auto Trim out of Matomoros, Tamaulipas. Just like my co-worker, Joaquin, each of us that are here from the three panels are victims of the injustices and the developments back then when we were working.
We witnessed how we were working and the conditions that we used to work in, the health conditions. I was one more of the victims. I worked with solvents, chemicals and glues like 5000 and trichloroethane and Varsol. They caused severe illnesses, damages and injuries to my health -- and dryness.
I used to work 11 hours a day plus overtime in a week. And I think that was enough to impact my body in all facets, not only my body, but psychologically, with my family, with everything that involves all of us.
I performed an operation -- well, I was in charge of sewing the wheels. From four to six times, perhaps more, I would have to use Varsol. And I would place my hands in the Varsol container after placing the leather on each of the units. And I would have to place my hands in the Varsol unit perhaps for some 18 to 20 minutes, without leaving the Varsol, for some 11 hours a day. That really damaged my hands greatly.
I would have itching, rashes and some spotting that perhaps you may still be able to see. I have also some lesions and injuries.
I would only get like a band -- a plastic band, but it didn't really cover all of our hands. When we would conclude our work shift -- because of the effort exerted in each of the operations, it would cut us, and it would really effect our hands. There was a callous formed, and some swollen areas would develop around our hands.
I also worked at the plant -- and my eyes were highly irritated. To date, I have an allergy in my nose to the point where it's just despairing. When I used to work back then -- some three years that I've been discharged -- I was not able to sleep because I suffered from headaches. I couldn't sleep, from the headaches. And I had a highly irritated nose, and that irritation continued on a constant basis.
And I couldn't walk more than three or five blocks because I would get dizzy and faint. I remember, after working for some two years for the maquiladora plant, I fainted because, when I got there, the glue container became open and I absorbed all of the vapors from that container.
I fell, became totally dizzy and I passed out. I don't know what happened. That's one of the things that I remember that happened to me, one of the worse things that happened to me when I worked there.
After some five years of having worked there -- of working there for the maquiladora plant, I gave birth to a child that, unfortunately, was born with a problem: spina bifida, also known as myelocele. And, unfortunately, my child died. But before going to work -- and I'd like to stress this very clearly: Before I began to work for the maquiladora plant, my body -- I felt that my body was different, that it was not infected, that it was not poisoned.
Before going to work, I had a daughter -- I gave birth to a daughter. And, thank God, she was perfectly well, a very healthy child. But after I was discharged, I gave birth to another child, and, fortunately, he was also very healthy. But how is it that after four or five years, within that period of time, I gave birth to a child with a problem, a defect? I didn't know what it was due to.
Like the doctor told me -- the doctor in Reynosa said that it was due to an injury or something that was hereditary or maybe that I had a relative with a similar problem and that maybe or accidentally, it came out in my genes. But I was already asking around, and I just couldn't agree with what the doctor said; I actually thought that it was because of the toxic substances.
And I began to educate myself. And I came to the conclusion that it was because of the solvents and the toxic substances to which we were exposed every day within the maquiladora plant for some 11 hours a day.
I had this child -- gave birth to it in 1997 -- with an illness of myelocele. My wife had ultrasound performed on her -- on the video -- to check to see if the baby was okay, and they never told me that the -- that it had a problem, that it had a malformation.
They didn't tell me if it had its full hands and full feet. On the 28th of September, 1997, my child was born. They never told me that it had a problem. When it was born, the doctor told me that it had a kind of a tumor in its spinal column that covered it completely.
They sent him to Reynosa, and there were seven operations performed on him. And we're talking about this tumor that covered all of his body; it began right under his neck, all the way down, some 50 centimeters -- 40 to 50 centimeters in length.
One of the operations was performed, and I was asked to be there because I had to give a blood donation because, after the second operation, they told me that the child did not have any more blood in its veins. And I remember that back then, the doctor and the lab technician carried out some testing on me so that I would be able to provide some blood.
When I went for the blood testing, the doctor told me that my blood was poisoned, was tainted, and that they couldn't use it. Thus, I could not be a donor to my child.
The doctor told me that a fifth operation had to be performed because his skin was so fragile that every time they wanted to close it up, it -- they were draining part of his column of his back, and every time at that part of the operation, part of his skin kept opening up. And he was basically living a vegetative life.
For the fifth operation, they said, Well, we're going to carry out a fifth operation because your child is not reacting; He's more dead than alive. That's what -- the doctor said, If we don't open up his head, his skull, before we do the next operation, your child will die. That's the way that the doctor said it, "The child will die": Just like that, in those actual words and so lacking any mercy.
So they carried out the fifth operation, and they opened him up from here down. They opened up his full head. He did not withstand the operation, and he died.
Now I understand that it wasn't due to something that was hereditary or attributable to me because of some background or something like that that would have caused that in my child; I know now that it's due to the Varsol, to all the chemicals and the solvents that we were exposed to for some 11 hours a day that I had to work for some seven years at that maquiladora plant.
And to date, I cannot understand why there are so many children born with the same problem -- perhaps if there had been only one or two, maybe I would have had my own and they reply and say, Well, it's only one in 1,000 or 10,000. But no.
What a coincidence that almost every 15 days or every eight days, a child will be born with a similar problem like my child. There wasn't anything real, there wasn't -- it's just not logical. Do you understand? It was not logical.
And that's how my child died. They didn't exactly tell me the diagnosis; they just said that it was myelocele. And to date, I really don't know, but I am sure, I have the conviction, that my child suffered an illness because of the poisoning that I suffered for working seven years at that maquiladora plant.
Some 15 days -- 12 to 15 days after having buried my child, Jose de la Christa Torena [phonetic], who was the general manager -- from human resources, rather -- at Auto Trim, the manager of human resources, did talk to me.
He called me in and he said, "You know what? I heard about your child and that he passed away. And I'm very sorry, but don't you feel that it's because of the work place. It's not because of the thinner, the Varsol or the solvents; your child was born like that because, well, it's part of nature."
He tried to convince me that it was not because of the toxic substances, because that would effect and impact him and not only him; it would also impact the whole company -- everything. Do you understand? My child passed away, and I never got a definitive reply. He tried to convince me otherwise, but he -- but I know that my child -- that he was born like that because of a lack of safety measures.
I was not given anything to protect against the substances. I was never given goggles, a mask or gloves; I never had a hood adequately qualified to handle all the air -- all the vapors coming out from the glue containers, from the Varsol container and where we also kept the trichloroethane.
After some three years, they did place some air extractors, minimal, three or four for the whole plant. I think that's not fair at all.
And now I am aware, and I do fully agree with all the rest of my co-workers. That's my statement. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, very much.
MR. GONZALEZ: Good afternoon. My name is Ezequiel Tinajero; I am 28 years old. I worked at Auto Trim/Mexico in Matomoros for eight years, from 1988 to 1996. I worked 12 hours a day Monday through Saturday, and during my shift, I used yellow glue, similar to Glue 5000, and Varsol. And we used it as it was water, and I was exposed 11 hours a day to these toxic substances.
My task was to cover the steering wheel with leather, sewing it, using Varsol and a solvent to clean the excess glue off the steering wheel, as our friend Joaquin showed you. I used a rag to put in Varsol with my hands, with no gloves, and then I would clean the steering wheel with this rag. And this operation lasted about a minute per steering wheel, and I did 30 steering wheels a day; this means that my skin was in contact with Varsol for 30 minutes daily.
I used about a half-liter or so of Varsol a day and one liter of yellow glue a day. These products were used in a completely enclosed building with an obsolete extraction system. At Auto Trim, I was exposed to vapors for 11 hours a day because this rag with Varsol was put in front of me in the work station.
The containers of Varsol were always open. During the work day, I had nausea and dizziness due to the vapors; I felt drugged. I had headaches and problems with sleep. My heart was altered. I had respiration problems. My throat was always dry. I had a sensation of itching in my nose. I had bleeding and losing of hair. We were never given any information about the solvents that we were using or of the chemicals and their potential hazards.
I had these symptoms -- when I started working there, I didn't have these symptoms. When I started working for Auto Trim, I was 16 years old. And as a young man, I wouldn't have had these symptoms if I was working under normal and safe conditions.
In 1993, a government agency came to visit the plant. And one day before they came, the company asked us to hide the solvents and the glue containers and ordered us to clean up our work stations. The government closed up the plant, but, the very next day, it was opened again. I believe that they paid them some money because the next day, we went back to work, and there were no changes in spite of this government visit.
I have very strong reasons to come here to San Antonio to make this public report. After seven years of being exposed to these toxic substances, in 1995, my wife and I had a daughter that died two hours later; she had anencephaly.
After this, we started asking about the cause of death of my daughter, and I started getting information from other co-workers that had had miscarriages that had happened at the plant and from other co-workers that had children with physical defects. Eighteen days after my daughter died, another worker had a daughter that died due to hydrocephaly and the wife of another co-worker had another daughter like my daughter.
My friend, Bruno, had a son with Spina bifida. And I believe this is one of the most painful cases, because his son lived for seven months. There were other workers of Auto Trim that I know personally that had children with respiratory problems.
I was convinced of these bad working conditions, that these were causing diseases in the workers and their children, so I got involved with the coalition. And I started attending the meetings to learn more about this exposure to glues and solvents to see if these were the causes of the deaths of these children, the miscarriages and other diseases.
I told the other workers what I was learning. I invited them to these meetings. We organized a group of about 30 people. We talked about the chemicals and our diseases.
I was discharged unfairly on October 22, 1996 by the human resources manager because he considered that I was complaining too much. And I don't feel my health is good. I have heart problems. And I think I need a medical examination to know how much damage, physical and mental, I have right now.
I know nothing will go back to normal and our children will not came back to life, but the damage caused to my wife and to me is irreversible. I want these to be punished -- I want the people responsible to be punished because they know very well that these toxins are fatal and they're only interested in money and high levels of quality without taking an interest in the health and life of the human being. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, Mr. Tinajero.
I'd like to again kind of ask some general questions and any of the three of you that want to respond is fine.
MR. KARESH: Can you hear me?
MR. GONZALEZ: Yes.
MR. KARESH: I'd like to know the effects that you testified that you were feeling when you worked at Auto Trim. Like -- I was wondering if you could give me some idea about what happened, if you reported those difficulties and who you reported them to and, particularly, if you went to IMSS doctors or other authorities, what they said and what happened with complaints that you had registered with regard to those difficulties.
MR. LOPEZ: More specifically, could you rephrase?
MR. KARESH: Yes. I'm wondering -- you testified to having some difficulties when you worked at Auto Trim, problems that developed: Headaches, dizziness and things of that sort. And I'm wondering who you reported those difficulties to and what those authorities did and, also, whether you ever went to see IMSS doctors -- I-M-S-S -- and what the response of those -- what those medical authorities were.
MR. LOPEZ: Okay. In my case, I would report that immediately, especially when I fainted. This had already happened two other times. I reported them immediately when I fainted. I went to the doctor. It was -- I don't remember his name, who was in charge of the nurse's office. And he sent me to the IMSS for a series of analyses.
They thought -- they led me to believe it was because I had some other disease but through another source -- that came through another source, but not from my work place. They sent me to the IMSS, and we never even got a disability from them. Even though they saw what the problem was, they never told us anything; they just ignored us. They ignored our petitions.
I'd like to stress that when I fainted, I was immediately sent to the nurse's office. They kept me there for some two or three minutes only, and then the nurse told me just to lay down. And I said that I felt really bad, that I felt very sick and I needed rest and that I didn't feel that I could get up. I felt that if I would get up, I would pass out again because I felt truly weak. Truly weak.
And she immediately told me that I was exaggerating things and that I didn't want to go back to work, that I shouldn't be wasting her time and that with just a pill, I would get rid of the pulsations and the dizziness from when I fainted. After two or three minutes, she lifted me, and she got me up and said, You're okay; You're fine; You should go back to work. She said, Leave this stretcher and this bed to someone who really needs it.
She got me up, and I couldn't even stand on my own two feet. She practically pushed me out, and she said, Go back to work; There's nothing wrong with you; Don't waste my time; Go back to production. That was the nurse's reply back. And that was my personal experience.
MR. KARESH: When you went to IMSS and the doctor indicated -- I mean I'm assuming you got some kind of examination and he indicated that he was denying disability because your injury was not work related or that you didn't have anything that he thought was worth of disability.
At that time, does the doctor or anybody at IMSS indicate whether you have any right to appeal that decision of the doctor, whether you're allowed to go to some other authority to say, I think that doctor's wrong, and I'm appealing his decision? Is there any explanation of an ability to do anything of that sort?
MR. LOPEZ: Well, at that time, the doctor didn't give us that alternative -- at least when I went to the doctor. Besides the fact that he didn't want to give me disability and that he -- perhaps he was ignoring it or maybe he never wanted to accept the reality of things, of our illnesses -- he never told me -- he never said, Well, look, if you don't believe me, well, you can go to another authority or to somebody else, because I checked you, and, as I see it, you're not sick.
They performed an analysis, but it wasn't any deep testing of --
THE INTERPRETER: You have to get the microphone up again.
THE INTERPRETER: Thank you.
MR. LOPEZ: I never got an X-ray, for example, to check my skull or my brain. They didn't do any detailed analysis. And I think that if they would have done that, they would have found something in my body, in my blood and in my genes. But they never performed a deep exam, just superficially.
MR. KARESH: Have any of the three of you had the opportunity to see any other doctors, besides the IMSS doctors, who may have offered you a different opinion about your injuries or your illnesses?
MR. LOPEZ: Yes. Okay. When my child was sent to the hospital in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, because of his tumor on his back, I decided -- they made some sample -- blood sampling testing to see if I could be a blood donor for my child. And the doctor -- I don't exactly recall his name, but he never told me that I had anything that was wrong with me that was natural. In my case, it was due to hereditary matters, not because of anything else.
MR. GONZALEZ: To reply to your question, I had an injury, and that injury went away after I stopped working there. But at that time when I had the injury, I went to a private clinic. The company would do -- would get in touch with this private clinic. And the company and the private clinic had some kind of agreement -- I don't know if they were bought off or something -- and, if they gave a verdict, the company would annul that or change it.
Well, I think what the company would do -- it would buy off the clinics. And we could never really get anything to support us, any documentation to support us.
MR. KARESH: Are all three of you working at other places now? And have you continued to have any problems at those places?
MR. GONZALEZ: No. Personally, when I was discharged, we were marked, and we couldn't get work anywhere else within the maquiladora plants. I have another job now; I'm a taxi-cab driver. But I couldn't get any more work within the maquiladora plants because -- you're marked. If you worked for Auto Trim, you cannot work at any other maquiladora plants because you are sick. That's how we are considered.
MR. GONZALEZ: Well, personally, I did not return to work for the maquiladora plants since then, when I was fired from Auto Trim. Several months had to go buy without me being able to go back to work. Currently, I work two times a week only and sometimes when there is work. And I do have problems because -- my work is as a waiter. And to support or to hold -- just to be able to hold a tray hurts me because of my injury.
I still have this injury. It's still with me. Personally, this is what I can add. But I have not returned to work for the maquiladora plants.
MR. LOPEZ: Just like my co-worker here, Ezequiel, unfortunately, I could not find work at another maquiladora plant.
After -- a month after I was discharged from Auto Trim, I went to the union in the city of Matomoros to request a new job, new employment, because I needed to support my family. And my wife because of my child's problem, had to go back to work because we didn't have any money to even eat. I went back to the union to ask for work, and they sent me to a maquiladora plant.
Lately, when you're sent to a maquiladora plant, they check your blood, they check your hands -- everything. Unfortunately, at that time, the doctor did a very careful study -- he didn't check blood, he didn't check --
THE INTERPRETER: I think he means very carefully -- when he says [untranslated Spanish], he means "not carefully." So you can ask him.
MR. LOPEZ: So he never really wanted to give me the real reason, but he didn't tell me why I couldn't go back to work. And then later, I heard remarks and I learned that I was not able to work because my blood was poisoned. So there I came to the conclusion about why -- three years before, my son was in the hospital and I could not provide blood to him.
So that's the way I was able to correlate what had happened back then and the doctor at that time. So that's why I thought it was due to the same reason. And that's why I couldn't get that job, because they're not interested in having somebody being disabled later. So that's not going to benefit them; that's going to hurt them. So they don't want to have anybody that they're going to have to put on disability later.
MR. KARESH: Okay. Thank you, gentlemen.
I think what I'd like to do at this point is take a lunch break. I have about one o'clock. Maybe we could take a one-hour lunch break and be back here at two o'clock?
MR. KARESH: Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 1:00 p.m., this hearing was recessed, to reconvene at 2:00 p.m. this same day, Tuesday, December 12, 2000.)
MR. KARESH: Good afternoon. We're ready to get started again.
The first panel is Garrett Brown and Francisco Mercado.
