From the CFO’s 2009 Annual Report,

Background to unionization in Ciudad AcuĖa and affiliation with the Mineworkers:  

 

Ciudad AcuĖa workers create a local and join the independent Mexican Mineworkers Union!

 

For the first time in the history of the maquiladora industry in the border city of Ciudad AcuĖa, workers have constituted themselves as a “section” (local) of the National Union of Mine and Metal Workers of the Mexican Republic (SNTMMSRM).  The Mineworkers are a national union which has the distinction of being independent of government or employers.  They have legal registration to represent workers in the mining and metal-mechanical industry. 

 

Formation of the union local or “Sección 307” was spearheaded by a group of workers formerly employed by US-based Alcoa and trained by the CFO over the last three years. During that time, those workers participated in seven meetings with company executives and shareholders through a “workers committee in dialogue with Alcoa” and attended several training workshop and strategy sessions facilitated by the CFO. On June 20, 2009, dozens of workers representing the rank and file from seven plants formerly owned by Alcoa (and now renamed “AEES” by the new owners) elected committee members to serve as the first executive committee of their new local based on their experience in addressing issues face to face with company officials.

 

The campaign around “Sección 307” is an extraordinary success considering the bleak state of labor organizing around the world and the government-sponsored attacks on strategic trade unions in Mexico such President Calderone’s midnight action in October attempting to shut down the state-owned Central Power and Light and eliminate the powerful Electrical Workers Union!  The campaign is the product of a long process of collective reflection and it represents an intermediate step for the AEES workers for achieving a union contract. Over the summer, the members of the committee toughened up in extreme weather, with temperatures over 100 degrees, and canvassed the working-class neighborhoods of Ciudad AcuĖa to affiliate their co-workers one by one. Persevering every weekend and on their days off, by the end of October the new local had reached 814 members!

 

 

The workers do not have to show a large membership, but they want to ensure that a majority of AEES workers has affiliated to their union before they request formal negotiations with the company. Such a request will come after the legal paperwork is submitted by the mineworkers union this December and approved by labor authorities in Mexico City.

 

Alcoa, a multi-national aluminum giant, based in Pittsburgh, established the maquiladora company that employs those AcuĖa workers over 15 years ago. The business unit was called Alcoa Electrical and Electronic Solutions (AEES). In April 2009, Alcoa, sold the AEES unit to the private firm Platinum Equity. The new owners kept the acronym AEES as the full company name but its individual locations did not change their legal constitutions. In Ciudad AcuĖa, for example, AEES’S legal name continues to be “Arneses y Acesorios de México, S.A. de C.V.”  The workers now use both the “Arneses” or “AEES” names interchangeably. They continue producing wiring harnesses for automobiles (including Ford and Jeep), light trucks, all-terrain vehicles, tractor-trailers and Harley-Davidson motorcycles. AEES in Ciudad AcuĖa currently employs approximately 4,000 workers.

 

The Comité Fronterizo played a key role not only in keeping together the workers’ committee in dialogue with Alcoa. It also facilitated the connection between them and the mineworker union’s leaders and lawyers. CFO organizers explained to the workers the AcuĖa organizing process because the mineworkers do not have any staff person or office in that city, or any previous presence in the maquiladora industry for that matter. The mineworkers came to understand the CFO organizing methods and respect the CFO women’s leadership in the formation of the local.

 

The work previous to June 2009 included visits to Mexico City, weekly meetings in AcuĖa with up to 70 workers attending, including three meetings with different lawyers to explore the legal options to form a union, and the setting up of high-speed internet in CFO’s AcuĖa office.

 

Four meetings with Alcoa executives and shareholders

 

In our 2008 annual report, we reported that through the “workers’ committee in dialogue with Alcoa” the workers from Ciudad AcuĖa and Piedras Negras had made progress in more than 51 workplace issues raised by them in meetings with company executives.

 

Alcoa’s imminent sale of its wiring harnesses business to a private company induced the workers to speed up their efforts to join or form an independent union.  After all, the “Alcoa dialogue project” was made possible by faith-based organizations which owned Alcoa stock and advocated on corporate social responsibility issues including workers’ rights. Those institutional shareholders, including the CFO’s partner organization the American Friends Service Committee, lost leverage when the Alcoa maquiladoras were sold to a private equity firm.

 

Nonetheless, and despite the fact that the company was in the process of being sold, Alcoa executives attended in February and May 2009 their sixth and seventh meetings with the AcuĖa workers, and the ninth and tenth meetings with the Piedras Negras workers.

 

In preparation for those four meetings, we analyzed with the workers from both cities the possible repercussions of the sale of their factories, and helped them to prepare their list of questions. Part of the training included role-playing sessions to improve the quality of their presentation of each issue to the executives. The May meetings were attended by 28 workers in AcuĖa, and by 12 in Piedras Negras.

 

The communication with the two Alcoa top executives who stayed in their jobs after Platinum took over decreased in the second half of 2009, and by the end of the year the future of the dialogues remained uncertain.