3/12: Labor News from US-Mexico Border
- 3/12: Labor News from US-Mexico Border, Death of Mexican Workers in US
From: US-Mexico Border Information Bulletin
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1) Defend Daewoo Maquiladora Workers in Mexicali, Mexico!
2) One Mexican Worker Dying a Day, AP Finds
1) Defend Daewoo Maquiladora Workers in Mexicali, Mexico!
Campaign in Defense of the Daewoo
Maquiladora Workers in Mexicali, Mexico
Support the April 24 International Conference in
Mexicali in Defense of the Daewoo Workers!
Five workers at the Daewoo Orion de Mexico (DOMEX) maquiladora plant
were fired from their jobs last fall after they tried to form an
independent union to improve their wages and working conditions.
Maquiladoras are pass-through sweatshop factories that have been
exempted from Mexican labor legislation.
The five fired workers who took the lead in organizing a genuine
union at Daewoo are Juan Carlos Espinoza Bravo (interim general
secretary), Victor Ortega (interim organizing director), Rita Soltero
(interim recording secretary), and Rogelio Torres and Alan Lechuga
Moreno of the interim executive board.
The Daewoo maquiladora factory produces TV screens for the U.S.
market. It is owned by a Korean multinational corporation. It employs
more than 800 workers. For the past four years, workers have received
no wage increases, even though management got numerous raises. The
rate of job injuries has increased dramatically during this period
due to speed-up.
Last October, about 40 of these workers formed a union. They
submitted their union registration application to the National
Reconciliation Board. Soon after, Daewoo management began to harass
the workers who had signed onto the union, taking away bonus points
for punctuality, productivity, attendance and loyalty -- which was
tantamount to a wage cut of 200 pesos per month, a considerable sum
considering their incredibly low wages. When some of the workers
protested this abuse, they were fired.
Meanwhile the Reconciliation Board has ignored the Daewoo workers'
petition to form a union, even though formally they must announce
their decision to certify a new union 60 days after the application
The Daewoo workers, together with workers in other maquiladora plants
in the Mexicali region, have launched a new organization -- the
Movement for Freedom and Labor Rights for Workers in the Maquiladora
Industry (MOLDELTIM) -- and are calling on the trade union movement
in the United States and across the Americas to support their
struggle for independent unions and labor rights. They insist that
workers in the maquiladoras must be granted at least the same labor
rights as all workers throughout Mexico.
At the Western Hemisphere Workers Conference Against the FTAA held in
Sao Paulo, Brazil, on December 12-13, the Mexican delegation brought
a proposal to the conference to constitute an International
Commission of Inquiry that would travel to Mexicali to investigate
the living, working and union conditions of the maquiladora workers
at the Daewoo and other plants.
The Open World Conference Continuations Committee supports this
effort and, in coordination with the MOLDETIM organizers, is calling
on labor officials, unionists and activists in the United States,
Mexico and Canada to participate in a one-day conference in Mexicali
on Saturday, April 24, to listen to the testimonies of the fired
Daewoo workers and other workers in the maquiladora industry, and to
promote a wider solidarity campaign on their behalf, including a
much-needed financial campaign, as the fired workers have been
blacklisted and no maquiladora will give them work.
Please fill out the coupon below if you are interested in
participating in this Conference in Support of the Maquiladora
Workers in Mexicali on April 24th. Also, we ask all supporters of
labor rights, whether you are able to come to Mexicali or not, to
please send statements to Daewoo management and to the authorities in
the state of Baja California protesting the repression and demanding
the immediate reinstatement in their jobs of the five fired workers:
Juan Carlos Espinoza Bravo, Victor Ortega, Rita Soltero, Rogelio
Torres, and Alan Lechuga Moreno.
Please send your protest statements to:
C. Eugenio Elorduy
Governor, State of Baja California
Myung Soo Choi,
Chief Executive Officer
Daewoo Orion de Mexico
Please send copies to Humberto Brizuela at <brizuela@...> and
to the OWC Continuations Committee at <ilcinfo@...>.