MR. BROWN: Good afternoon. I would like to thank the U. S. NAO for this opportunity to testify today on behalf of the health and safety complaint filed by the workers of Breed Technologies subsidiaries Auto Trim and Custom Trim.
I'm speaking today, as I did in the Han Young hearing in San Diego in February 1998, as the coordinator of the Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network, which is an all-volunteer network of 300 occupational health professionals in Canada, Mexico and the United States which was founded by the Occupational Safety and Health Section of the American Public Health Association in October of 1993.
I want to emphasize here so that I can keep earning a paycheck that I am not speaking in any official capacity for the State of California; however, I believe that my experience as a regulatory compliance officer for CALOSHA who has conducted over 475 work place inspections over the last seven years has some relevance to my testimony.
For the record, let me state that I have a master's in public health degree from the University of California at Berkeley and I have been certified in the practice of comprehensive industrial hygiene by the American Board of Industrial Hygiene.
I've submitted a collection of documents that went in with my written testimony, which I won't go over at any length. The materials consist of a number of questions you might be interested in asking representatives of Breed Technologies in the plant management if you ever have the opportunity to do so and, also, toxicological information on the most commonly used chemicals on site -- at least, those that we were able to get from the material safety data sheets -- and, also, a list from the Breed Technologies web site on forbidden and restricted chemicals, which is an interesting concept that might be worth exploring with Breed, as well, and, also, copies of peer-reviewed articles on occupational health and safety issues in the maquiladora plants along the border -- that list of articles, of course, is not at all extensive or exhaustive, but it gives you a flavor of where things are -- and then, also, some regulations from Mexico and, also, the ILO conventions.
The lists for possible questions for company managers and government officials are designed to elicit the specific information needed by the NAO to evaluate whether the company has met its responsibilities under Mexican law and whether the Mexican government agencies have responded as required to the workers' requests for plant inspections.
In my experience in California, employer presentations of their health and safety programs are often long on generalities and express good intentions and are considerably less impressive when the actual implementation on the shop floor is viewed. My review of the submitted complaint and the worker affidavits indicates that this may well be the case with Breed Technologies, as well.
The questions I have submitted will, hopefully, illuminate the actual conditions of the plants, rather than corporate public relations statements and claims. In particular, it would be interesting to know what precautions Breed Technologies has undertaken to protect workers with exposures for at least four chemicals -- 1.1.1 trichloroethane, toluene, acetone and hexane and its isomers -- which appear on the company lists of forbidden or restricted chemicals.
Toluene is regulated by the State of California as a reproductive health hazard, and it is a toxin that would be of concern with the heavily female work forces at both Auto Trim and Custom Trim.
With regard to determining the adequacy of the response of the Mexican government agencies, I would like to make a comparison with the Han Young NAO complaint that you all heard three years ago. As you'll recall, the NAO complaint at Han Young was based on an analysis of three inspections of the work place conducted by the STPS, both State and Federal.
The inspection reports indicated that at least 11 inspections by both the Federal and State agencies had been made at the plant. The inspection reports documented very serious hazards and regulatory violations at the Han Young plant and, also, documented that the employer failed to correct those hazards over a period of at least two years.
The reports also showed that the STPS failed in its responsibility to enforce hazard abatement and to levy financial penalties for employer non-compliance with its corrective action orders.
As bad as the Han Young case was, however, I think the Breed Technologies case is worse. Despite two separate very detailed and specific from workers about violations of Mexican health and safety regulations in the work place, the STPS has not conducted any inspection of the Auto Trim or Custom Trim plants as far as anyone can ascertain.
There are indications that some type of official visit occurred in early August 1998 and that some type of inspection was scheduled for May 13, 1999. The employees of Auto Trim and Custom Trim, including those who were members of the plant health and safety committee during this period, have never been informed of any such inspections, however, did not participate in any inspections and have never received any written report or other notification of the results of these inspections if, in fact, any inspections ever occurred at all.
At Han Young, at least the STPS carried out inspections and generated reports which, although not entirely comprehensive, were accurate and compelling in both their findings and the hazard controls that they mandated. At Auto Trim and Custom Trim, it appears that no inspections have been conducted in response to the workers' complaints or that there were secret inspections without the required participation of the workers and the plants' health and safety commissions.
Moreover, the unsafe and unhealthy conditions at Auto Trim and Custom Trim described in detail by the workers and confirmed by their injuries and adverse health effects have not been abated, either by the STPS and other agencies or by the company itself.
This persistent failure to identify regulatory non-compliance and order corrective action on the part of several Mexican government agencies violates numerous national and international laws and regulations adopted by the Mexican government, including the Reglamento Federal and Normas Oficiales Mexicanas related to work place health and safety and the Reglamentos Internos of the agencies themselves, several conventions of the International Labor Organization and, of course, the NAALC.
As I noted in February 1998, part of the Mexican government's failure to enforce its own regulations is due to the austerity programs imposed on Mexico by the International Monetary Fund, the world Bank and related institutions. The impact of these international financial agencies and the process of globalization itself severely undermines the political will of the Mexican government to enforce its regulations with trans-national corporations like Breed, which are generating hard currency desperately needed by Mexico to pay of foreign bankers.
This -- the dictates of imposed austerity, however, cannot be a justification for work place conditions and the failure of regulatory enforcement that threaten the lives of Mexican workers.
The purpose of our complaint and my testimony today is not to bash Mexico or to attack individual STPS managers; in fact, the conditions at Auto Trim and Custom Trim are not unique among the more than 3,200 maquiladoras now employing 1.2 million workers along the U. S./Mexico border, as well as other parts of Mexico.
Our purpose today is to shed light on conditions and official inaction which pose a threat to the work place not only at Auto Trim and Custom Trim but throughout the maquiladora industry and through all of North America as the so-called lowest common denominator of economic global integration drives down work place health and safety in Canada, Mexico and the United States alike.
That concludes my prepared testimony. I did want to respond -- or maybe MR. KARESH is going to ask me in any case.
But there was an earlier question about training with regard to the maquiladora associations and governmental agencies. For you, I'd be happy -- as I mentioned, I'm the coordinator of the Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network. And we actually tried for a period of two years, from 1995 to 1997, with an extensive outreach program through the American Industrial Hygiene Association, which is a very mainstream, professional association, to interest both the maquiladora associations on the border and U. S.-based corporations which were running and operating maquiladoras to engage in a health and safety training program for managers -- health and safety managers in those plants, the idea being that many of the managers are quite capable individuals, engineers and the like, but they didn't have any particular health and safety experience.
And so we tried for two years, actually, to try and set up a basically free program for that to occur, and we didn't get any takers. There was no one interested, either in the maquiladora associations or in the corporations operating on the border. I think there are a variety of reasons for it, but it was noteworthy that even through the AIHA, we weren't able to generate any interest.
The other area where we have done some work is working with the STPS local offices, primarily in Tijuana. We did a training in April of 1995, and the then-head of the STPS office -- the state STPS office in Baja, California, participated in that training.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, Mr. Brown. Your knowledge of Auto Trim and Custom Trim comes from what, discussions with workers? Or --
MR. BROWN: Well, two forms. One -- I also participated in some of the training involving the Auto Trim and Custom Trim workers on the border. And then, naturally, I read the affidavits and the complaints that they're based on. I reviewed part of that to help the actual writers of the complaint on the health and safety issues.
MR. KARESH: Are you familiar with Mexican law on the requirements for inspections -- period inspections?
MR. BROWN: I am, yes.
MR. KARESH: Okay. Do you know what the requirements are in the sense of what type of periodic inspections of facilities by STPS are required?
MR. BROWN: Well, that has changed over time, of course. Up until several years ago, the STPS, the -- there's -- it's like our system in the United States. There are state and federal offices. And there was some division of jurisdictions, as MR. OTERO was explaining earlier, as to what type of industries fell under federal STPS and which were given to the state STPS to conduct inspections.
Now, under the internal regulations of the agencies, like, unfortunately, with OSHA, "periodic" is not clearly defined. IN the United States, "periodic," as applied by CALOSHA and Fed OSHA, means at least once a year. And I believe that's the understanding with the Mexican STPS.
In the case of Baja, California, I know that at roughly the same time that the Han Young case was going on, the federal STPS gave authority for inspections in Tijuana -- all of it -- to the state STPS. So that's why in this Han Young case, for example, you had inspections conducted both by the federal STPS and then, later on, by the state, because it was given to the -- by the feds to the state.
MR. KARESH: You mentioned, I believe, four chemicals in particular that you say -- am I right -- you said that Breed indicated are forbidden or restricted?
MR. BROWN: Right. If you go up on Breed Technologies' web site, they have an information for suppliers. And they have -- these are very long lists of chemicals, one of which is called, "Forbidden Chemicals," and the other is called, "Restricted." Now, it's not entirely clear to me -- and it might be something worth asking Breed -- as to restricted in what -- or forbidden in what sense.
My -- from looking at these charts, it appears that these are toxic substances which their clients -- that's the Big Three auto makers -- want to keep as low as possible within the automobiles which are finally assembled by GM. But it means that these chemicals -- 1.1.1. -- let's see. There are four of them. 1.1.1. trichloroethane, toluene, acetone and then hexane are actually on the list as forbidden or restricted.
Now, that's either because Breed thinks that they are particularly toxic and want to handle them or their clients think they're particularly toxic and want to have special precautions. In either case, it would be interesting to know what the health and safety staffs of Breed Technologies has done to reduce or eliminate exposure to these chemicals with Breed Technologies employees in Mexico, since they are clearly, for the suppliers of Breed and the suppliers of the Big Three auto makers, forbidden or restricted.
I might add that, as I mentioned before, toluene is known to -- in the State of California as a reproductive hazard. TCA, or trichloroethane, and acetone are both irritants, dermal and otherwise -- and the respiratory system. And hexane -- N hexane would be a -- is a neurotoxin and produces a -- peripheral uropathies with exposed individuals.
MR. KARESH: What do CALOSHA -- I mean what are CALOSHA requirements with regard to the reproductive hazard of toluene?
MR. BROWN: There are no -- Mexican regulations and CALOSHA regulations and fed OSHA regulations are all the same in this regard. In all three, there is what's known as permissible exposure limits for toluene.
And so what's required in Mexico, in the -- in California or in other parts of the United States is that the employer that is using toluene in his work place actually conduct industrial hygiene monitoring surveys to evaluate what is the exposure levels to any given worker or class of workers that can be a representative sampling.
So, for example, Breed Technologies or the plant management, under Mexican law, as well as U. S. law, is required to actually conduct sufficient industrial hygiene monitoring so they can say that workers in this job classification are exposed at such-and-such a level to toluene or hexane or acetone.
Now, in the cases of toluene or and benzene, those are also considered dermal contaminants, which means that they get absorbed through the skin. So typically, you have three routes of exposure: Inhalation, which is from air-borne; ingestion, which is if you eat it, and; dermally, which is if you have it on your skin.
So, for example, workers -- young female workers that are working with substances containing toluene without the protection of gloves would absorb an extra dose of the substance through their skin.
MR. KARESH: And I take it there's permissible levels for exposures to these chemicals.
MR. BROWN: Yes. Both Mexico -- you know, off the top of my head, I can't tell you what it is. But if you look in the Mexican NOMs and the CALOSHA regs, actually, the Mexican NOMs have lower -- in many cases lower permissible exposure records than the fed OSHA because -- fed OSHA, as you know, has been trying for 30 years to update the PELs, and Mexico adopted -- I think it was the 1987 or '89 set of ACGIH TLVs, Threshold Limit Values, which in many cases are more health-protective than the OSHA regs.
MR. KARESH: And if a company was to conduct the study that you mentioned being required and it was determined that there were safe levels of exposure to these chemicals, what would that mean with regard to OSHA inspections or periodic inspections?
MR. BROWN: Well, I mean the -- well, in Mexico, do you mean STPS inspections? Well, I think any part of an STPS inspection would be an evaluation of the industrial hygiene monitoring if any had been done by the corporation. Part of that would be to determine whether the monitoring was done in the right way.
It's quite possible to get the result that you want from monitoring if you arrange it in a given manner. For example, some employers in the United States, believe it or not, will actually cut production rates in half or will not use processes on the day that they know that OSHA inspectors are coming in to do air monitoring, so that the monitoring that's done in the plant on that day is not in fact reflective or representative of the actual working conditions.
So depending on how the industrial hygiene monitoring is done will give you a sense of whether the results are actually representative or not. So one of the STPS's responsibilities in a periodic evaluation -- even more so with an extraordinary inspection, which is required by these worker complaints -- would be to evaluate what, if any, industrial hygiene monitoring had been done and the manner in which it had been done to ensure that it's representative.
MR. KARESH: Okay. Let's say theoretically that that has occurred and that they have -- they've done their own analysis, their own monitoring or confirmed the monitoring done by the company or some third party and the determination was that they're safe levels of exposure.
What would that mean with regard to action needed by the STPS or by some other OSHA investigator or what does that mean with regard to, you know, the need for periodic inspections and things of that sort, both with regard to what you know about in Mexico and maybe with regard to in comparison with CALOSHA or other U. S. requirements?
MR. BROWN: Well, the Mexican system is much like our own: If an employer does honest and representative industrial hygiene monitoring and finds that exposure levels are below the permissible exposure limits, then it's -- that employer would not be in violation of the law. If -- it depends on the substance, however.
If -- for example, if we're talking benzene or toluene, which are not only inhalation hazards but, also, dermal or skin-absorption hazards, then it would be very important for the employer to follow good practices to reduce cumulative exposures through those routes.
In terms of the STPS, as I say, my understanding of it -- and they, undoubtedly, can inform you better than I -- is that periodic inspections need to be done, and that is once a year. So just because you meet the requirements, say, in 1997 doesn't mean, for example, that an inspection would not be done in '98 or '99 or 2000.
Now, the one point that you were pointing out earlier is that Mexico changed its laws several years ago to authorize so-called verification units to conduct inspections in lieu of STPS inspectors. That's permitted under Mexican law. But in that area, the same as with the STPS inspection, there's supposed to be an interaction with the workers and with the health and safety commission on site.
A health and safety commission, under NOM-019, is required by law to actually overview the abatement or any corrective actions. So it means that the commission has to be aware that there's an inspection being done, has to be aware of monitoring that has been done, aware of what the results are and then aware of what -- any abatement or corrective action would be taken.
MR. KARESH: Based on the information in this submission and what you've heard so far today, do you -- can you offer a particular recommendation on what it is that the government of Mexico is not doing and they ought to be doing and, also, what it is that you believe that the government of the United States could do in response to this submission with regard to that issue?
MR. BROWN: Well, actually, I think the problem in Mexico or, at least, my understanding of around the border is that it's not a lack of regulations; the Mexican regulations are roughly equivalent to those of the United States. The big problem is that there is, at least in my opinion, no meaningful enforcement of those regulations. And the reason for that? There are several, one of which is the big picture political and economic issues that I raised.
Secondly is that the Mexican government, like our own government, has limited resources; they're perhaps even more limited in the sense of lack of money to hire people to train people and to provide technical resources.
So what the Mexican government should do is enforce its own laws in a meaningful way. And it certainly should respond to worker complaints, such as those that were filed at Auto Trim and Custom Trim, by following its -- simply its own internal regulations, which is to conduct an on-site inspection and to conduct industrial hygiene monitoring if it hasn't been done or to review that done by the employers, to interview workers and to evaluate the ergonomic risk factors at work.
All of that is required by Mexican law, and it should be done. As to what the United States government could do, I know that there have been several initiatives over the last years, up and down, as to whether there could be more collaboration between fed OSHA or state OSHAs, such as California, and our counterparts in Mexico, the inspectors for the STPS, both on technical assistance or joint-training exercises and the like.
And I think that certainly would be something that the U. S. government could make an initiative in.
Also, the other thing that I think the Mexican government and the U. S. government could collaborate on is that -- in our experience in California, the work places that are the -- have the best health and safety are those where there are really active, empowered worker health and safety committees or joint labor/management health and safety committees that are informed and empowered to do something.
And that's a law in Mexico, that work places have to have those committees if they're over such a size. But the actual training of those members is very uneven and erratic.
One thing that the Mexican STPS or you at fed OSHA might look into doing is doing a series of work shops along the border to actually have worker members of health and safety committees in the larger plants participate in seminars as to what their duties are, how do they carry out those duties, what their rights and responsibilities are and what resources and technical assistance they can look to, either from the Mexican or U. S. governments.
MR. KARESH: Let me just try to clarify one thing because in my mind, I'm not sure I'm straight on it. And that's the question about inspections and periodic inspections.
I mean I guess I was under the impression that -- I supposed this -- I thought this was true in Mexico, the United States and pretty much any country, which is that you can't possibly have enough inspectors to inspect every facility, you know, on a very regular basis. You can't be there every month or even every year, I suppose.
