Lexmark maquiladora workers in Ciudad Juárez camp-in for higher wages and union rights, 2015-2016

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Timing
Time Period:  
2 November
2015
to
10 April
2016
Location and Goals
Country: 
Mexico
Location City/State/Province: 
Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua
Location Description: 
Primarily outside the Lexmark plant in Ciudad Juárez, though actions also took place in Mexico City; El Paso, Texas; and Lexington, Kentucky.
Goals: 
Wage increases, the establishment of an independent union, an end to sexual harassment on work lines, and the reinstatement of fired workers
 

Just across the US-Mexico border from El Paso, Texas in the Mexican state of Chihuahua lies Ciudad Juárez, where the wages of workers in the maquiladoras, export-oriented factories run by foreign businesses, are significantly lower than in other parts of the country. Among the many maquiladoras in the city is a 2,800-worker printer-cartridge plant owned by Lexmark, a multinational company based in Lexington, Kentucky.

In October 2015, Lexmark denied Ciudad Juárez maquiladora workers a promised raise of six Mexican pesos, the equivalent of 0.35 US dollars, per day based on job performance and then fired workers who sought the raise. As a result, Lexmark workers reached out to labor attorney Susana Prieto Terrazas, who informed them that they could not sue Lexmark under Mexico’s Federal Labor Law to force the company to implement the scheduled increase in wages. They could, however, form an independent workers union. Thus, on 3 November 2015, a group of 78 workers applied to the Board of Agreement and Arbitration in Ciudad Juárez for official recognition of the Lexmark International Workers Union.

By then, Lexmark workers had already started efforts to build support for their cause. On 2 November 2015, they set up a 24-hour protest encampment from cardboard, wood, and tarp outside the gates of the factory. Signs posted on the outer walls of the shack read libertad sindical (union freedom) and justiciar a la clase obrera (justice for the working class). A week later, on 10 November 2015, they joined with their counterparts from Foxconn, ADC/CommScope, and Eaton in a march through the city to demand the right to an independent union.

One month later, the workers staged a strike. On 7 December 2015, 700 Lexmark workers held a work stoppage during the second shift change, and in response, the company management evacuated the factory and bused the workers back to their homes. The next day, 150 workers took part in another work stoppage.

Over the next two days, Lexmark fired around 120 of the striking workers, a number that included all of the workers who had submitted the request to establish an independent union. Prieto Terrazas told the news website Sin Embargo that this was a sign of collusion between Lexmark and the state government, since only the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration should have known the names of those who had made the request.

On the second day of the firings, campaigners posted a video of Prieto Terrazas in which she shared the workers’ stories and invited viewers to participate in a candlelight vigil outside the Lexmark plant on 11 December 2015. The video received thousands of views.

By that point, the Lexmark workers’ demands included wage increases, the formation of an independent union, an end to sexual harassment on the jobsite, and the reinstatement of fired workers.

On 17 December 2015, news reporters from publishers such as The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, Al Jazeera, and BuzzFeed began to arrive in Ciudad Juárez, where they visited the protest encampment to interview the workers about their struggle. On 18 December 2015, supporters of the campaign in El Paso created a GoFundMe webpage to raise $8,625 USD for the dismissed workers.

El Paso supporters also worked with Prieto Terrazas to connect with the International Labor Rights Forum, a US-based human rights organization. Consequently, on 22 December 2015, they sent a letter to CEO of Lexmark Paul Rooke, in which they asked him to put pressure on local management in Ciudad Juárez to address the reported violations of workers’ rights. Rooke never responded to the letter.

On 29 December 2015, the Lexmark workers learned that the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration had rejected their application for union recognition. Nevertheless, the campaign was far from over. The Lexmark workers continued their camp-in and received support from unions in the US. On 30 December 2015, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFSCME AFL-CIO) Local 59 announced their decision to join the Lexmark workers in solidarity, and on 12 January 2016, the AFL-CIO published a statement on their international blog in solidarity with the workers at Commscope, Eaton, Foxconn, and Lexmark.

In the statement, the AFL-CIO called for “companies to end their repressive practices, reinstate the workers who have been fired and negotiate contracts that establish living wages and decent working conditions; the Labor Board to order the reinstatement of workers who have been fired and grant legal registration to the unions that have requested it; Mexico’s federal government to intervene to ensure that events in Ciudad Juárez do not make a mockery of its proposed labor reforms before they are even enacted; and the U.S. government, as well as state and local ones, to any review any government purchases from these suppliers that may be using U.S. taxpayer dollars to subsidize violations of labor rights.”

On 13 January 2016, the campaigners and their allies held rallies in multiple locations. While Lexmark workers demonstrated in front of the State of Chihuahua’s government offices in Mexico City, others held solidarity rallies outside the Lexmark plant in Ciudad Juárez, in front of the Mexican consulate in El Paso, and nearby the Lexmark headquarters in Lexington.

