Johnson Controls workers at the company’s Interiors/Resurrection plant in Cuautlancingo,Puebla, Mexico recently won a contract that increases pay, provides for more job security, improves benefits, and recognizes their independent union, Section 308 of the National Union of Mine, Metal, and General Workers of Mexico (Los Mineros). The contract is the first one that Johnson Controls, a US-based company, has signed with an independent union like Los Mineros.
The company manufactures car seats and other interior equipment mainly for Volkswagen but also for Ford, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, and Nissan at its Interiors/Resurrection plant, which employs 800 workers, the majority of whom are women.
The contract increases wages by 7.5 percent, limits the ability of the company to outsource work to contractors, and increases benefits such as life insurance and supplementary school aid. It is the culmination of a five-year campaign that overcame violence, intimidation, and firings of union supporters.
Back in 2006, staff from the Centro de Apoyo al Trabajador (CAT), a non-profit group that supports organizing efforts by workers, began going door-to-door to interview Johnson Control workers about conditions at their factory. CAT staff learned that the company was violating the Mexican labor code and that the union in place at the time wasn’t doing anything about it. In fact, the union spent most of its time disciplining workers for the company, a practice common for most of Mexico’s recognized unions and the reason that these unions are known as protection unions.
CAT began helping workers organize an independent union. The company reacted by ordering workers not to talk to CAT staff about conditions at the plant and fired some of the independent union supporters. The campaign came to a head in May 2010 when the company paid workers a profit-sharing bonus of about $5, much less than workers had anticipated.
When the union wouldn’t do anything about the under payment, workers staged a protest and signed affiliation cards with Los Mineros. They threatened to strike if the company did not oust the protection union and recognize Los Mineros as their union.
The next day, a busload of thugs from the protection union showed up at the plant gates and tried to intimidate workers into renouncing Los Mineros. Instead of being intimidated, workers walked off the job and stayed on strike for three days until the company agreed to recognize and bargain with Los Mineros.
During the summer, the company stalled for time as it sought ways to get out of its agreement. In August, more thugs entered the plant, beat union leaders and activists, and forced union leaders to sign letters of resignation. The company did nothing to stop the thugs from entering the plant or beating Los Mineros supporters.
In response, workers walked out on strike again and returned only after the company said that it would bargain with Los Mineros. Over the next eight months, intimidation and threats continued, but on April 8, Johnson Controls agreed to the contract.
Leaders of the Mexican government whether they belong to PRI or PAN, two of the three major political parties in Mexico, would like to keep Mexican workers’ wages low in hopes of attracting foreign investment. The biggest obstacles to doing so are workers like those at Johnson Control who aren’t afraid to fight for justice and independent unions like Los Mineros willing to support them. That’s why the two parties are working together to change Mexico’s labor law to make it more difficult for independent unions to organize workers.