So I'm curious as to what occurs in a situation where -- and maybe -- I don't know if you can give us an example from Mexico or, at least, maybe for CALOSHA's situation. If you have data on hand showing, you know, safe levels or safe usage, would you still inspect that facility, or would you defer and, you know, inspect other facilities where you think there's problems and maybe not go back to that facility? I mean how does that process work? I mean --
MR. BROWN: Well, I can give you the case of CALOSHA. In CALOSHA, we work basically 90 percent in response to complaints, which is considerably less than fed OSHA; fed OSHA only works about 60 percent on complaints and 40 percent on programs inspections.
In all of the systems, though -- Mexican, U. S., CALOSHA and fed OSHA -- priority is given to work places where there are actually complaints being lodged, such as Auto Trim and Custom Trim. Now, naturally, the district manager in CALOSHA or the area manager in fed OSHA would evaluate those complaints and make the determination of whether he or she thought they were valid or invalid, legitimate or illegitimate.
But, frankly, having read the complaints that were proposed by or sent to STPS by Auto Trim and Custom Trim employees, those seem to me to be entirely valid, legitimate complaints. Now, if the company, which is what I get the feeling of here, has some documentation that they've done sampling and everything looks fine, then an actual inspection of that facility would be no problem.
It would be merely a question of going to the facility, checking what -- the documentation that's provided by the employer, verifying if they thought this was representative and adequately done -- the monitoring, for example -- and then talking to workers to find out whether in fact the monitoring that was done allegedly on given workers was in fact done and how long the samples were, et cetera, et cetera.
So it would be a shorter, rather than a longer, inspection if merely to confirm the information provided by the employer. But in all cases in Mexico, in California and in the United States, the first priority of OSHA is to respond to worker complaints, and it would do so as -- in a manner that seems appropriate.
You know, if you get out there and, all of a sudden, you find out that the six people who were supposedly monitored were never monitored, then that gives you the basis on which to expand the inspection and take a look at what actually was done or purported to be done during that period of time.
But you've got to respond. And, certainly, the information provided here was not only on chemical exposures but, also, on ergonomics and other safety hazards which need to be looked at on site; there's no way to evaluate them unless you go on site.
MR. KARESH: Okay. Thank you.
MR. BROWN: One last thing, if I may, is that I've heard a rumor that the company has offered the NAO to take a look through the plant. And I know that myself or other members of our network would be thrilled to come along and provide whatever technical assistance that NAO might be interested in having. I'm -- that's not to say that my esteemed colleagues in fed OSHA couldn't do the same, but we could certainly make those services available.
MR. KARESH: Dr. Mercado?
DR. MERCADO: May I remain here at this corner?
MR. KARESH: Whatever you prefer is --
DR. MERCADO: I'm Dr. Francisco Mercado Calderon. I am in the sciences for the Catholic University at Lavoigne in Brussels, Belgium, and post-graduate professor of the National Autonomous University of Mexico and at the National Institute of Public Health in Cuernavaca, Morelos.
I'm also the Work Health Area Coordinator for the Labor Research Center and Union Advice, CILAS [phonetic], and I am also Deputy Director of Health and Safety in the Work Place for the Government of the Federal District in Mexico City.
Now, before beginning my reading, I would like to provide some general guidelines that I wish not to forget. First of all, it seems that the problem of health and safety in the work place is a problem of social justice; it is a cultural problem, and it is a problem of public management and company management.
Mexico should have public policies aimed at protecting health and safety in the work place. The companies, especially modern companies and not backward companies, from management's point of view, as seems to be the case of Breed's Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Mexicana, that -- are still, as I see it from the standpoint of management on health and safety, truly quite backward, back to the time of Fiol and Taylor [phonetic], in management sciences. That is to say they follow a management that is quite savage and brutal as to health and safety.
As we know, modern companies -- and there are many of those here in the United States -- as well as not-so-modern ones, from a strategic standpoint, from a strategic advantage in management, place high priority on health and safety. That is: As they assign such a large value as they do to production, sales and finances, health and safety of workers should also be at the same level in company management.
Companies should have their structures and functions to carry out health and safety. For example, a management devoted to health and safety in companies, especially in large companies, devoted specifically to the -- to enforcing Mexican laws on health and safety and other areas and following the legal requirements.
This is to say that here, we're talking about Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana as one company that is quite backwards from a management point of view on health and safety at this company, at least in Mexico. I don't know what is happening to that company here in the U. S.
And as expressed already through the statements of the workers, they're in a position of brutal, savage capitalism truly at a criminal level, because they're not considering that the most important asset is the worker himself. That company cannot operate without those workers, yet they treat those workers like slaves, like second-rate or third-rate citizens without any rights.
On the other hand, like I will discuss later, STPS has not met the tasks assigned to itself by the federal government and by the Federal Labor Law. We can say the same thing about IMSS and the same thing about the Ministry of Health of Mexico, SSA. There is no culture that considers health and safety as a public policy at a priority level for all citizens and for all workers in the city and in rural areas.
I don't know what the situation is in the United States, but I know that there's also major contradictions. I recall a law suit. The workers -- the apple growers in California and here and in the United States are also dire violators to health and safety issues especially aimed at immigrant workers.
Well -- but regarding my country, I think that the challenge and the tasks that we have for workers is a truly historical debt of providing, of protecting, of preserving and promoting health and safety in the work place.
Very well. After this introduction, I would now like to refer to my written presentation. And it has to do with the chronic absence of inter-agency coordination to promote plans, programs and projects for health and safety at the work place on behalf of the official bodies.
In spite of the fact that there are specific articles in the corresponding laws that address the legal obligation of these government agencies of setting up coordinated measures that have to do with the promotion, research, outreach, protection and enforcement of health and safety of workers in their work place, these articles have not been met due to a chronic negligence, and perhaps on a voluntary and pre-meditated basis by the agencies of these government institutions.
Unfortunately, for my country and for workers, both women -- men and women in the work place, this has been an administrative policy on a permanent and systematic basis that has allowed that the health of workers has been impacted in a criminal way by employers.
The IMSS, as we see from this slide, has not met Article 81 in the Law of Social Security regarding its obligation of coordinating with other official agencies and from the social and private sectors in order to perform programs for the prevention of accidents and prevention of illnesses and sickness in the work place.
The Ministry of Health, the SSA, has not met Article 130 of the General Health Law, which requires coordination with labor authorities and Social Security and public agencies to promote research which would lead to the prevention of illnesses and occupational accidents.
The STPS has not complied with its role of promoting coordination among federal entities, pursuant to Article 512(b) of the Federal Labor Law, in this case in the state of Tamaulipas to set up the state advisory committee on health and safety in the work place. And the function of this committee would be to study and promote the adoption of all of those preventive measures to decrease risks in the work places within its jurisdiction.
Systematic violation of official Mexican standards or matters of health and safety on the part of Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana: The employers and their legal representatives in Mexico, supervisors, middle management and technicians, as well as doctors and -- well, some nurses -- not all of them, because some of them were on the side of the workers, like the one that deposed today -- but others also have to follow the interest of their employers -- as well as employees from the trans-national Breed/Mexicana company, have consistently failed to comply with Mexican official standards on matters of health and safety in the work place.
And in this way, they have brought about the occurrence of accidents and irreversible injuries to the workers' integrity and health. In the most irresponsible and intolerable manner, they have ignored the workers' most sacred rights on matters concerning health and safety in the work place related -- in my case, I will discuss it -- to chemical risks, such as the following.
The first one: The right of workers to know the health effects of harsh and chronic exposure to chemical work agents. Number Two: The right to have personal protective equipment specific and adequate to protect oneself from the chemical risks for those exposed to such risks in the work place.
Number Three: A right to industrial ventilation to prevent the inhalation of toxic vapors. Number Four: A right to proper handling and storage to avoid health damages by exposure to the potentially toxic chemical work agents.
Five: The right to have a health work environment, free from environmental concentrations of chemical agents which exceed the maximum permissible limits of exposure. Six: The right to biological monitoring for workers' exposure to toxic substances such as benzene, toluene and xylene.
On the other hand, there's a substantial amount of scientific information that supports the facts stated by the workers, both male and female workers, regarding adverse sub-chronic and chronic and severe effects in their reproductive, pathologic and neurological systems.
The lack of adequate ventilation systems with a negative pressure placed at the sources in order to avoid the inhalation of chemical vapors, together with the use of proper gloves to keep the toxic substances from being absorbed into the workers' skin, have more likely been the determining factors in the damages and injuries reported by workers, such as menstrual disorders, miscarriages and birth defects detected in several workers, female workers and male workers, from Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana as reported by scientific studies recently published in different international journals that we will look at later.
Symptoms reported by workers, such as eye and throat irritation, headaches, dizziness, sleepiness, fatigue, tiredness and loss of immediate memory, are perfectly described as results from exposure to organic solvents. The workers' skin damages coincide perfectly with scientific studies in labor dermatology. The phenomenon produced is technically known as dermatitis by contact, by skin exposure to organic solvents.
As to the levels of exposure to solvents by workers at Auto Trim and Custom Trim, based on the statements made by the workers, we can state from all of that that such levels are extremely high and, more than likely, exceed the permissible upper limits at an environmental and biological level. This exposure -- not only is it excessive in quantity or intensity -- was of a prolonged basis -- that is: Regarding the duration and frequency.
We're dealing with a chronic exposure at a very high level in parts per million or in milligrams per grams of trichloroethane. The list of identifiable solvents to which workers were exposed under a constant and excessive manner -- in their different physical presentations -- such as glues or liquids, at Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana is the following.
The list is: Acetone, hexane, toluene, xylene, benzene, trichloroethane, trimethylbenzene, liquid aliphatic hydrocarbons with lineal chains or ramified chains of nine carbons or 12 carbons and liquid alicyclic hydrocarbons like cyclopentanes, cyclohexanes and nitromethane.
The greatest pathological alterations, as stated by the workers from Auto Trim -- just a minute.
DR. MERCADO: The greatest pathological alterations stated by the workers of Auto Trim and Custom Trim are highly specific. And as to the damage of the neural tube -- the development of the neural tube, it is also necessary to point out the synergistic effect of solvents. They have the same toxic dynamic orientation that is in their internal action mechanisms.
All we have heard about are neurotoxins. Whether it's at an embryo stage or at the level of adult workers or at -- for any age, they are neurotoxins. In labor toxicology, the synergistic effects, two plus three is equal to 20. It's not a matter of addition. It's not an addition. It's an expression in an exponential way because different solvents have the same white body as their objective, the central nervous system or the peripheral nervous system.
Now, if you will allow me -- Mr. Acting Secretary, if you would, just let me quickly go over some of the main violations to the standards, not only to the current standards but to the former standards, because whether it's standards that are currently in force or standards that were in force before and were phased out some five or ten years ago, it doesn't matter; all these standards have been violated.
The new ones or the old ones, it doesn't matter; they never met them. But to facilitate the reading and to express what I'd like to say, first, what I did is I placed the standard before and the articles that were not met and then the current standard and the articles that are currently not being met.
And as to Standard 016, which was the one that set forth the need of having artificial or natural ventilation where there are solvents being used, this one was violated, because there was no artificial or natural ventilation. According to some of the affidavits, they said it was like an enclosed box where there was only one window, but not even natural ventilation -- not enough, or inadequate, at this company.
This is now also applied in the current Standard. So 016 was superseded. So now our current standard is 001 under Article 5.5. It refers to where chemical substances are used that may affect the health of workers, there must be artificial ventilation.
Regarding Standard 009, a former standard, the old standard, throughout all of these years that Auto Trim and Custom Trim was active, they didn't meet Article 3.11. There were no procedure manuals. There was no MSDSs. There was no training and education. And there was no information or procedures -- management procedures for hazardous jobs.
And the same thing with Article 3.13 on communication -- risk communication and Article 3.14 on industrial ventilation. None of these articles were met.
And then we go to the current Standard 005, and these articles were also fragrantly violated: Article .516 in risk communication and Article 517 -- and this has to do -- and I'd like to clear it up. Before, some medical exams were performed for first-entry workers, but, later, no other exams or testing was performed on workers that should be very specific medical exams, especially for the central nervous system, due to the kinds of chemical substances that were used.
The next, please?
DR. MERCADO: Regarding the former Standard 010, there is no control on exposure, Article 431. Article 432, there was no way of isolating the contaminating source nor a way of limiting exposure, and the personal protective gear, as specified by the workers that we heard from, was inadequate.
They just had some kind of mask to protect against dust. And here we're talking about vapors and fumes, and, obviously, what you need is a different type of equipment: Respirators with activated carbon, specific for organic fumes.
And on 433 that we already heard from by Garrett Brown, there was no monitoring and no measuring of the chemical exposure in the work place. And regarding the current Standard 010 Article 9.1, actual level, since this was never measured well, these actual levels were never applied. And it's basically to take measures when you reach the half-way point of the upper permissible level. And on specific medical exams, this was never practiced.
And then the current Standard 010 refers to trying to find substances -- alternate substances that are less toxic. Today, we know that besides hydrocarbon solvents, there are some solvents that are less hazardous or are not hazardous at all that are from plants.
And we needed to change all these processes. And this was never -- this never took place, as we heard from comments from the workers: Change of procedures, isolation procedures, isolation of workers, air extraction and general ventilation.
There was further violation of Article 9.3 -- and it's still being violated -- regarding the limited exposure and personal protective gear. And then, on Appendix 1, regarding the maximum permissible levels of exposure -- on this issue, for example, we have to specifically talk about benzene. Benzene is a cancer-producing agent for human beings. That has been confirmed.
And as we will later see, in Varsol, which is a mix of several chemicals and different solvents, there's about ten parts per million of benzene in Varsol. And the current Mexican standard states that limits should not exceed one part per million in eight hours of work. And Varsol just by itself already exceeds that amount substantially.
Toluene? Our friend, Garrett Brown, already mentioned it. We just decreased the upper permissible level. Before it was 100 parts per million. Now it's 50 parts per million. And on toluene, there's a lot to discuss, and perhaps we'll do it -- we will do that later on.
And the same thing regarding Standard 017: This was violated, and no study was ever made regarding risk analysis to determine the use of personal protective gear. Article 3(1)(b) on training and education -- the next one, please?
And before, the Standard 114, Exhibit Number 2, on training and communication -- that was violated. In Statement Number 3 or Annex Number 3 on MSDS, the Material Safety Data Sheet. In the current standard 018 -- because the 114 changed to 018 -- there's also a violation of Article 5.3 on risk communication and on MSDSs and 5.1 on education and training.
Regarding one of the most important standards in Mexico, this has to do with the organization by workers and employers because here, it's not a matter that we're against companies. We're against those companies that are exploiting and especially squander away the health of workers, male and female.
We don't want anyone to understand that we're anti-business. What we want is that workers' rights should be honored regarding health and safety. And basically and ultimately, healthy workers will make companies more competitive and more productive.
Regarding Standard 019, the setting up of health and safety commissions to work to provide health and safety training and provide recommendations and implement recommendations on health and safety and, also, give permits to all the commission and to discuss, also, work processes, chemical agents, occurrences of accidents and work-related illnesses and results from the investigations. All of this was totally unknown to the company.
The company disregarded all of this, and, as stated quite graphically by one of our co-workers, the only thing that they were interested in -- and this is a typical situation of Euro-liberal savage capitalism -- they're only interested in production and money and sales, and are just sacrificing the health of male and female workers.
By Standard 021, they should provide information on accidents and work-related illnesses from STPS -- and all the kind of information they should have been provided. This never happened, either.
Just a few words on the Varsol solvent mentioned so many times by the workers. Varsol contains 48 percent paraffins, or aliphatic solvents, and 38 percent of cycloparaffins, or alocyclical, and 14 percent of aromatics. That's Varsol.
Right there, we have benzene, toluene and xylene that are the main aromatic hydrocarbons. And the percentage -- from the information on Varsol is that there is ten parts per million of benzene and lower. Regarding the effects on health, if we see and review the literature --
Could you move it up a bit?
DR. MERCADO: If we have a depression in the central nervous system in large amounts, that can lead to narcosis, headaches, nausea, dizziness, sleepiness, lack of consciousness, death and, in large amounts, skin irritation and eye irritation.
These have been the symptoms discussed by the workers at a chronic level: Fatigue, damage to immediate memory, pain in joints and the feeling that, you know, the fingers begin to get numb, lack of stability, irritability, decrease of concentration capability. It's just like if we were reading a book with the statements of the workers.
Now, regarding a neurological issue on demand, I'd like to give you some statistics according to the different affidavits.
MR. KARESH: Dr. Mercado, let me interrupt --
DR. MERCADO: Yes.
MR. KARESH: Let me interrupt you a minute. I want to ask you some questions. You've been going on for about a half-an-hour now, and I think you were allotted 15 minutes. And I'd like to ask you some questions. And maybe, in response to some of those, you can provide some of these statistics. Or maybe we can get copies of some of these documents if they haven't already been provided to us.
Let me ask you just to make sure I understand. Do you agree that the chemicals that you mentioned that are used at Auto Trim and Custom Trim -- do you agree that the use of those chemicals in the work place is permissible?
