February 1, 2008
On Monday, January 21, workers at the Vaqueros Navarra jean factory in Tehuacan, Mexico, who had voted to be represented by the independent September 19 Union two months earlier, returned to work after an extended unpaid holiday
When they arrived at the factory, the workers were told there were not sufficient orders to reopen the facility that day and that they should return to work in two days time.
However, when they returned on January 23, they were informed that the factory was closed permanently. Once again the excuse was a lack of orders.
After receiving a report from their union on the status of negotiations with the company on severance pay, the workers marched through the streets of Tehuacan to protest the closure and their employer’s unwillingness to provide full legal severance pay and other legal entitlements.
The workers blocked traffic in the centre of the city for 30 minutes and then moved their protest to the site of a factory owned by the local president of the maquila industry association.
At the time of this writing, negotiations between the union and management on severance pay continue.
Meanwhile, there is now mounting evidence that the factory was closed, not because of a lack of orders, but because the employer wanted to rid himself of the independent union.
According to the Human and Labour Rights Commission of the Tehuacan Valley, all other factories owned by Grupo Navarra investors are now up and running, indicating the company might be diverting orders away from the Vaqueros Navarra factory.
As well, MSN has received reports from three brand buyers indicating that they attempted to direct orders to the Vaqueros Navarra factory, but that Grupo Navarra or their vendor, PL Industries, refused to do so.
In addition, MSN has received reports that some key investors in Grupo Navarra also have a financial relationship with PL, the vendor that determines where many brands’ orders are placed.
Meanwhile, two months after the November 23 union representation election, in which the workers voted to be represented the September 19 Union, the Puebla State labour authorities have not yet certified that September 19 holds title to the collective agreement at the factory.
Prior to the vote, a corrupt “official union” affiliated with the CROC had held title to the agreement without the workers’ consent.
At the November 23 union representation election, 263 workers voted in favour of the September 19 Union, 187 voted for another official union affiliated with the CROM, and only 3 workers voted to stay with the CROC union.
The victory of the independent September 19 Union was precedent-setting, particularly given the fact that the vote was held inside the factory by voice vote rather than by secret ballot.
The workers had to individually declare which union they supported in front of their employer and leaders of the corrupt official unions. Prior to the vote, they had been told by management personnel in private audience meetings that if the independent union won, the factory would be closed.
Despite these threats and the undemocratic nature of the vote, the workers asserted their right to be represented of the union of their choice.
MSN is calling on all US brands that have had a business relationship with Grupo Navarra to tell their supplier that closing a factory to get rid of a union is a major violation of their codes of conduct.
MSN is also urging the brands to ensure that if the factory can not be reopened the workers receive, at minimum, full legal severance pay and all other legal entitlements, as well as alternative employment opportunities.