Almost one month later, on 9 February 2016, representatives from the Confederación de Trabajadores Mexicanos, the most powerful state-supported union in the country, visited the protest encampment to tell the Lexmark workers that they could settle the issue. This move, said El Paso-based activist Miguel Juárez, was an attempt to bust the organizing efforts of the workers before the arrival of Pope Francis.

When the Pope made his visit on 17 February 2016, he expressed the need to support workers, thereby heightening media coverage of the Lexmark workers’ struggle. “The discussion of the working class presented by the Pope, was the result of hard work, work all of us have invested in,” Prieto Terrazas said.

The camp-in finally ended in April after the campaigners, who at this point included 56 of the displaced workers, settled financially with Lexmark on undisclosed terms on 7 April 2016. They signed the agreement on 9 April 2016.

In a press release published by the campaigners, they attributed the “change of heart” by the company to a letter, signed by 32 unions and NGOs from the US, Canada, and Mexico and mailed to Rooke and company executives Rocio Sarabia and Robert Patton on 23 March 2016. In the letter, the organizations demanded respect for the labor rights of workers and international norms. At the same time, the campaigners acknowledged that the workers’ socioeconomic circumstances, along with the corruption of the government, pushed them to accept Lexmark’s offer. “The economic situation of these families in resistance became unbearable,” they wrote in the press release.

Even though the workers ultimately failed both to establish an independent union and to get their jobs back, Prieto Terrazas considered the movement a success, claiming that the Lexmark workers’ resistance sparked wage increases in other maquiladoras to prevent strikes and also helped bring international attention to the plight of maquiladora workers.

The end of the campaign also saw the creation of an association called Obre@s Maquiler@ de Ciudad Juárez, an organization whose mission is to uplift the voices of all industry workers to fight for better working conditions.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Alvarado Álvarez, Ignacio. 2016. “Fight for 50 Cents.” Al Jazeera America, February 10. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190328163030/http://projects.aljazeera.com/2016/02/lexmark-juarez/).

Bacon, David. 2015. “The Maquiladora Workers of Juárez Find Their Voice.” The Nation, November 20. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190328145323/https://www.thenation.com/article/the-maquiladora-workers-of-juarez-find-their-voice/).

Carroll, Rory. 2016. “Juárez: Factory Workers Are Protesting for Their Rights with an ‘Occupy-Style’ Sit-In.” The Guardian, February 17. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190328145422/https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/feb/17/juarez-factory-workers-protest-rights-occupy-style-sit-in-lexmark).

Esquinca, Maria. 2016. “Maquila Workers’ Protest in Juárez Ends, But the Fight Continues.” Latino Rebels, April 14. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://www.latinorebels.com/2016/04/14/maquila-workers-protest-in-juarez-ends-but-the-fight-continues/).

Feingold, Cathy. 2016. “Worker Protests in Ciudad Juárez Shine a Light on Ongoing Workers’ Rights Violations in Mexico.” AFL-CIO, January 11. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190328144849/https://aflcio.org/2016/1/11/worker-protests-ciudad-juarez-shine-light-ongoing-workers-rights-violations-mexico).

Figueroa, Lorena. 2016. “Lexmark Settles with Displaced Juárez Workers.” El Paso Times, April 11. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/2016/04/11/lexmark-settles-displaced-jurez-workers/82914040/).

Frontera NorteSur News. 2016. “Border Lexmark Workers Keep Up the Fight.” Frontera NorteSur, March 23. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190328162920/https://fnsnews.nmsu.edu/border-lexmark-workers-keep-up-the-fight/).

Juárez, Miguel. 2015. “Fundraiser by Miguel Juarez: Obrer@ Fund.” GoFundMe. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190328162603/https://www.gofundme.com/ObrerxsFund).

Juárez, Miguel and Susana Prieto Terrazas. 2016. “Maquiladora Workers Protest in Pursuit of Just Wages and an Independent Union in Juárez.” Latino Rebels, January 20. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://www.latinorebels.com/2016/01/20/maquiladora-workers-protest-in-pursuit-of-just-wages-and-an-independent-union-in-juarez/).

Lakhani, Nina and Sam Thielman. 2015. “Printer Giant Lexmark Fires Mexico Factory Workers Demanding $0.35 Raise.” The Guardian, December 15. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190328145509/https://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/dec/15/printer-giant-lexmark-fires-juarez-factory-workers-demanding-raise).

Prieto Terrazas, Susana. 2015. “Estamos en graves problemas…” Facebook. December 10. Retrieved March 28, 2019 (https://web.archive.org/web/20190328163123/https://www.facebook.com/susana.prietoterrazas/videos/805505232892866/?fref=gs&dti=413163252220537&hc_location=group).

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Sacha Lin, 27/05/2019