DR. MERCADO: Well, do you mean are they at the acceptable, permissible level, or are they permissible within the companies -- that is: Can they be used in industries? Is that what you mean, just to understand you?
MR. KARESH: Yes.
DR. MERCADO: As a matter of fact, all the solvents that I mentioned are used here in the United States. They're used all over the world. They're used in Mexico. They may be restricted, as stated by Garrett Brown, but they're still used. And there's proof of that at Auto Trim and Custom Trim in Mexico. There is no list yet of banned chemicals for the work place or a list of restricted chemical substances.
As a matter of fact, let me add, Mr. Lewis, that what we've done in Mexico is basically copy -- as we say in colloquial terms -- just plagiarized the standards in the U. S. WE just translate them into Spanish, and we make them our own as official standards. In Mexico, we don't have the research to be able to determine adequate levels according to the characteristics of the population in the work place.
I don't know if I answered your question or not, Mr. Lewis.
MR. KARESH: Yes. What I was trying to just make sure of is that you agree that the use of chemicals is permissible and the issue is exposure levels of those chemicals. Correct?
DR. MERCADO: That is correct.
MR. KARESH: Okay.
DR. MERCADO: The levels of exposure, correct. Mr. Lewis, it -- due to the kind of such specific information from the characterization of the exposure, just by the simple information provided by the workers, liters of Varsol in a very closed environment, with the symptoms that they have discussed, they were -- the maximum permissible levels had been clearly exceeded at both of those companies.
MR. KARESH: Yes. That was my next question. That's what I wanted to clarify. I thought that's what you -- I thought that was the point you were trying to make, but I wanted to clarify it. How -- I mean do you have any personal knowledge of what the actual exposure levels at these facilities are?
DR. MERCADO: Well, in some companies in Mexico where some assessments have been performed, they exceeded by ten and 20 times the maximum permissible levels when tests have been run in an objective manner with strategic methods for environmental monitoring -- that is, by monitoring and following scientific guidelines -- to be able to come to a determination that is monitoring the whole work shift and then getting the maximum permissible levels and then compare them to the bench mark amounts.
But the values in some companies where monitoring has been performed are exceedingly high. They exceed the permissible levels.
MR. KARESH: And are the illnesses and difficulties that some of the workers here today and in this submission reported who worked at Custom Trim and Auto Trim -- are their illnesses consistent with what you've seen from workers who you know have had exposure levels above permissible levels?
DR. MERCADO: Yes, sir. Yes, exactly, that's true.
MR. KARESH: With regard to reproductive hazards, what does the Mexican government required under the laws and regulations for employers to do to protect from hazards to reproduction? What are the requirements under the law?
DR. MERCADO: In the federal regulation on health and safety in the work place, in the last chapter, the last exhibit, a reference is made to the fact that protection should be given to the health of women during pregnancy -- that is to say that if they're in the reproductive age -- and it is clearly stated that female workers should not be exposed to chemical agents that may harm their product.
But here we have a problem. It seems that from recent research, it is not only the female worker due to her direct exposure -- she's not the only one that may affect the results of her newborn. There are results that positively associate, statistically associate, the impact on male workers who are exposed to solvents and their wives who are not exposed directly in the work place, that these male workers may also have or give birth with children with defects.
And, of course, this agrees totally with the experience by the two workers whose wives, their spouses, suffered this terrible tragedy of having these kinds of birth defects.
And even though it is extremely difficult to establish a direct relationship of cause and effect of birth defects, I would dare say and categorically state that here, in the case of Auto Trim and Custom Trim, with these statistics that I was about to show you, between 1995 and 1996, 15 women and miscarriages. From 1996, there was five miscarriages in just one month.
Between 1996 and 1997, there were 14 newborns with serious birth defects or serious health problems; 13 of them died during infancy or immediately after birth. And this is to say, with these statistics, if the company were to allow us to perform an epidemiological study, with these statistics, the measures to be taken, the Utz [phonetic] ratio or the Momius rate would be highly positive because, with this amount of defects at a pathogenic level, it would definitely confirm what other research -- I don't know if I can show you this quickly --
DR. MERCADO: Through recent research efforts, I concluded this: Here in the United States, they state -- this is from a group of researchers that in the last ten years has devoted itself to the problem of exposure to organic solvents during the gestation period. And they discuss miscarriages and birth defects, among other things.
And in this study, which is a very recent study, from 1999 -- this is one of the latest studies that I was able to find in specialized literature. And in the conclusion that they reach here, it says here, "Occupational exposure to organic solvents during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of major fetal malformations. This risk appears to be increased among women who report symptoms associated with organic solvent exposure.
"Women's exposure to organic solvents should be minimized during pregnancy. Symptomatic exposure appears to predict higher fetal risk for malformations."
And there is a further study, some more research that was carried out here in Texas by the University of Texas at Austin, where they relate a father's job with anencephaly or -- the Utz ratio here -- in the strength of the association, it states 2.53. This means that the father exposed to organic solvents has 2.53 times more probability of giving birth to a child with a birth defect, in this case, anencephaly or the neural tube.
And please excuse me and forgive me, but I'd like to show you a study -- the results of a study that was performed in Mexico where some chronic solvent users all had children with acrania and anencephaly, as can be seen from this image. And to give you an explanation of the tragedy lived by the workers, I brought a picture -- and I took it yesterday at the University of St. Mary's -- so you can see the tragedy.
Here on the left, we see a child with myelocele. And on the right we have another infant with acrania and anencephaly. That is: No full development of the whole central nervous system. This is what I think which is criminal. And the National Administrative Office must act energetically and apply the legal, economic and monetary sanctions to stop this kind of tremendous reality in our country.
We are confident that the National Administrative Office will act after receiving all these reports and that this will be helpful so that business men and business women understand that they must take that qualitative leap; if they wish to have companies with a modern management system, they must treat workers like human beings with rights, not like slaves, not like scrappable material once they get sick or they begin to make demands, they just trash and fire them and they're never concerned about those people any more.
MR. KARESH: Is there any data that you're aware of that would indicate that with regard to miscarriages or birth defects or even some of the other medical concerns that were raised, such as respiratory ailments or skin ailments -- is there any data to indicate that there's any higher rate of this at Custom Trim or Auto Trim than in the general population at large?
DR. MERCADO: No. Unfortunately, no. I searched out -- well, I -- rather, I didn't find any information on respiratory tract deformities -- I don't know, but -- in the products, in the fetuses, because it also refers to the fact that the fetuses and the male or female workers had respiratory problems and their newborns had respiratory problems.
I didn't find any literature supporting this, but regarding respiratory problems and irritation, that could -- might be determined as chemical bronchitis or respiratory ailments or illnesses in the work place perhaps that might be due to one of the glues that they handle there, made from methyl acrylates. And those acrylates are related to allergy problems, respiratory problems.
MR. KARESH: I know that workers and other folks today have testified about complaints that they've filed with STPS and IMSS and SSA and that they did not get any sufficient responses to those complaints, but, separate from that, are you aware of any other investigations or studies by governmental authorities with regard to these reproductive issues that you've raised of birth defects and other reproductive difficulties?
Have there been any other studies by either educational authorities or governmental authorities in Mexico on this issue, either broadly or in this particular geographic area that we're talking about?
DR. MERCADO: Well, currently, there is a research project under way to attempt to detect the problems of the neural tube carried out by the Institute of National Health in the city of Cuernavaca, Morelos. And the study is being conducted along the border, and we were able to get some economic support to carry out this research.
The project has not been concluded. And now they're looking for the companies where they may be able to carry out this research. But in Mexico, they had an environmental scientist from the National Institute on Health, Dr. Marina Lacasanya [phonetic], who's heading this project regarding reproductive and birth defects and toxicological effects.
And regarding health and safety problems in the work place and the lack of reply by Mexican officials on -- I'm unfamiliar with any of that -- the specific demand regarding health and safety will be a catalyst to begin to create a greater awareness in the work place about health and safety and the problems faced by the workers when the doctors from the IMSS do not pay attention to them, when doctors and nurses from their own work place, instead of helping them and providing support, act like their bosses, their supervisors.
So I think, with this kind of research and with this kind of submission, we will create -- at least, I hope we will create this awareness in my country.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, very much, Dr. Mercado.
DR. MERCADO: You're welcome. I'd just like to ask you as a favor if possible -- one of the workers brought a photograph of one -- of his newborn. And perhaps he would like to add a few words. He brought the picture that you can see on the screen now. Just some brief words by this worker? Please allow him to do so.
MR. KARESH: Sure.
MR. B. LOPEZ: Good afternoon. This was my baby who died in Reynosa, Tamaulipas. He had a tumor on his back, and he always had to be using that bandage. And they couldn't take it off because he had a very deep cut and they didn't want it to become contaminated, and maybe he would die before the fifth operation.
So I just wanted to emphasize that. I brought you this picture so you would get to know him a little better. And, unfortunately, he's no longer with me, but he still lives in my heart. And thank you, very much, for hearing me out and for hearing my humble plea. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you for sharing that with us.
MR. KARESH: I think we should move to the next panel, which will be on ergonomics issues: Beatriz Reyna and Consuelo Silva.
If you would, just, please, identify yourself before you speak so we know which is which.
MS. SILVA: Good afternoon. I am Consuelo Silva. I worked at Auto Trim from 1991 until 1994, when I was discharged.
I worked in the sewing area. I was sewing the wheels, using solvents and glues. We had to work always under pressure, and we had to produce 28 steering wheels per shift.
We only had two ten-minute breaks: Ten minutes in the afternoon and ten minutes -- I mean ten minutes in the morning and ten minutes in the afternoon. Sometimes, we could not conclude our production level, and we would have to sacrifice our break time to be able to catch up with production.
If we couldn't meet production, then they would call us over to personnel or they would take us before the union to impose sanctions, sometimes of three days, for not meeting the production quota. Whereas our work apparently was not a heavy one, but -- we were very hurt at our hands because of so many repetitive movements and the kinds of postures that we had to adopt because of the design of the steering wheels.
So we would get the steering wheel with the glue already on and with the leather already on, and we had to use more glue. To sew the steering wheel, we had to place the steering wheel on a very small base -- it was kind of a butterfly shape -- to be able to hold it down. But when you would pull from here, this support would loosen up; so we had to hold it on our shoulder like this to be able to pull.
This movement was like this, very, very quickly. And that's why we would suffer from pain in the neck, shoulders and arms, because of so much movement.
Our movements were also towards the back -- we didn't really have space. We were very close together, very close to each other, and we didn't have space laterally. We had very, very close proximity, so you had to use your arms backwards so as not to hurt or hit the person next to you.
And sometimes with the people from the back, because there was very limited space, we would sometimes hit each other hand to hand in the back. And consequently, we did have several problems.
In my case, I once poked my finger with a needle. I reported it to the supervisor, but -- well, they sent me to the nurse's office, who said no, that I was okay, that I had just poked my finger and that was it. And they returned me to my work station. It wasn't until about the third day, when I had a serious infection in my finger and -- that's when they sent me some forms to go to the IMSS.
They gave me disability -- well, they gave me the -- they started to give me disability. But after seven days, my finger was quite swollen, quite infected. Again, I got a disability. I -- and just because of this, quote, "Minor poke," I was disabled for one -- over a year. They had to drain my finger of the blood and all the puss.
And because of the side-effects -- I don't know -- or whatever, the infection continued. My pain continued along my arm. They sent me then to Monterrey Clinic 25 of IMSS, and I was under treatment there in Monterrey. They started to give me some blocking agents, and that was just to block the sensibility of the nerve center there to get rid of the pain. But instead of improving, I got worse.
They gave me some blockage measures around my neck in the back and the front and on my back -- some 12 blockages. I never really knew what the blocking injection contained; I only knew that it was to desensitize my areas. And everything started getting worse and worse to the point where I could not move my arm. I could not even bring it this high up.
I am very limited in my movements. Sometimes, I feel that it's just numb. And I still have this problem in my arm. I still have it, and it goes back through some six years that I've had it, from when I worked there. And it's for some six years now that I have not worked. After the 14 months that I was disabled, the doctor from IMSS said that that's all they could do for me, that they had nothing else to offer to me.
They assessed me with 40 percent disability because of my arm condition, and they sent me back to a new location at the work place. I returned to the plant at Auto Trim, but the plant, well, didn't allow me back in; they kept me in the cafeteria. For some two weeks, they didn't allow me to go back working the line. I showed them the document that said that I could go back to work at another location, but they didn't accept me like that.
My boss from personnel said, Well, if you only have one hand, you're no good to me; With one hand, you're no good to me; There's no place for you here; There's no space for you here because you're not going to be productive. They kept me for two weeks in the cafeteria area.
And after two weeks, he came out and said that they were going to give me compensation. And I said no, that I didn't want compensation, that I should be relocated somewhere else where I could work, because I would not be accepted anywhere else and I could not be accepted because of my condition at anywhere else. And what he said was, well, that with one hand, I was totally useless to him.
Still, they discharged me. And ever since then, I have not been able to find work.
It's not only that, however; I've also suffered headaches to date. I was not the only one affected because of the glues and the solvents. There are many other workers that are also affected because of being in contact with these organic solvents and the glues. We worked very close to them.
One time, I remember, a male worker -- he was right next to me, and he poked an eye with a needle. And it was only like a cloud that was left in his eyes. That's all that was left. And that was caused by that needle that they gave us for the stitching of the leather.
So we're doing all of this because there are a lot of us that have been affected and the company just left us out. They kicked us out because -- I don't want to be discharged. I need my work. I do need my work. And now, it has been six years. And for six years, I have not been able to find any other kind of work. Why? Because I can't pass the physical exam.
I have problems with my arm. I move it very slowly. And if I move it several times, my arm goes numb, I feel tingling pain.
So, basically, that's what I wanted to say: That you start out good, with good, sound health, and, when you leave, you leave with problems or something happens to you and they don't need you any more. They simply tell you you're useless. But when they accepted us -- when we first started to work there, they accepted us because we were well. They carried out a medical exam.
Now, I can't work anywhere else. I'm a widow. I have done everything I can to help make ends meet with my family. I've had to seek support. I can't broom. I can't pick up heavy stuff. And the arm that is affected is my left arm, not my right arm. I am limited. I try to do everything possible. But in companies and in manufacturing plants, I can no longer be accepted as a worker.
Well, that's what I had to say, and I'd also like to make one more comment about a problem that also occurred there. I recall that -- one time when the beams from the ceiling fell. The ceiling fell.
And I'm saying this just to give you an example that they're not really interested in risking [sic] the health of the workers because in spite of the fact that the ceiling fell, they fixed up the cafeteria area -- they set up some work stations there, and without any air extractors. And then they found out that many people were actually passing out -- the same thing: Because of the solvents and the Varsol.
A lot of people fainted. And I'm just telling you all of this because they're not really concerned about the health of workers; all they're interested in is production. That's what they're interested in. They really let workers run many risks, because they don't really care. They're -- the worker is the one that is affected. They can always get more workers, but we're the ones left without work, without anything. Thank you, very much.
MR. KARESH: Thank you.
MS. VASQUEZ: Good afternoon. My name is Beatriz Reyna Vasquez. I am 43 years old. I'm a former worker of Auto Trim; I began to work in 1993, and I was discharged in 1997.
I worked in the sewing area. I would start work at 7:00 a.m., until 7:30 in the afternoon, covering four hours of overtime every day, including Saturdays and Sundays. And I continued to work OT for some three months, resting only 15 days. And then we would go back to the same thing.
The steering wheel that I would sew was like this one, but it had many more stitches that we had to work on. That's where I had the problem. After working for a year at the company, I began to experience problems in my arm and my wrist, my neck and my back. My two arms are affected. The greatest impact is on the right side.
When I began to experience pain in my wrist, I immediately told my supervisor about it. I asked that he send me to the nurse's office. He did send me to the nurse's office, but the only thing that they would give as medication was just a simple pain killer and then an ointment to try to get rid of the swelling. And that continued -- that is every day -- when I began with my pain in my hands.
So we would tell the supervisor, and he would really be annoyed by all of this. And he said, Well, you know, you're coming here to work. And, "That's your problem," he would say and, if we wanted to keep our jobs, well, we had to keep going. That wasn't the problem. The problem was that we were not getting medical attention when we needed it.
I remained like that for some three months -- that is, going to the nurse's office to try to get some care. The only thing that I could get was just a simple pain killer like an aspirin, or get the ointment to try to get rid of the swelling and a bandage that they would put on to try to give us better support.
And after some time, well, I continued to carry out my job, sewing some 22 steering wheels per day on an eight-hour basis. That was my production. And if I didn't meet my production goal, then someone would come over and -- or they would call me to an office. And -- well, they didn't send me, but other co-workers were sent to the union because we were not meeting our quotas. And we would be sanctioned. A lot of things like that happened.
