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back to index backGLOBALtalk June,  2016


Workers in Mexico's border factories say they can barely survive, so they're turning to unions

They make everything from puppy chew-toys to Dell computers to giant wind turbines, but when they try to form a union, they face big trouble.

For half a century, multinational companies have flocked to Ciudad Juárez in search of cheap labor located at the doorstep of the United States. Today, El Paso’s neighbor has largest labor force along the US-Mexico border. In good times, about 200,000 workers are employed at more than 300 factories.

Workers help fuel a half-trillion dollars in annual trade between the US and Mexico, a figure that’s grown six-fold in the last two decades. That's brought prosperity to American border cities like El Paso, where one out of every four jobs is tied to trade and per capita income is rising at a faster pace than the national average.

But on the Mexican side, the peso has been falling in value, while wages have not kept up. According to a study by Mexico's National Autonomous University (UNAM), Mexico’s minimum wage has lost 78 percent of its value in the last 30 years.

A study by the Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness at the University of Texas at El Paso shows factory wages in Juárez are among the lowest in Mexico, and plant manager salaries are among the highest. When compared to manufacturing wages in China, Mexico is now 40 percent cheaper.

"You can't live on our salaries," says Brenda Estrada, a former employee of one border manufacturer, the American telecommunications giant CommScope. "You just survive." Estrada says she was spending half of her $7/day salary on wood to keep her cinderblock home heated.

Estrada is among those who say CommScope fired them last year for forming a union. Close to 200 workers are now members of that union, which was approved by the Chihuahua state labor tribunal. In a written statement, CommScope denies firing the workers, saying it fired only eight workers in the fall for violating work rules.

"This is something historic," says Cuauhtemoc Estrada, the local labor attorney representing the workers. "Independently organized unions are hard to find” in Mexico, he says.

To read entire article, please click here.

Source: PRI - GAI






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