/** headlines: 181.0 **/
** Topic: General Motors Fires Mexican Workers **
** Written 10:55 AM Jul 9, 1997 by mstein in cdp:headlines **
Labor Alerts/Labor News
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The Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras makes the following appeal for faxes and calls to the General Motors corporation after GM fired workers in retaliation for a walk out earlier in June. Please respond, and thank you.
Several hundred General Motors workers walked out on a wildcat strike on June 12, demanding a salary raise and greater profit-sharing. The workers, employees of General Motors Delco Division in Reynosa, Mexico, were not satisfied with the $32 dollars that the automotive giant gave them in profit-sharing for 1996. GM posted profits of 4.963 billion dollars in 1996.
Faced with a paralyzing work stoppage, the GM negotiated a quick settlement: if workers would return to work, the company would review its wage and profit-sharing policies. Workers agreed. On June 19, GM offered its Delnosa workers $45 more in profit-sharing plus a $32 in coupons that could be redeemed in local stores, but offered no kind of wage increase. The workers, desperate for any kind of improvement, accepted the offer.
The following is a report by an observer to the events at Delnosa:
Firings at General Motors' Delnosa plants in Reynosa began on June 23 and have reached undetermined numbers. Workers have claimed that a total of 33 workers have been fired--14 on Monday, 10 on Tuesday, and 9 on Wednesday, while local management placed the number at 11, and national spokespeople placed the total at 23. The firings are in retaliation for a work stoppage of between 7 and 13 hours that occurred on June 12. The work stoppage swept through most of G.M.'s 6 plants, as workers were demanding an honest account of the factories' profits. Mexican workers are entitled to 10 percent of company profits according to the federal profit sharing law. Delnosa in Reynosa has never provided profit shares to workers, and this year was no exception. Instead of profit shares, workers were given a "thank you" payment (gratification) of up to $32.
Convinced that the company earned a profit in 1996, more than 400 workers participated in the spontaneous work stoppage. Of these 400, only targeted individuals have been fired--some who have been with the company 17 years. Exactly why some people have been fired and others not is not clear. On the one hand, General Motors appears to be punishing workers who were most vocal in demanding honest application of Mexico's profit sharing laws. Prior to the work stoppage, a committee was elected by workers in the factories to investigate the matter of profit sharing. To my knowledge, all of the members of this committee have been fired. On the other hand, workers who appear to have been caught up in the sweep of this movement--without ever taking a high profile position on matters--have also been fired. Finally, many factory workers believe that G.M. is using videotape recorded by its guards during the work stoppage to identify workers and fire them. The message seems clear: those who exercise their rights to compensation will be fired.
The actual firings have been carried out in a highly visible and intimidating manner. Uniformed guards have entered the factory assembly lines to escort workers to "a meeting." A report of one worker indicated that workers who refuse to walk with the guards were physically removed from the assembly line. Usually, workers are led to a room where they are isolated from everyone but a member of the personnel staff and a witness. They are then told that they are being fired; charges range from disobeying orders to return to work to inhibiting pregnant women from entering and exiting the plant (I'm not making this up!). They are then asked to sign a letter of resignation, which would, in effect, mean that they would be giving up any legal rights to severance pay. The requests for workers to sign resignation letters has been accompanied by offers of some severance pay in some cases--actually some workers have received 100 percent of what they are due, while others have been offered nothing or a fraction of the severance pay to which they are entitled. Whether or not workers sign the resignation letter, all have been escorted from the factory without any opportunity to retrieve their personal effects from their lockers. In several cases, workers were not allowed to retrieve purses where they had their money to be used for transportation. The company provided transportation home for some workers, while others were merely dropped off at the edge of the main highway several blocks away from the company. Workers have complained that throughout this firing procedure, they have been surrounded by uniformed guards--even in the drive to the highway--"as if we were criminals." One worker was even threatened with criminal charges that could result in a jail sentence for her role in the work stoppage, however, no criminal conduct was alluded to in her letter of dismissal.