So since I noticed and I knew that they were not going to pay attention to me, one time, I asked for a permit to leave my work place because I really felt bad, my -- I had a headache, I was dizzy, and I had nausea from smelling that glue so much, from smelling that Varsol so much, from all the chemical agents we were using. We had it right in front of us because the steering wheel was always like this, in this position. And we had to grab it from the bottom.
As explained by our other female co-worker, we had to begin with the steering wheel -- the steering wheel already had glue and the leather, but we still had to add a bit more glue to be able to place the leather well and to begin our stitching and then start all of the movements from the top. And I'd like to show you how with this hand because I can't really move this hand any more.
We had to do this movement to tighten the leather around the steering wheel to have it in good condition, but you had to do it really, really fast. And we knew ourselves that, logically, we were hurting our hands even more, but they didn't care about that; what they were concerned about was production and that we should meet our production quotas within those eight hours.
Then, through my own initiative, when I left my work, I went to the IMSS. I went to the doctor, and I told him about the problems that I had at Auto Trim. The medication that they gave me was totally useless. I did get care from the IMSS, but they didn't want to write it down as a work-related hazard; they just said that it was a general illness. And what I wanted was to get something, some medication, to calm the pain.
And he sent me to therapy -- the doctor sent me to therapy. And I was in therapy for some six months, every day -- quite frequently -- after I had left my work place every day before I was given disability. But after the third day, I insisted on going to the IMSS, and I got my disability.
So I remained like that for some eight months, under disability, because it was a work-related illness. It was finally authorized after so much persistence. I remained eight months disabled.
And I asked the doctor what was happening with us because -- they also requested the presence of some doctors from the city of Madero to carry out a filtration process on our arms. So I asked the head of the doctors what were the going to do with all of that. He never replied. He just said, If you want to get rid of that pain, you're going to let me inject you.
They would just inject us or -- they called it filtering or something or whatever. I don't know what exactly they did. They injected something, they filtered something, but I didn't really know what the content of that was.
Well, they finally released me from the care. And I went back to work, but I only was able to work for some 15 days.
I went back to the IMSS because I really felt bad, but the doctor now did not want to accept me as a work-related cause. He didn't want to give me that. And he gave me disability just based on a general illness, but I kept insisting, going back to the doctors every day. And finally, they were able to give me my disability as a work-related occurrence. So I remained like that.
So I was under disabilities for some 14 months. But during those 14 months, I went to Victoria, to Morelo, struggling and searching to get tested on the problem that I had, a work-related problem, because the doctors would tell me no, that we didn't really have anything, that it was all psychological. And that was their word.
For me, like at many times, I talked to the head of work place medicine. And I really got into fits with him. And his reply was -- I would ask him to really perform an exam on me because of my work place. And he asked, Why do you want to go on disability; You are very young. And I said, Well, the youth that I've already wasted there out of that work place is really no gain at all.
So the head of personnel at our plant, at Auto Trim, was always after us; no matter where we went, he was always spying on us. If we would go to the doctor or no matter where we went, he was always after us. How do you say it? He would send spies after us to tell him what we were doing.
And then one time, I told the doctor, Well, why can't I get tested; Why can't get my disability? And what he told me was that the head of personnel at our company said to just ignore us, that there was really nothing wrong with us and that we should not be placed on disability.
I continued like this. I continued going to the doctor's office; I would go see him frequently, but he really ignored us. But the doctor -- that is another doctor told me that he was going to give me an appointment to go to Morero. I guess, after me being on top of them so much, they told me that they were going to be sending me to Morero to be assessed as a work place occurrence.
I got to Morero, and, finally, the doctor called me in. I went in to see the doctor, and he asked me, What's your name? I gave him my name, and he says, Oh, you're the one from Matomoros, right? And I said, yes. "Oh, okay. Fine."
And after he had asked me my name, all of a sudden, the phone rings, and he says, Just a minute. And he returned, and he said, Well, ma'am, you told me you are Beatriz Reyna Vasquez? And I said yes. And then he said, Well, I know what your problem is; Just wait outside.
So what kind of exam did he perform in Morero? The head of the doctors -- well, the head of personnel, rather, was always looking at where we were going and after us.
I was not happy with all of that. Why? Because he should have checked me out. He should have looked at me and maybe got an X-ray and asked me some questions about what my ailment was. They already had heard about our case. But for me, as a doctor, he should have checked me and he should have asked questions, which he never did.
So I'm just one of the affected workers. Some of my co-workers were able to at least get ten, 15, 27 and 40 percent disability when they were checked up on as a work-related occurrence, but I was one of those that was left jobless, without any security, without anything. Zero. Zilch.
And, of course, the only thing I got was a compensation that I received from the company because the boss of the company -- back in '97 when they discharged me, he told me himself that -- why couldn't we come to an arrangement, a settlement, and I would leave.
I was also -- there for about a week after I was released from medical care and they -- I was also there for a week in the cafeteria. And why was I there? Because I was worthless to them -- useless.
And when we began to work at that company, well, we were in good health. They checked us out. They checked our blood, they checked to see how we were and if we had had any operations. They want to see if we don't have any crooked fingers, and things like that. If you have crooked -- well, I left with crooked fingers from there. That's how I left from that company, with crooked fingers.
And they never considered that, and I was discharged. Why? Well, they -- I did receive 100 percent compensation, but that was it. That's all that I received. And what about my arm? Well, my arm is just the way it remains now. And now I'm jobless, and that's why I'm here with my other fellow workers here in this struggle.
If it's not for us, at least, we're doing it for the rest of the workers who are still there so they don't leave like we left. And I thank you for having listened to me, as one of those persons that were left without anything, because I was left without anything. Zilch. And thank you, very much, for hearing me out.
MR. KARESH: Thank you.
Let me ask a couple of questions.
Ms. Silva, you testified that you did receive, I think the determination of 40 percent disability and you were paid for that, and then you tried to go back to work and they didn't really want you back at work, and so you were discharged. Were you paid your discharge severance or compensation at that point? And if you thought that discharge was improper, did you pursue any remedies with the labor authorities with regard to that discharge?
MS. SILVA: Yes. When I was evaluated at the IMSS, they sent me back to work. They discharged me, and they gave me a compensation, but it was not what I wanted. I was very hurt. My arm was damaged. And not just my arm, but the blockages hurt my eyesight because each blockage would just shut my eye, and you would remain like that for maybe four weeks.
And I wasn't looking for compensation; I wanted a relocation, but they didn't want to grant that. And to me, it was very, very difficult to be discharged because I knew that the way I was -- I continued in physical therapy. Because I still up to date continue in physical therapy, they will not hire me anywhere else. I've been really working hard to find a job, but I have not been successful.
I don't know if I answered your question correctly.
MR. KARESH: Yes, you did. Thank you.
Ms. Reyna, when you went to speak to the IMSS doctors and, in the end, the way I understood your testimony, they did not conclude that you were entitled to any disability, did they indicate at that point whether you had any right to see another doctor or appeal that decision of the doctor to someone else, or any information of that sort?
MS. VASQUEZ: Well, they only -- the only doctor that I was sent to to be evaluated was in Ciudad Morero, but there was no such medical evaluation. I do not know why I was sent there.
And at the plant, they sent a doctor to supposedly check us out, but that was paid by the plant, and there was an agreement between the plant and IMSS. What person would not notice that they were selling themselves by the way they were talking to us? Even a child can notice when you're talking -- you speak out. Unfortunately, we could see that IMSS and the plant were in agreement. This is how -- I say it very clearly because this is how I feel.
I worked hard for the plant. I gave a lot of services, one year working overtime every day from Monday through Sunday. It's not fair. All of my co-workers -- oh, I didn't mention this: All of my co-workers tried to get stronger to do more tasks to meet our quota because -- there were several that had 28, 24 or 22 steering wheels to do every day. We all had different quotas of production.
We all wanted to meet our production for the simple fact that we would be given certain food stamps or coupons; we wanted to win these, and we were really working hard, working on these 22 steering wheels, to be able to not pay for our food so we had our full salary every week, which is not a lot, but, at least, we will get a full paycheck with a lot of sacrifice in strength.
Using up our strength and to be disposed as trash? I think this is not fair. And to me, the IMSS and the plant are liars, and the doctor sold himself to the company.
MR. KARESH: Did either one of you speak to your union representatives about this? And if so, did -- what kind of response did you get from them?
MS. SILVA: In my case, I was 15 days at the cafeteria area, and they wanted to negotiate with me. They wanted me to resign. They wanted to give me 50 percent, and I told them, I do not want to resign; I want to be relocated. They kept me like that to make me feel frustrated and to make me resign, but I needed my job, and that's why I stayed there.
They called the union's commission. He came to the plant, and he talked with Mr. Castarena [phonetic] and with Mr. Umberto Rosas. And what they talked about -- he told me that they could only offer me 80 percent for my resignation. And I said, I do not want to resign; I want my job. But apparently, they couldn't do anything about it -- nor the union or the deputy.
I was firm, and I said, I need my job. But I didn't get anything. The same persons, Mr. Castarena and Umberto Rosas from the department of personnel told me this: I cannot use you with one hand or with one arm; The company cannot use you with just one arm.
But the union representatives came to the plant, and they couldn't get anything. They couldn't help us. They simply didn't do anything because we were already hurt. And we are hurt. In my case, it's my left arm, and it's injured.
And with what I get from the IMSS -- I have an evaluation of 40 percent of the IMSS, which was 40 percent of my salary. But it is not enough to be able to support my family. And as I said before, I am a widow. And right now, my children -- two of my children had to stop school and start to work, and they support me financially. And with my pension, I have my youngest daughter go to school. What I receive is insufficient.
MR. KARESH: Ms. Reyna, did you have anything to add to that, or no, with regard to whether you spoke to your union representatives and they were able to -- what their response was?
MS. VASQUEZ: Well, the union sent the representative to talk to us and to ask us questions. And they brought a medical doctor in, as I said before, to give us physical therapy at the plant, to give us physical therapy right there at the work place. But to me, that's not enough because they didn't give us what we needed. It was not enough. They should have sent us to a specialist.
And when -- you asked me before, did we see another doctor apart from the IMSS to give us an evaluation. All of the doctors were from the IMSS. Even the doctor working at the plant was in contact with IMSS because he works there, too. He was the one who didn't support us, who would take us from the plant to the IMSS and then bring us back. And he was always behind us, so nobody gave us the help we needed.
The union and the IMSS and one of my co-workers -- I didn't go that time when they were subject to a law suit. I couldn't go for family reasons. But they wouldn't listen to -- they didn't listen to them. And I went all the way to Ciudad Victoria by myself to see the doctor and to talk to the head of the department; he didn't listen to me because his secretary didn't allow me in. I explained my problem to her, and she said, He's not in.
After eight days, they called me back on the phone -- they called me to my house -- saying that he knew about my problem, he knew about the problems at Auto Trim and that they were in contact with the IMSS at Matomoros and to stay in Matomoros. My trip to Victoria was worthless; I didn't get anything.
They did not give me any medical attention in Matomoros, and I didn't get any attention in Victoria or in Morero. In all of these places, I didn't get anything, not even the smallest attention or someone to tell me, Mrs. So-and-so, we've already performed this examination; "You have nothing; This is a psychological problem," like we were told by the doctors at the plant.
In reality, they just ignored us. They totally ignored us. We were ignored by the company and by the IMSS and, also, the union, who should have given us support. They also ignored us. And so be it. We lost. And, hopefully, the workers who are working there right now -- this is why we are here: So, hopefully, those currently working don't suffer what we suffered.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, very much.
I'd like to take a short break, maybe a ten-minute break. I have 4:10. If we could, convene again at 4:20. Thank you.
(Whereupon, a short recess was taken.)
MR. KARESH: I think we'll try to get started again. Our next panel, our next witness, is Lida Orta.
MS. ORTA: Good afternoon. Thank you, very much, for the opportunity of addressing this panel. For the last seven years, I have worked as an ergonomist at the Health and Safety Department of the International UAW, and I will be testifying as an expert in ergonomics on behalf of the active and the prior workers from the Auto Trim of Mexico, as well as from the Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana.
I will present the testimony in Spanish, which is my native language. Is that okay with you?
MS. ORTA: I have a master's degree in planning from the University of Puerto Rico and a master's degree in organizational psychology from the Michigan University, as well as a PhD in international planning with a concentration on engineering management and ergonomics from the University of Michigan, as well.
In terms of my experience, I've had experience during 14 years working in the design, implementation and evaluation of training seminars in ergonomics, establishing and evaluating ergonomic work processes with manufacturing and automobile plants, as well as suppliers and distributors. And I've also worked in negotiations during the -- for many years, as well as the union of automobile plants.
I'm also a member of different national councils from NAALC and OSHA. I am a member of the Coalition Board of Maquiladoras, and I am the chair of the health and safety commission of the coalition.
The first thing I would like to identify here is exactly what ergonomics is because this is one of the two areas that concern us in this complaint. In the first place, ergonomics is the area that evaluates the relationship between the work process, the equipment used by the worker and the tools used by the worker to perform his or her tasks. This is -- normally includes all these areas identified in this slide.
In the same way in which a civil engineer identifies, designs and builds a building, identifying the strengths and resistances to support this building, the ergonomic specialist analyzes, measures and tries to predict the strengths that the human body can accept and will try to predict the limits to which we can reach until we can start having an injury. So this type of relationship is the same one established by the ergonomic specialist in its analysis of the work place.
I will not talk in detail about the laws in Mexico because we've talked about it before. I just want to say that these laws exist. These are very clear in detail regarding the processes to be followed in the different work areas, and these cover from the labor department all the way up to the health department.
However, in spite of all these guidelines and standards and norms by the Mexican government, Auto Trim and Custom Trim have failed to implement health and safety programs, and the Mexican government has also failed to enforce these types of laws that have been in existence for a long time.
In terms of the area of this type of failure and its consequences, it affects the safety and health of all these workers, as we've been hearing throughout the day. Breed cannot say that they were not aware or that they did not know the laws and that's why people were being affected. They cannot say that they do not know how to prevent these types of injuries.
As an American corporation based in Florida and performing processes in Mexico, this company not only had to acknowledge and participate in the Mexican laws, but, also, has to be aware and has to keep up with the laws established by the federal Department of Labor in the United States. So due to its duality of businesses, this company has the knowledge and the responsibility with both countries.
My comments regarding the ergonomic factors that I will discuss and I have been able to identify at Auto Trim and Custom Trim are based on interviews with different workers, performing these tests and evaluating a series of documents that are evidence of the current situation at these two facilities. This type of information is the information equivalent to the evaluation I would do in the United States.
On the work stations that I have not been able to visit personally, this would be the ideal way to be able to establish a final evaluation on these types of activities. Regardless of not being able to visit personally these facilities, I trust and I am certain that the testimony that I am rendering here before you is a quality testimony and it describes fully and with certainty the different activities at these facilities.
We've heard all of the different workers, and these are the types of tasks that they performed at these two facilities. First of all, the workers had to glue the leather -- in the operation called assembly, they glue the leather on to the steering wheel with glue. Then they have to stretch the leather and start the sewing process of the leather.
They have to heat the leather, and this is one of the new processes established after some of the changes performed in 1999. They heat the leather with a heat-gun, and they start to soften all the wrinkles. And, finally, they finish the process by removing the excess glue, using solvents, and trimming the excess leather.
We would like to show you a video at this time. Can we have the video, please?
MR. KARESH: How long is the video?
MS. ORTA: It's a very short clip, and what we will see is the tasks performed.
At this company, we recently organized a visit, and they do the same types of operations performed at Custom Trim and Auto Trim. In this case, we are looking at the assembly line of the steering wheel, as you can see. There's a large amount of manipulations or movements with the hand and the arm, as you can see, when they're stretching the leather. And he will stretch the leather and then will be applying the glue.
There's differences in these steering wheels. He's applying the glue with a brush. However, the processes and the hand manipulations or head movements are very similar to those of the other two companies of Auto Trim and Custom Trim, and the frequency of those movements is a lot faster, and, also, the work stations are not as comfortable because they do not have the spaces; they have to do it manually.
Here we have the sewing process. You can appreciate the type of movement done with the wrist, as well as the whole arm. In Auto Trim, there's not enough space between the workers to be able to perform these tasks. So this movement cannot be performed, so they have to do it upwards.
Here we can see the type of tasks. You need to be very detailed with your fingers. This type of movement requires -- and in terms of the production quotas that we've heard before --
MS. ORTA: We can go back to the Power Point presentation now. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Can you just -- I'm sorry. Can you just tell me, what was that a video of? Where was that? What --
MS. ORTA: This is a video of a company that we represent within the UAW. It's in the testimony described. The name is Cisco Mexican Industries. It's a Mexican-American company that performs the same type -- that has the same manufacturing process and has the same type of product as the companies that we have been talking about. And I, you know, provided the video as an example -- a visual example of exactly how much was involved in it.
MR. KARESH: And that company is where, in the United States?
MS. ORTA: It's in the -- it's in Detroit, Michigan.
MR. KARESH: Okay.
MS. ORTA: Yes.
MR. KARESH: Okay. Can we have a copy of that video?
MS. ORTA: You have it. I'm introducing that as part of my testimony.
MR. KARESH: Okay.
MS. ORTA: Yes.
MR. KARESH: Thank you.
MS. ORTA: In terms of the analysis of these tasks, we have seen that this type of sewing and this type of hand movement is done regardless of the type or model of steering wheel: Between 100 and 174 manipulations to do the stitches. They're all stitched, and they require more strength. Once the stitches are performed, we have seen the extension of the arms required to finish the job.
The steering wheel weighs about 17 kilos when it is finished, and we're talking about 4,000 hand movements a day -- I'm sorry -- oh, yes, 4,000. The risk factors identified in these tasks are awkward postures, extreme strength, repetitions and the contact situation.
In the awkward posture situation, we have hypertension of the wrists and of the shoulders, the extreme strength by using the needle and the repetition of the movements, as I mentioned, about 4,000 manipulations per day. We also have extreme forces or strength. We also have contact stresses that need to be done to refine the leather cover on the steering wheel.
In terms of these risk factors, we have three systems that are affected in the body. We have the cardiovascular, muscular/skeletal and the nervous systems. In these systems that are affected, one of the diseases that these workers have shown and that are documented is carpal tunnel syndrome, where if there is an inflammation of the tendons, they are pinching the nerves.
In terms of studies that identify causes, the tasks performed are documented in size and help us explain and determine how these tasks can affect our body. I am showing some of these examples in studies. The English More and Guard, Stetson and Silverstein are examples of studies that helped us determine that there is a very close relationship between the types of risk factors that we have identified in these tasks and the development of syndromes like the carpal tunnel syndrome.
Another of the areas that we are concerned about in those awkward positions and that these workers are showing is herniated disks. Here we identify that with the frequent suction of the upper body, as well as repetitive movements to both sides and the seating position, which is very uncomfortable, there can be a compression of the disks and herniated disks.
These are some of the studies that show this direct relationship between these risk factors, the tasks performed and the development of these types of disorders.
What happens when these people go to the medical office and complain about these types of problems? Three things happen normally.
If they acknowledge that there has been a problem -- if the clinic or medical office acknowledges this, they will use the treatment that they call blocking, when there's a series of injections on the upper part, the shoulders and the back; this is a drug used to numb the nerves so these people can go to work again without having pain.
When they receive a medical limitation, they are sent to what we call the cafeteria when they are inactive, waiting for the supervisor to decide whether they will be relocated. The largest problem in this procedure is that not only do workers receive the stigma that they are hurt or damaged or scrapped. Using the word English -- the English word, "Junk," they are like junk.
They have to wait for a decision to be made. And this decision may take weeks in terms of if they will be able to go back to the work line. When normally they receive -- when they are discharged out of the work place, some people get an evaluation. And this does not represent the type of compensation they have the right to. But due to this -- after this small evaluation, some of these workers will not be able to work in any other company.
In terms of this testimony, although I am trying to emphasize and concentrate on Auto Trim, due to the type of training that we've been giving to different workers of the maquiladora industry along the borderline, we've heard the same stories over and over.
This is not specific to the Matomoros area with Custom Trim and Auto Trim, but is a story that repeats along the borderline. We have seen it in Reynosa, we have seen it happen in Juarez and Nuevo Laredo, and we have seen it happen in Tijuana; this situation repeats over and over.
You asked -- this morning, you have been asking what is requested from the government. And I had this last slide that tries to answer that question.
To summarize, we have scientific evidence that the arguments or allegations of these workers, because of -- the types of tasks that they perform will give as a result some disorders. And some of these disorders that they have suffered -- according to Dr. Mercado, the symptoms that they show -- tingling, disability, to be able to have strength -- are very clear and classic symptoms in the development of each one of these disorders.
We all know that the information on those diseases was given to the management and it was used and handled by the representatives of the company. We also know that the doctors of the IMSS and the plant's clinic not only offered a control to these disorders, but, in many cases, they did not follow their ethics code, and they ignored the workers by having received these instructions from the management.
We know that the Commissiones Mixias did not enforce the laws. And the work stations were not modified. When one of the workers was injured, this worker's work station was not evaluated.
Therefore, what do we request from the government and Breed? First of all, we want a proper medical management for these types of situations and to take care of these workers. We want training and education seminars for the employees on where they can recognize the hazards, where they can identify what symptoms they have and where they can have an active participation in this type of work.
The type of work shops that the Coalition has offered has shown, as you have seen evidenced by the contents of the formal presentations that we've heard before, that the workers are capable, because they know their daily work better than anybody else, to identify these and to relate these tasks to a scientific basis accessible to them.
We also want that the employee has the direct participation in the involvement, analysis and redesign of their jobs, that the programs are documented. There's a series of rules and laws so that these programs exist; however, these are not enforced, and we want this documented. We also want a joint labor/management program administration.
And finally, we want that the concept of Commissiones Mixias becomes a real concept so that these types of evaluations can be given as part of the law. Thank you, very much.
MR. KARESH: Thank you. Let me ask you just a couple of questions.
Can you explain more precisely how Mexican law governs ergonomic standards and what requirements there are specifically in the law with regard to ergonomic conditions in manufacturing facilities?
MS. ORTA: With the labor laws that are established, or NOMs, we specifically identify the ergonomic area as one of the areas that must be enforced within the health and safety labor regulations. The role of the Commissiones Mixias is that of a classic role in any type of health and safety programs.
The function of the Commissiones Mixias is designed to evaluate the work station, which is one of the areas covered in ergonomics. They're also designed to establish recommendations on how to improve those work stations, which is one of the main objectives of an ergonomic analysis.
And it is also established in the regulations of the health department, or the SSA, that -- it says that we must establish certain procedures to guarantee the health and safety of the workers. And, again, we refer to the efforts devout in the company to guarantee that these tasks are healthy and safe. Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Thank you. What is the responsibility of a labor inspector who comes into a facility? What is the inspection responsibility in looking at ergonomic standards?
MS. ORTA: I can answer to this question from the point of view of the UAW, which is the organization that I represent. We develop what we call safety and health commissions, which is a parallel to the Commissiones Mixias, and these committees have representatives of the management and, also, representatives of -- from the workers, the work force.
This committee is given a very similar training to what we've been offering through the Coalition so that they can learn to identify problem work areas, to identify work hazards and so that they can offer recommendations to modify those work hazards.
In terms of their function, these commissions must have the time to make evaluations of different tasks and do what we call in English the safety audits, where they can evaluate the facility and be able to identify the risk hazards and the problem work areas.
The role of the union can be sharing not only in the development of the programs, because there is technical knowledge, but to provide them with the help that the employee needs to identify the work areas that are hazards.
This morning, you asked that, due to -- the limited resources of the auditors of the labor department. I know it's the same thing in Mexico as in the United States.
How can we impose these laws? This is the way. This is the perfect way to enforce these laws. If the government is willing to give support, the Commissiones Mixias or the health and safety commission is in charge and responsible for establishing these laws and these patterns in each plant.
If they identify the problems and make a commitment to correct or solve the problems, in this case, we wouldn't have to depend on a visit from the government to punish the company because it hasn't done this or that, but that the company in a proactive way identifies its own problems and, with the help of the worker, can identify ways of correcting these problems.
MS. ORTA: In your experience in Mexico, do you have any knowledge as to whether the Commissiones Mixias have had any involvement in these ergonomic reviews or ergonomic studies?
MS. ORTA: I can answer this question based on the conversations I've had with the workers of the maquiladora, and the answer is: Very little, almost none. In terms of the involvement of the Commissiones Mixias or their participation the very few times that there is a Commissiones Mixias which is active, mainly the management is the one involved.
And the documentation that I have evaluated establishes that some of the reports that the workers, when they participate or have the opportunity to participate to develop, are modified, and they never see the final report.
Some of these reports the manager or the supervisor changes to give a different vision or version of what the commission has evaluated, and what comes out of the management is not the same type of evaluation that the workers and the people from the Commissiones Mixias have developed.
MR. KARESH: Let me ask you. With regard to the workers compensation system in Mexico, do you know whether that system analyzes companies for high injury rates and, if so, to what extent and whether those penalties -- whether they be dollar amounts or some other system, whether they're sufficient financial incentives to lead to work place improvements?
MS. ORTA: In terms of the sanctions or penalties, I'm not aware of any substantial penalty. The format is very similar -- as Dr. Mercado said, is very similar to the structure we have in the United States, where we're supposed to have a form documenting all of these work-related injuries. I believe it's the I-30 form, and I can confirm this with my friend. It's the IT-30 -- I'm sorry. It's the MT-1, which is similar to our other form.
The process that we follow is that the worker goes to the nurse's office. And then the doctor's office will recommend some type of evaluation. If the employer -- I'm sorry -- the employee goes to the SSA, the person there will call the management and will say, So and so is here and is complaining about this and that. And there is not really an objective evaluation performed of this employee.
I cannot think that in real terms, there's any type of sanction for the industry. Because it is not being enforced, it is just -- the research process is not performed or it just has to be the problem of the employee. And according to the doctor, if the employee has a problem, they give him this blocking injection, and he's sent back to the plant or the employee simply cites his resignation because he's not given any tasks.
So I don't think there's any type of sanction or punishment. The law establishes that there is one, but I don't think that there is one, because it is not being enforced.
MR. KARESH: Are you aware of any educational materials or other educational efforts by the Mexican authorities with regard to muscular/skeletal disorders or ergonomics?
MS. ORTA: I have seen some studies performed in Mexican universities. Some of these people that are working on these surveys or studies are consultants for the government, and I am not aware of any program that has been developed by the government in terms of work shops and other less-structured areas.
Organizations like UCLA, the Maquiladora Network and other unions have tried to incorporate or contribute with their materials to fill this gap of this educational need for the Mexican workers. But I am not aware of any document of -- or training work shop that has been developed by the government.
MR. KARESH: Let me just ask you one other question. With regard to the type of work that we've heard talked about today -- gluing and sewing and things of that sort -- are you aware of any information which can give an indication or comparison with regard to ergonomic-related injuries across borders within a similar kind of sector or industries?
MR. KARESH: Yes. In terms of the studies or surveys, there was a recent study -- it is a year-old study -- developed by the University of Utah, where the faculty members -- they made an analysis of the muscular/skeletal disorders in the maquiladora industry. This study has been published in professional journals, and it is one of the few studies done in the United States where it mentions it is related directly to the maquiladora industry and the muscular/skeletal disorders.
So yes, there is scientific information that describes these types of disorders in the maquiladora industry. And I am not aware of any other study. This does not mean that there is no such study, but I am not aware of any studies performed in Mexico that analyzed this area and that have been -- that have received the support of the Mexican government. Maybe Dr. Mercado is the right person to answer this question because this is in the area of his knowledge.
MR. KARESH: With regard to the ergonomic hazards that you've described, are you aware of feasible alternatives?
MS. ORTA: Yes. We've had the experience of developing ergonomic interventions that control and in many cases reduce these risk factors. We have more than ten years of experience in implementing these types of programs in the automobile plant industries and, also, meat packing plants and electrical component assembly plants.
We've had enough experience implementing and designing modifications to correct this type of ergonomic problems. Unfortunately, we have not been able to have access to a maquiladora -- to the internal area of a maquiladora.
So this type of evaluation and being able to make a comparison has not been able to be done, except the information that I use, the documentation and the simulation of the Mexican workers. And I try to compare these tasks with tasks that I know are being performed in the United States.
But in terms of a comparative study in the methodology -- scientific methodology, we have not been able to do that. We hope that this will be able to be done in the future.
MR. KARESH: If there were feasible alternatives to help alleviate some of the ergonomic hazards, why would government officials or employers ignore those?
MS. ORTA: In terms of the experience in the United States in the first place in the U. S., unlike -- the Mexican law does not have, up to a month ago, a regulation that described it has to establish ergonomic programs. The law that has been enacted by OSHA on ergonomics gives us this potential at this time.
The types of intervention in which I have participated have been negotiated in a collective bargaining contract with the employer because we did not have a government mandate that mentioned the word ergonomics. So in those areas where there is representation of a union, it is most likely that we will find an article in those collective bargaining contracts on health and safety; these are the guidelines to be followed.
In those plants that are not represented by a union -- and I'm using the Mexican case, and, although there is a union, the union doesn't offer good services to the workers but to the company and the government. There is a type of situation because -- we know that neither the union will establish or enforce a regulation or the government will not require the company to do so.
There are some employers that have a very small interest in their employees. They will first think of, How many units of production can I have; And what's the income or the revenue I will receive for this production? And they do not compare the safety and health areas to the production. The safety and health of the employees should be equal to the production.
So I would say that the employers that are not progressive, that have no dignity and have no corporate dignity and a corporate philosophy -- for them, money is their first interest, but not the safety and the health of those that helped them get the revenue that they are enjoying.
MR. KARESH: Okay. Thank you, Ms. Orta.
Our next witness on workers' compensation issues is Alfonso Otero.
MR. OTERO, I'd just ask that you please try to keep to the ten minutes since we're running a little behind, if you could.
MS. ORTA: I also sent a -- included a letter in my statement from the UNITE in Tennessee and the official posture of the UAW International. I forgot to mention that. Thank you.
MR. OTERO: Good afternoon. I have been advised that due to the weather, it seems that the people should leave a little earlier from this building. Thus, if possible, I would like to just concentrate on one topic. And if the panel will allow me afterwards, I would like to submit a study or -- a more detailed statement of everything that I was going to address from the beginning.
MR. KARESH: That would be fine. Thank you.
MR. OTERO: Okay. Two important issues. The first that I would like to touch upon is to mention ergonomics in Mexican law. And I think you had posed a question awhile ago. The federal regulation on health and safety discusses ergonomics in 102.
And this goes back to 1997, in the first article, Section 5. It acknowledges ergonomics, and it defines it in the following way. It's making equipment and tools adequate for the worker according to his physical and psychological abilities in order to reduce accidents and to optimize his efforts and to try to avoid fatigue and human error.
And we understand that ergonomics as a worker risk -- has been acknowledged since 1997 as a worker risk by the Mexican government. Under the ergonomic laws of Public Federal Administration, the Ministry of Labor and Social Provision, STPS, makes standards for the prevention of risks in the work place.
And ergonomics has been identified, as I say, since 1997. And to date, as far as I know, there is no other official standard governing ergonomics. Thus, in that sense, the STPS has not met with the mandates set forth by law of establishing specialized standards for the prevention of work hazards in this area.
Also, we heard a little bit -- and this will just be brief in my explanation -- regarding the work risks and how these would impact a company economically. The IMSS standard for the regulations on companies gives companies a certain degree or level. Each time that that risk is higher in the company, the amounts that the company has to pay to IMSS are higher.
It would be perhaps -- I would dare to say that some are subject to an exact amount, but it's all done on an evaluation basis in order to determine what would be the amount paid to IMSS by that company. So if there are many work accidents in the work place, then the amounts paid would increase.
This is one of the incentives that many companies use. Many of them have agreements with private doctors and clinics, and work accidents are solved by their own workers or by their own private doctors because, this way, the IMSS does not find out about the work hazards and that there's accidents in the work place, and the amounts that the companies have to pay are low.
In even the case of Custom Trim, there are some bonuses that they have been receiving, which are no-risk deposits. And, thus, they can reduce the amounts paid by the company, and this, of course, negatively impacts the workers.
Now, it seems that there has been some confusion regarding the terms used, such as disability and compensation. I heard workers talk about compensation and disability at the same time, and it seems that these terms have been used interchangeably.
The difference between these two resources is that compensation is a payment made in a case of justified discharge; that right is born from Article 123, Section A, of the constitution and sets forth that when there is unjustified discharge without any reason of the worker, then the employer must reinstate the worker in his work with all unpaid wages or better or, otherwise, the worker has a right and the option of requesting for compensation -- would be three months wages with full benefits and full payment of unpaid wages.
Now, disabilities and payments for disabilities are distinguished in two manners. We have the permanent disabilities and temporary disabilities, and there are also disabilities due to work accidents and disabilities due to general illnesses.
When a worker suffers an accident in the work place, what he should do is go to his supervisor and advise him that there has been a work accident. If that company has an infirmary and/or a doctor, what the doctor at the plant should do is assess if it is a work-related accident and give him the first aid or give him preliminary care and fill out the form called MM-3-1, which is the format to report work accidents.
After that, the patient, or the worker, goes to the IMSS, where he is finally awarded some time for that work-related accident. At the beginning, to determine a work accident, well, it's not a compensation; it's kind of a pension that corresponds to 100 percent of the wages earned by the worker at that time. And he must be assessed, and he must be qualified under the category of a work-related accident.