These firings were unexpected. The union representatives had clearly stated that, 1. they had reached an agreement with the company that included an immediate payment to workers of 600 pesos in cash and food coupons; 2. they expected a continued investigation into the matter of profits; and 3. assurances had been given that no retribution against any workers would occur. Many of these points were confirmed by a memo written by plant manager Chris Muhlenkamp, dated June 18, 1997. In the memo, Muhlenkamp mentions the "ad hoc committee" that had been formed and the agreement to cease further work stoppages. He says that "This agreement was made on the basis of good faith between all involved parties," implying that the company would not target workers to be fired in retribution. This "good faith" was violated shortly after it was agreed upon.
Since the firings, G.M. has ordered all exits from the assembly area to be locked during work shifts. This includes emergency exits which have been sealed with hasps and padlocks. This has been confirmed by multiple workers who are concerned about dangers to their well-being should an emergency occur. Also, employees have been asked to register their locker numbers with the guards supposedly for periodic inspections. Guards have the keys to all locks. This seems to be an invasion of privacy. The lockers of fired workers have been emptied by guards who have taken the contents to the homes of fired workers.
At this point, supporters should call or write letters to the people below demanding that: 1. firings for this work stoppage be stopped immediately; 2. fired workers be given their jobs back; 3. emergency exits be unlocked; 4. management live up to its agreement to work with labor in determining the true amount of profit sharing due from 1996. GM did not wait long to punish those who had threatened its production (worth far more than anything that they paid out to workers).
At least 11 workers were fired outright on June 23, and at least another 12 were pressured to resign in return for severance pay (a common way to force workers to quit in Mexico). There are reports that at least 33 workers were fired.
Profit-sharing is an annual tradition in Mexico, usually occurring in May and June in which companies are required by law to share 10% of their profits with workers. However the foreign-owned maquiladoras do not report profits in Mexico, and therefore are not forced to pay any kind of profit-sharing by the government. Nonetheless, workers absolutely expect to receive some money at this time for their year's efforts, and when they do not, situations such as that of Delnosa occur.
GM maquila workers in Mexico are faced with a brutal economic crisis that has shown no signs of alleviation. The less than $40 per week wage that they take home does not cover even the basic nutritional requirements of their families, much less anything else. Yet these workers are some of the most productive industrial workers in the world, and General Motors employs some 70,000 of them in different maquiladoras around Mexico.
CJM is calling for supporters to send a letter similar to the attached to Jack Smith, President and CEO of General Motors, demanding that he hire back the fired workers, and making him aware that his company's behavior in Mexico will be closely scrutinized. If you would like to respond to CJM by e-mail (email@example.com), we can keep a record of who responds to our requests. Our telephone number is 210-732-8957 and fax is 210-732-8324.
July 4, 1997
Mr. Jack Smith
Chairman and CEO
General Motors Corporation
3044 West Grand Boulevard
Detroit MI 48202
VIA FAX: 313-556-1888
Dear Mr. Smith:
We are deeply concerned over reports that at least 11 General Motors employees were fired and that an additional 12 workers were forced to resign from GM Delco Division maquiladora in Reynosa, Mexico. It is our understanding that these workers were dismissed by GM for insisting that the company share something of its windfall 1996 profits in accordance with standard labor practice in Mexico.
Workers went on strike on June 12 because GM had offered them a mere $32 in profit-sharing for all of 1996. The fact that GM offered the workers an additional $45 worth of cash and bonuses after reviewing their profit-sharing policy leads us to believe that GM recognized the validity of their employees' claims. Why then did GM fire some of the workers as responsible for the walkout?
We question how a company like General Motors, with profits of 4.963 billion dollars in 1996, can in good conscience fire or otherwise dismiss at least 24 workers simply for demanding to share in the enormous profits that they help to produce.
Local GM management claims that the strike was violent and illegal. We have seen no published information that leads us to believe that there was violence committed by any of the workers, the majority of whom are young women between the ages of 17 and 25. There is a kind of violence, however, in the wages that GM pays these young people, who labor for 48 hours per week and take home salaries usually less than $40 for that week's work.
We ask you to investigate reports that Delnosa management has ordered that emergency doors be locked so that workers cannot stage any future walkouts.
Your Delnosa employees walked off the lines because they do not make enough money to even feed their families. Your response has been to fire them for that. What kind of business are your running?
We urge you to instruct Delnosa management to hire back the fired workers.
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