And the doctors must assess their patients as best as possible and as accurately as possible. Once an accident takes place, disability may vary according to the amount of disability, if he can go back to work, if he has some ways to recover, some therapies to be applied or if he requires some operation or surgery.
After some time and doctors have determined that there is no work hazard or that there is no injury due to the work accident, then the doctor from IMSS must determine the amount of disability for each worker. Once he determines the degree and if the worker can go back to work, then the doctor can release him and say that he should return to work.
These are some of the problems that we've seen at Matamoros with the IMSS. The law sets forth -- this is the law of the IMSS, Article 18 -- that the IMSS will carry out preventive actions in the work place and it will carry out epidemiological testing, medical care and protection for the workers through the different assessment and reports carried out by the IMSS to revalidate permanent disabilities and to determine, also, the kinds of work hazards in the work place.
It's important to mention here that in Article 251, Section 2 mentions that IMSS has the obligation of awarding disabilities. At the same time, in Article 162, there is a -- it's called a recurrence or re-incidence. A recurrence is when a person suffers an accident at the work place and he returns to work and then, in spite of the accident, he still has the same symptoms and all those symptoms come back to his work place.
In those cases, then what the IMSS should do with a person returns with the same symptoms and with the same reasons and causes that were due to the previous accident, then the IMSS should determine that it is again another work accident. In many cases -- and all of these things are found in copies -- in the exhibits that we submitted to NAO.
One of them, which is the most interesting and that would perhaps be used as the exhibit in the last panel today, had many problems. And it had some carpal tunnel syndrome and exposure to chemicals. The worker will later speak about his situation.
But at the beginning, he was diagnosed as only having pain. He was given a pain killer, and he went back to work. He had a recurrence, and he came back. He was classified as a work-related occurrence, and he was given disability. And after some time, he came back to work. And, again, after a week, he had a recurrence. When he returned to the IMSS doctor, this worker was assessed not as a work-related occurrence but as a general illness event.
This attitude by the IMSS, obviously, is an open violation to Article 62 of the law, which states that recurrences should be qualified or assessed as work related. And there are many problems -- and I can speak for ours -- about how assessments are made regarding accidents in the work place and permanent and temporary disabilities.
But when it's a temporary disability -- we could have a permanent total disability. This is assessed at up to 70 percent of what the worker was earning at the time of the accident. And the wages are increased due to the economy, minimum salary indexes, et cetera.
After that, we have what is called permanent partial disability. These permanent partial disabilities are assessed according to a table under Article 514 of the Federal Labor Law. However, there's a problem with the assessments that have been performed in the examples that we have given to NAO.
It's -- obviously, it has been very difficult. And due to confidentiality problems, we have not been able to obtain any more testimonies -- many problems of unwillingness to come and disclose information before any kind of body and avoid repercussions. But what we have already is very clear.
When a disability is assessed as permanent and partial according to Article 58, the amount of the pension will be determined considering the age of the worker, the importance of the disability -- if it's absolutely important for the execution of his job, although he may be still capable to devote himself to another activity -- or, simply, that his capabilities decreased -- to carry out his tasks.
This basically translates into the fact that -- we want to say that when there is a disability -- and if you will, allow me to give you an example from the charts.
If it's a disability perhaps for a wrist that was ten percent or 35 percent, or whatever, when the disability is -- partial permanent disability is determined, a basis for that is ten to 35 percent of that, which gives us half of 25, which is -- well, let's say about 27 -- I'm not very good at math -- 27 percent. And from there, they should consider the different factors that I have mentioned.
In the statements that we have heard, we observed the age of the worker. Sometimes the injuries suffered due to ergonomic reasons have left the workers with muscles that are totally weak and totally disabled and, thus, leaving them or rendering them with an absolute disability to exercise their tasks or their occupation.
Because -- in this case, their occupation was manufacturing. When you're in manufacturing, you use your hands, you use your muscles, and you use your arms, your shoulders and your elbows. So if they have some injuries and a partial disability of a whole arm and then they can't perform their task any more, they're disabled to exercise that task.
So then, to that, we should also increase for the age of the patient or the age of the person. Obviously, they will not be giving the same amount for a person who's 40 to someone that is 20 years old. The person that is 20 years old probably will have a better chance or more options --
MR. KARESH: Let me ask you a question about the disability. When a worker goes to see an IMSS doctor and there's a determination either that it's not work related or, for some reason, there's not a disability or that there's only a partial disability and the worker feels that's not a correct decision, is there a process -- a regulated formal process for appealing that decision?
MR. OTERO: There is a process for a resource for disputes. These are administrative resources. The problem with these administrative resources -- and we will see it in a few seconds with one of the workers from the panel -- is that there are repercussions that go with it. And even these procedures are not very clear to be understood by people.
People get to IMSS, and they're told, We're going to give you ten percent; We're going to give you -- assign you a general illness. And then he'll say, Well, but it's not a general illness. And the reply commonly is -- and we've seen it through all the testimonies that we've heard -- many times is, Well, that's all you're going to get; Take it or leave it; If you don't want it, well, then you don't get anything.
Well, obviously, when we talk of a working population, their knowledge on -- the laws are beyond their scope. And they don't have all of that knowledge. And the people from the IMSS don't tell them, Well, look; If you don't like my decision, just fill out this form, and we'll process it so we can solve your problem.
Another problem with all of that is intimidation by the company. You will hear in the testimony from the next panel that many times when they tried to get a permanent disability or a partial disability, the reply from the doctors from IMSS was that the company had given them instructions to not give out any disabilities, whether it be through general illness or through a work-related injury.
MR. KARESH: Is there any requirement in the law or the regulations for IMSS to inform a person when they come in and they're denied disability or denied full disability -- any requirement to inform them that there is an appeal process and, if you disagree with that decision, you can, you know, file this appeal or see this person?
MR. OTERO: There is no requisite in writing within the law of the IMSS. However, as stated in Article 33 of the Constitution of Mexico, in that it takes agreements ratified by the senate and made by the president to the federal level -- and this also applies in the labor section.
In Exhibits 1 and 4, where -- it says, "Ensures the worker's right of action by requiring that each government's domestic laws guarantee an individual access to relevant administrative, quasi-judicial, judicial or labor tribunals for the enforcement of these labor laws."
And, furthermore, this same treaty or agreement in its objectives states that transparency of the judicial processes regarding labor in a not-too-literal construction but as international standards that should fit legal systems -- doors are left open for their interpretation. I think this is one of the interpretations that can be given to all of that.
And within the constitution, there's a right to know act for the worker. That right to know act for citizens is born out of the abuses that we had where information was hidden -- well, not from workers but from citizens in general. And in that way, they were denied their basic rights that they might be able to have to appeal.
MR. KARESH: So it's your view that there is a requirement under the law to allow workers to appeal a disability decision that goes against them, but that there is no requirement -- when that disability is denied, there is no requirement at that time to inform the worker of his right to appeal. So in your view, how would the average worker have any idea about this right?
MR. OTERO: Well, the average worker does not have the slightest idea that there is a right to appeal or that he does have a resource to appeal decisions made by IMSS regarding pensions and disabilities. And that has been and is a common practice.
And my personal experience and experience that I've obtained in my years of exercising my profession is that I had many clients that would come to me when their appeal options had elapsed. And many times, I would ask them, Well, why didn't you do anything else or why didn't you come here before? And their reply -- well, their common reply was, Because I didn't know that; I didn't know that; I was unaware of that.
MR. KARESH: Do you -- in your view -- and I think maybe you touched on this earlier, but I think it's worth asking again. In your view, what would a response be if a worker was to go to PROFADET and ask these kinds of questions? Would they get assistance from PROFEDET? Or are you aware of any workers who have tried to do that and what kind of response they received?
MR. OTERO: I know of one. And, as a matter of fact, it's one of the members of the next panel. And I would not like to take up his time. I'll just give you a brief description.
But she submitted her dispute. And what happened was just threats from the IMSS, as she mentions, a delegate from IMSS -- to her house at night to tell her that she should accept the pension given to her as disability, that, otherwise, they would not give her anything and she was going to be, also, left without any medical care, as well.
MR. KARESH: Let me ask you. With regard to reporting of injuries and illnesses, what's required under Mexican law? For example, is there a requirement of the employer to report any injuries or illnesses, first off? And the second part of the question is: What's required when someone goes to IMSS or there has been a report of an injury or illness? Is there any requirement for IMSS to come in and do some kind of investigation at the facility?
MR. OTERO: Well, I can answer yes to both questions. The law for IMSS states that the employers have the obligation of reporting within a period of time of 72 hours from the time of the accident or illness at the facility. And they also have the obligation of investigating any work-related risks that might exist at a work place.
When a worker goes to the IMSS and there hasn't been an assessment yet but the worker states that he has a work-related illness or work-related injury, even before actually being assessed as a permanent disability or work-related injury or illness, the IMSS must investigate at the work place to see how the work place is and to see if there are hazardous conditions existing at the facility.
MR. KARESH: Can I ask you one last question? And then maybe we can -- we should move to the final panel. And this relates to a comment you made earlier. Why would -- in your view, why would IMSS doctors allow themselves to be influenced by the view point of employers with regard to disability determinations?
MR. OTERO: That's a question that is very difficult and very easy to answer at the same time. Many of the problems or many of the situations that arise from all of this -- and I think the panelists will be in a better position to answer that question, but my feeling from what I've seen through my experience is -- well, it's two things.
First of all, administrative simplification requires less work for them. And, the second issue, many times, top management or the people in charge, in authorizing these disabilities, receive an economic benefit from the employers.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, very much, for your time.
MR. OTERO: Thank you.
MR. KARESH: Our next panel, also, on compensation issues: Elsa Alamillo, Toribio Resendez, Isabel Morales and Manuel Mondragon.
MR. RESENDEZ: Good afternoon. I'm Toribio Resendez; I am 43 years old. I worked for Auto Trim for nine-and-a-half years, from '88 to '98.
I worked in the area of assemblies, the central area. I was in charge of handling the steering wheels and applying solvents and leather. The central area was a bit uncomfortable. The company didn't provide any kind of protection. When you would begin the work for the first time, they did perform some testing to see how our health was.
After a few years of working, I started to feel bad. I began to feel bad. I started to feel bleeding in my mouth. I had to keep a trash can nearby so I could use it as a spittoon. Then the company sent me to the IMSS for medical care.
And then, in '95, I was using the -- a glove and applying the leather over the steering wheel, and I heard my bone pop from my elbow. I went to the infirmary, and I only got a pill for my pain. And they sent me back to work.
Well, my kept hurting, and I had to go back to the nurse's office. And then I was sent to the IMSS for medical care. And there they told me that I didn't have anything. Then I went back to work, I worked for about a week, and I could work no longer. I went back to IMSS.
At the IMSS, they gave me disability for two months, and they said that it was a work-related injury. And I was out for two months, and then I returned to my work place again for another week. And then I returned to the IMSS, and they gave me disability, but this time for general illness.
I had the same symptoms as before. The doctor didn't even check me out. And I had to go back one more time. I went back to the IMSS to continue receiving treatment. The doctor said that I didn't have anything else any more. I went back to the IMSS.
And I kept -- I still kept on bleeding through my mouth, and I kept on bleeding more and more. And they said that they didn't really know the source of the bleeding, and they gave me some 13 pills a day for me to take to see if I would get better. After that, they sent me to a psychologist.
I went to the psychologist. And he told me -- in the first visit, he asked me a lot of questions. I -- when I went to the second session, I took some studies, and I told him that those clinical studies had been performed and that I didn't really need a psychologist and I needed a bone doctor because I didn't really have anything that had to do with psychology, that my problems were injuries to my arm and that I needed to see a traumatologist.
Then they sent me to Mr. Torres, the company's doctor, for an assessment. And Dr. Torres told me that he couldn't give me an assessment because Mr. Castarena had given him orders of not giving any kind of assessments. And he was explaining why: The company was giving him orders so as not to give any assessments.
Then I spent some months on disability. I went back to the work place, and I worked for just a week. And then I went back out; I had to go to IMSS once again because the pain was still there and the bleeding was still there. I had to go back to IMSS again, and they gave me disability for 11 months.
After 11 months, I went back because they didn't want to give me any more disability because -- the doctor told me that the coordinator did not want him to give me any more disability. When I returned to my work place, the -- well, the plant already knew that I was coming back, and they told me that I had already been discharged, that they did not need my services any more. And I said, I'm going to go to IMSS right now.
And since I didn't want to sign any papers on the resignation, I said, I'm going to go over to the IMSS to see if this is okay. And later, he came back, and he told me, You can go now; You are now discharged.
MS. ALAMILLO: Good afternoon. My name is Elsa Catalina Alamillo; I'm 39 years old, and I live in Matomoros, Tamaulipas. I started to work for Auto Trim January 11, 1993. I worked for three years and eight months, and I was discharged on September 3, 1996.
When I started to work at Auto Trim, a full check-up was made; the results were -- came out very well, and I was accepted. In 1994, I started to feel some discomfort, headaches, dizziness and pain in my right arm, my neck, my elbow and my shoulder. I started to feel this pain year after year, and the pain in my arm was unbearable.
I have some balls in -- that have developed in my arm. And I've noticed that my arm does not work the same as my left arm. And now my coloration is also different -- my skin coloration or pigmentation.
When I would go to the nurse, the nurse would give me a pill for my pain, and that was it. And then she would send me to the doctor at the plant, and the doctor would only feel around a little bit and say, You're okay; Go back to work.
At one time, my skin -- oh. The leather that they were giving us was very, very tough. Our production dropped. And the supervisor gave me a report on low productivity, and he told me to sign it. I said that I would not sign anything, because it was not my fault and, besides, my arm was in pain and that it was not my fault to have that productivity drop, because that leather was too tough.
And they told me to go before the union. I arrived there, and they asked me what my problem was. And I said, Well, they reported me on low productivity. And then the woman there at the union said that they were going to check me and, if I was not sick, then they were going to discharge me without any money, without any compensation.
So they sent me to a clinic at St. Lucas that the plant had. And the doctor checked me out, and he said that I was ill. He gave me a prescription with two medications, and the company bought the medication for me. I continued feeling the same.
And in 1995, I went to the IMSS -- in '94, I went to the IMSS, at the end of '94. And they told me that I haven't -- there was nothing wrong with me. They would feel me, and they said, No; There's nothing wrong with you. In 1995, on February 27, I returned. And they told me that they would give me disability for six months.
So for six months, I had disability. They sent me to therapy -- to physical therapy for six months. I would go every other day. I -- by that time, I was also pregnant. And I suffered around with my pregnancy with all of this until they told me -- when I was with the physical therapist, they told me that they could do nothing else for me, that the only thing they would do was to give me an assessment.
And at that time, they sent me to Morelo. And they -- some ten people checked me -- some practitioners. And they would just feel me here and there. And I told them that my arm was in great pain. At that time, my arm was very swollen. And they told me that all the disability I was going to get would be ten percent.
So I returned to Matamoros, and I told them that I did not agree with that, that it was very little and that my arm was in great pain and it was unbearable. After that, I sent several memoranda. And I'd get replies, and I would send more.
And they would reply. And then they would take them to my home -- the people from the delegation of the branch office -- and they were telling me that I should accept the proposal because, ultimately, if I did not, I was not going to receive anything at all.
So all of that was for a year -- when I was sending memoranda and working. And when I returned to work, they sent me to count the leather pieces. And I started to feel discomfort in my nose because it would become blocked. I went to my doctor, and he said that he was going to send me to the olfalaryngologist. And when I was there, the doctor was checking me out, and he told me that he didn't have a file for me and that he couldn't see me.
And then Mr. Castarena -- in September, Mr. Castarena called me to his office to tell me that I had been formally discharged. And I said, Well, how are we going to settle this; How are we going to deal with the problem that I have? And he said, Well, I understand that IMSS has already reached an agreement with you. And I said, Well, yes, but I have not accepted their settlement. He said, Well, that's your problem and IMSS'.
So he said, You know what; We're going to give you your check. And he said -- and then he said, But give -- he said, Let me -- Give me my other papers, my permit. And I said, I will not leave like that.
And according to them, my problem was just psychological, my headaches were psychological, that -- my illness was psychological. So he took me -- well, that's why -- I had to accept ten percent because he said if I did not accept ten percent, then I would have to pay for my own medical care. I didn't have money to pay for that, and that's why I had to accept ten percent disability.
And I get 210 per month. And I have three children, one that was born -- well, I was pregnant during my disability. And he had respiratory problems when he was born. And at the IMSS, they never really cared or provided medical care for that problem. I had to take my son to [untranslated Spanish] hospital, where he received medical care. And they put him on the evolutions and stabilizations.
And to date, my son still is bleeding from his nose. He's bleeding from his nose a lot at night still. And that's all.
MS. MORALES: Well, you know my name. I've just come to address some issues that -- upon hearing my friends and my colleagues, just to give you a description of the company and how they handle workers to not qualify risk factors and not to buy more medication because that would imply more cost for the company, and send them to work or back to work with just an aspirin. Even though they may have discomfort and pains, they would still have to continue to work their eight-hour shift.
The regulation of the company, or my immediate boss, was to keep the company free of work hazards so they wouldn't have to pay a higher premium to the IMSS and could get the risk-free work place certificate. And the difficulties that we faced with IMSS was that the workers returned with an assessment of a general illness or psychological illness.
In the first-aid kit of the company, the delegate from the IMSS knew that there was only just a few aspirins and some Band-aids and some ointments for pain. And with all the work-related hazards, the delegate already about it. The representative knew -- the representative from the IMSS knew about them.
When people expressed their discomfort and their problems regarding the work place and the IMSS, there was never any follow up on all of that or we never got a call back. No inspection was ever performed by the IMSS.
I also wanted to discuss the Commissiones Mixias within the plant. I was one of the representatives on one of those Commissiones Mixias by the company. It's made up of eight people: Four by the company and four by the workers. The whole company is reviewed to see where the work hazards are or to see where unsafe conditions exist and then take corrective steps through plans for health and safety.
But in practice, these never really worked, for two reasons. The first is that the workers were not trained to detect work-related hazards. And the second was that when I or another person detected such hazards and we would tell them or advise them to the company, the company would just erase them from our script that was sent to STPS in Victoria.
The company would just state easy things like, "The floor is messy. We have to paint a wall. We have to replace a light bulb." These were the kinds of hazards that the company was reporting to STPS.
So as I said before, at the company, there was never any kind of investigation performed or any investigation by STPS or visit by the STPS to see if everything was okay as stated in the report.
So basically, this is what I wanted to discuss. Thank you, very much.
MR. MONDRAGON: Good evening. My name is Manuel Mondragon; I worked for 15 years in the maquiladora industry in quality engineering and, also, training and teaching in the automobile industry, mainly.
And I participate as national coordinator of a religious organization, called [untranslated Spanish], dedicated to the education and information of the employees of the maquiladora industry, especially in training on the federal law, health and safety and community programs, especially in marginal areas. And in this sense, I would like to share with you some of the happenings and situations during all this time in this work.
[untranslated Spanish] has done a remarkable job for a long time in coordination with the workers of Auto Trim. The first time that I heard of and I knew about the problems at Auto Trim was in 1992 and 1993. Back then, the workers were complaining a lot because they started realizing the injuries, especially problems in their wrists, arms, necks and backs. They came to see me to see what we could do for them.
At that time, the workers of Auto Trim especially wanted to reduce their production quota; they thought it was excessive. And they thought that by reducing the production, they could avoid the injuries.
I started giving advice to some workers about the law, and they took an initiative and effort to go to the CTM and to be union leaders at the CTM to be able to negotiate with the company. The first reaction of the company was to discharge these workers.
And during these two years, the workers formed groups and commissions to talk to the company, but they were all discharged. Some of these workers were involved in a movement in 1993; they had a public demonstration together with some religions organizations in the community. From then on -- the media took a video. And the workers were discharged.
This had a big impact. And for about a year, the workers did not want to get together and did not want to start any initiatives. And later on -- I do not have any exact dates because this was a surprise; I discovered it later. I know that some female workers took initiatives to talk to some lawyers, but this process did not work out.
And when we were in contact with these workers again was in September of 1996. The workers, after reporting the situation at the plant, talked to the local television stations. They reported all of the dangerous situations. So the community was aware of it.
Afterwards, the media came to see the management. And as a result, there were no publications, no broadcasts, and, the following week, the workers were discharged.
In this sense, I believe that the workers have made a big effort and have started initiatives in all of the different sense to improve the working conditions. Through my experience with them, through visiting their homes, through talking and listening to their concerns, I was a witness to many of them that were prepared to go see the management to share not just their concerns.
But they had questions of things that they didn't understand, like, Why do we have these injuries; Why do we have these problems; Why do we have this harm? And the response of the management was always -- they were always evading with their responses. When the workers were a little more aggressive and were putting pressure on the management, they were discharged.
Another thing that the workers had been doing was getting together and putting pressure on the union to be able to change the situation of the health and safety conditions. They were involved; as union leaders, they did have participation.
But, unfortunately, when the workers became the union leaders and started putting pressure on the company, the company used their resources -- to distract them -- to give them 100 percent compensation. And that was it. That was the way in which the company was trying to get rid of all the workers that were trying to improve the working conditions.
Some of the things that we were able to support the workers with was with training. And like you saw, the workers designed some risk maps. And they have the elements to be able to improve the working conditions.
The workers began participating -- specifically at Auto Trim, they started participating in the Commissiones Mixias and they started making suggestions to the company, but the company was not willing to make or accept any suggestions that modified the production processes.
The only suggestion that the company accepted was of negative moment: That the aisle had to be cleaned; if equipment was leaking oil, they needed it above water because the water was hot or warm. But the ergonomic problems and the health and safety problems related to toxic substances were never accepted.
I participated and I was present in a strike of Custom Trim from the 19th to the 23rd of May. And I saw the effort and the impact during this week and how they were ignored and pushed away. And I also witnessed and I was with the workers of Auto Trim and Custom Trim when they requested an inspection before the STPS in May 1998.
The experience I had was that when got to the supervisor of the inspections at the STPS, he was surprised that workers were able to formulate a position of such nature, locating the risks, and relating the violations to the regulations. And I remember very clearly that he told me, This is a bomb; I do not want to handle this; This needs to be sent to Mexico City.
And he questioned us a lot. He told us, We have a lot of other information that -- of all the abnormalities of Auto Trim. And when I requested this information, he told me this was confidential information and he could not and that if I wanted information, I would have to request it in Mexico City. We did this in August of the same year, and we never got a response.
And, also, in that sense, something that I think is very important to mention here is that the capacity of the STPS for inspections of infrastructure -- inspectors -- the information that the general director of STPS in Tamaulipas on August 8 was that they have less than 15 inspectors for inspecting the work stations for the whole State of Tamaulipas. This explains why there are programs of -- self-management programs at this time.
Tamaulipas has been the pioneer of these self-management programs in which the companies are allowed to become their own inspectors and to write their own reports. And these reports are sent to the STPS, and then the STPS, when it has time, will do the verification of the inspections. But with only 15 inspectors, it is impossible to give a follow-up to all of the cases. This is one thing.
And the second thing is that during this time, I've had the experience of having direct contact with specialists, environmental engineers, in Tamaulipas. And they've been sharing with me information about contamination to the environment and the interior of the plant and all of these problems.
There is a very important practice in which the companies hire at their institution for this monitoring for these inspections, but these are hired by the company. And, therefore, it is most -- more likely that the results are made up. I cannot guarantee this, but, in the conversations or talks that I've had with these people, they have mentioned that there is something like that.
And, also, to one of the panelists, when -- they were talking about the workers' initiatives. To be able to -- I would like to restate the function -- specific function of workers' compensation.
In -- for the Auto Trim workers and Custom Trim, when they had the strike, they requested the support of this organization in Matomoros. And the lawyer gave us the run-around, and he never prepared this law suit. They only had one week left before the date.
And the workers had to hire a private lawyer. They brought him from Reynosa. Why? Because in Matomoros, any lawyer that dares challenge the maquiladora association is facing a big problem. A few lawyers have said that if they do that, they will have big problems. And they do not want to challenge the association because they can lose their licenses. See? Because they will be isolated.
In that sense, we've been trying to find a way to sue. We've been exploring this possibility to sue, arbitration and conciliation, due to the health and safety problems of the workers. In this sense, I would like to be able to express that all of those initiatives have to be accounted for and have to be approved, because there is no response in these cases.
When we started to explore the fact of the law suit, we realized that, first of all, we would have to hire a specialist, a medical doctor, to give us clear diagnoses of the workers, saying that the workers were suffering health problems that relate to the plant's working conditions. In this case, we needed expert witnesses, and we also needed medical examinations.
For example, when this doctor specialized in labor medicine gave us the cost, he was talking about 1,800 pesos to at least start the documentation. And another thing is that in order to proceed with this law suit, we needed an expert witness so that he could present the evidence. We had to show that we had urine examinations and blood examinations.
And there was time in which we asked ourselves, In order to have a law suit and protect the lives and the health of the workers, we need to have a different level of life, and we -- and not the salaries and wages that the workers had at that time.
And something else I would like to mention is that -- we've been talking a lot about the impact on the health of the workers -- with these processes, how they're impacted, as well. And this is important to mention.
Along this time, I've found in the faces of each one of these workers, female and male workers, the impotency, isolation, depression with not enough self-love. And we are attempting against the dignity of the workers. They've been subject to investigations that have threatened their dignity.
When I've talked with some of the female workers -- the plant has made them subject to some questions, asking, "You are not sick," and, "If you are sick, tell me how you can put your bra on; Tell me, how do you wipe when you go to the restroom," and a series of questions that I think are too strong -- I've found -- in all of these situations, having direct contact with the workers.
And something else. In that there is -- people depend on their jobs and they have no other options but to work in the maquiladora industry, either to work for Custom Trim or Auto Trim, if they leave this maquiladora and go to another factory, they have the same threats and they have the same risks.
But each of the maquiladoras has different impacts. And they decide to do work that they do not like, with a lot of pressure. They have no sense or no interest for life, and they have very little hope and very little joy. And it seems that life becomes a load, a burden. And the work, instead of dignifying, instead of building you as a person, becomes something that destroys you.
And, also, in this process, due to the proximity I've had with the workers and some documentation not officially done, but, during the last two years, I've had more than 400 workers being discharged.
And of these 400 workers that were discharged, some of them were because they were brave enough to demand their rights, because they have reported the situation and because they have been involved in certain mechanisms to improve the working conditions, and a significant number is the number of workers that, after awhile, like them, the company doesn't need them any more, and they are discharged.
So here we can see that in the maquiladora industry, the vision of the human being is like a disposable being, a being that you can replace very easily, a being that you -- that has no dignity and is just another part of the production mechanism.
Something else that I would like to share with you is that yesterday -- the day before yesterday, when we were getting ready for this hearing, someone told us that the plant had sent a document to the National Administrative Office and that the plant was proposing now a tour -- a plant tour.
And two or three hours later, we received a phone call from the workers at Auto Trim, telling us that they did not know what was going on but that the plant had closed the production in the molding area and that they were going to close for awhile and that many people were doing a lot of changes, that lines were all moved, that many people were taking pictures of the extinguishers, that there was a series of movements and they did not know what was going on and if the plant was going to be relocated.
So now we understand very clearly -- and I would like to emphasize this -- that the plant is making a lot of changes right now. And I think that after this day, after today, after being in contact with reality and with all this information, after the experiences we've shared, I believe that if all these recommendations and everything that we've been doing is taken into account, there will be important changes.
But something important to mention, too, is that all the suffering of all the people that have been here, the blood of -- the children that they've been mentioning will not go away; they will always be present in our hearts. And I've heard so many times so many workers to say, The problem of anencephaly and hydrocephaly is from a lack of folic acid. Well, these myths -- this is a myth. We hear it all the time.
I think we have to finish with this myth, and we have to understand that the working conditions in which thousands of workers are working in have a direct on their lives. And we cannot forget this. And we want to ask the government to respect our laws, to enforce our laws and to respect our rights to health and safety.
MR. KARESH: Thank you.
Let me ask you -- and this can be directed to any of you, but, maybe particularly for Mr. Resendez or Ms. Alamillo. When you went to IMSS to see doctors and you had -- my understanding from your testimony is that you went a number of different times and, sometimes, they determined varying levels of disability and, sometimes, they didn't.
In any of those instances, did they ever provide you any information about your right to appeal those decisions or to seek any additional information or other medical views?
MR. RESENDEZ: We were never told our rights. We were trying to find ways to get information. And sometimes, I would ask the person in charge of the institution, but she never paid attention to us; she told us, Don't bother us any more; Go back to your job.
MR. KARESH: During your employment, were you ever aware of any response to reports of your injuries by IMSS inspectors? Did anyone ever come to the plant to investigate those injuries that you're aware of?
MR. RESENDEZ: Sometimes -- well, on one occasion, they sent a medical doctor. But he didn't evaluate us all, just a few. And the doctor was sent by the plant, and he would always say that we had nothing, that it was a psychological thing. And we were sent to work -- back to work.
MS. ALAMILLO: The -- at the plant, we had a doctor that gave us physical therapy. But the only thing that he would do was just -- he would see us for just a few minutes, would put on us ointment and would send us back to work.
MR. KARESH: MS. MORALES, I -- maybe I can ask you the same question. In your involvement particularly with the Commissiones Mixia, were you ever aware of a response from IMSS when workers were injured as to whether they sent any inspectors to the facility to find out, you know, why a worker was injured or what happened or to investigate as to whether some changes should be made with regard to those injuries, or anything of that sort?
MS. MORALES: During the time I worked there -- that was two years -- I was never aware of any response from the IMSS. And we did notify the deputy of the abnormalities at the plant, because I was the one attending the meetings of the IMSS. But nothing or -- never any inspection was performed.
MR. KARESH: For those of you who were discharged from employment: Did you ever file any complaints about that discharge, or were you just provided compensation and severed from employment?
MR. RESENDEZ: When I was discharged, I went to the union. And I told them that they wanted to discharge me because at that time I was very sick. I'm still sick, but -- I had a lot of bleeding through my mouth.
And I went to the union, and I told them that they were going to discharge me. But the union commission called the plant. And according to Mr. Castarena, he said that the manager was ordering to this so that I was discharged.
MR. KARESH: Mr. Mondragon, you mentioned that you've worked with the organization for awhile and your background as -- all of the engineering and training and things of that sort. In any of your investigation or your working with workers of that area, does that go beyond Custom Trim and Auto Trim?
I mean do you have information broadly about other companies or the maquiladora industry as a whole that you'd like to share with us in the sense of injuries or responses from government officials?
MR. MONDRAGON: I have received more information through direct contact with workers rather than with other parties or with other professionals working at other maquiladora plants. In this sense, my information is quite confidential and does not go out to other maquiladora plants. I can discuss the kind of contact that I've had with workers directly with other plants in identifying risks.
I began to establish communication with two environmental engineers. And one interesting experience was that I invited one of the environmental engineers to a conference with some of my co-workers, and, the next week, the engineer was discharged from his plant.
So the people that do have all the information cannot convey it so easily, because they understand the risks. But with the kind of direct contact that I've had with the workers, you could say that Matomoros has a high percentage of automotive industry -- there are maquiladora plants that have direct contact with paint.
For example, one of the maquiladoras, which is, [untranslated Spanish], which is the one in charge of the glove compartments for the cars -- they have direct contacts with paints. The changing of filters in the paint section is not done properly, and workers do have a lot of direct contact. And there are many health-related issues.
Another maquiladora plant is one called Arbuck's, which -- where the workers -- the female workers are in direct contact with or exposed to lead welding in the welding areas. And there's a very specific case of a female worker that died some two years ago because of lead exposure in the blood stream.
And at some maquiladora plants, some medical check-ups are performed, but the workers do not get any feedback as to the results. In that sense, the company carries out the exams, the company handles all of the information, and the workers are never informed about what is happening.
And during that time, I have been in touch with workers that do get fired and, months later, they realized that they had some severe injuries and that they were fired after the testing. That tells me that the medical testings set forth by law -- well, these companies are using them to determine who is sick, and then getting rid of the problems.
In that sense, there are many problems in the maquiladora plants. I don't think that Auto Trim is the only one.
The lack of interest and the lack of responsibility from the government in order to enforce our laws so that corporations do enforce the law is not only at Auto Trim. I think that it all depends on the products and the processes and the injuries and the impacts suffered by workers in the sense that it occurs at many other places, as well.
MR. KARESH: Thank you, very much.
And thank you to everybody on the panel for your testimony.
At this time, this concludes our hearing for today. A transcript of the hearing will be produced and will be made available to any interested parties through the U. S. National Administrative Office.
I want to thank everyone for their participation, particularly the witnesses that I know who came a long way and shared their information and stories with us. All of the presentations and information provided to the NAO today will become part of the record. The record will remain open for any additional information or documents that anyone from the public wishes to provide us on this subject.
I also, once again, would like to thank the City Council of San Antonio and Mayor Peak for graciously offering us this facility today.
I'd like to thank the interpreters for helping to make it possible for us to communicate.
The hearing is adjourned. Please drive carefully. Thank you.
(Whereupon, at 6:30 p.m., this public hearing was concluded.)
C E R T I F I C A T E
IN RE: Public Hearing on Submission 2000-1
LOCATION: San Antonio, Texas
DATE: December 12, 2000
I do hereby certify that the foregoing pages, numbers 1 through 252, inclusive, are the true, accurate, and complete transcript prepared from the verbal recording made by electronic recording by Penny Bynum before the United States Department of Labor U.S. National Administrative Office.