Thanks, in advance, for your support,
Eddie Rosario and Alan Benjamin,
OWC Continuations Committee
APRIL 24TH MEXICALI CONFERENCE
[ ] I am interested in participating in the April 24th Conference
in Mexicali in Support of the Daewoo Maquiladora Workers. Please send
me more information
[ ] I cannot attend the April 24th Conference, but I am hereby
making a pledge for $ ____ to the Daewoo Maquiladora Workers Support
Fund. I will send a check or money order, payable to OWC, c/o San
Francisco Labor Council, 1188 Franklin St. #203, San Francisco, CA
94109. Please mark Daewoo workers' fund on your check or money order.
(please fill out and return to OWC at <ilcinfo@...>)
OWC CAMPAIGN NEWS - distributed by the Open World Conference in
Defense of Trade Union Independence & Democratic Rights, c/o S.F. Labor
Council, 1188 Franklin St., #203, San Francisco, CA 94109.
to SUBSCRIBE, contact the OWC at <ilcinfo@...>.
2) One Mexican Worker Dying a Day, AP Finds
By JUSTIN PRITCHARD, AP
The jobs that lure Mexican workers to the United States are killing them in a
worsening epidemic that is now claiming a victim a day, an Associated Press
investigation has found. Though Mexicans often take the most hazardous jobs,
they are more likely than others to be killed even when doing similarly risky
The death rates are greatest in several Southern and Western states, where a
Mexican worker is four times more likely to die than the average U.S.-born
worker. These accidental deaths are almost always preventable and often gruesome:
Workers are impaled, shredded in machinery, buried alive. Some are 15 years
For the first such study of Mexican worker deaths in the United States, The
AP talked with scores of workers, employers and government officials and
analyzed years of federal safety and population statistics.
Among the findings:
Mexican death rates are rising even as the U.S. workplace grows safer
overall. In the mid-1990s, Mexicans were about 30 percent more likely to die than
native-born workers; now they are about 80 percent more likely.
Deaths among Mexicans in the United States increased faster than their
population. As the number of Mexican workers grew by about half, from 4 million to 6
million, the number of deaths rose by about two-thirds, from 241 to 387.
Deaths peaked at 420 in 2001.
Though their odds of dying in the Southeast and parts of the West are far
greater than the U.S. average, fatalities occur everywhere: Mexicans died cutting
North Carolina tobacco and Nebraska beef, felling trees in Colorado and
welding a balcony in Florida, trimming grass at a Las Vegas golf course and falling
from scaffolding in Georgia.
Even compared to other immigrants, what's happening to Mexicans is
exceptional in scope and scale. Mexicans are nearly twice as likely as the rest of the
immigrant population to die at work.
Why is all this happening?
Public safety officials and workers themselves say the answer comes down to
this: Mexicans are hired to work cheap, the fewer questions the better.
They may be thrown into jobs without training or safety equipment. Their
objections may be silent if they speak no English or are here illegally. And their
work culture and Third World safety expectations don't discourage
Federal and state safety agencies have started to recognize the problem. But
they have limited resources - only a few Spanish-speaking investigators work
in regions with hundreds of thousands of recent arrivals - and often can't
reach the most vulnerable Mexican workers.
President Bush's recent proposal to grant illegal immigrants temporary legal
protections energized the national immigration debate. Yet in these
discussions, job safety has been an afterthought. Meanwhile, Mexicans continue to die on
Eighteen-year-old Carlos Huerta fell to his death as he built federal
low-income housing in North Carolina.
His bosses ignored basic work safety rules, according to state inspectors,
when they put him in a trash container that wasn't secured to the raised prongs
of a forklift. It soon toppled.
In 2002, the year Huerta was killed, more Mexicans died in construction than
any other industry - and more died from fatal falls than any other accident.
A year ago in South Carolina, brothers Rigouerto and Moses Xaca Sandoval died
building a suburban high school that, at 15 and 16, they might have attended.
They were buried in a trench when the walls of sandy soil collapsed.
The United States offered these three teens wages 10 times higher than in
Mexico. They offered their employers cheap, pliant labor. For safety violations
that led to these deaths, the federal Occupational Safety and Health
Administration has fined employers $50,475.
Accidents like these suggest that employers assign Mexicans to the most
glaringly perilous tasks, says Susan Feldmann, who fields calls from
Spanish-speaking workers for an institute within the federal Centers for Disease Control.
"They're considered disposable," she says.
But employers are not always at fault, some safety officials say.
Though he was trained and wearing required safety gear, Jesus Soto Carbajal
severed his jugular vein with a carving knife in a Nebraska meatpacking plant.
The blade punctured his chest just above the protective metal mesh.
Federal safety officials didn't fine the employer, though they did recommend
fundamental changes in the work routine. A plant spokesman says that since the
accident in 2000, workers wear larger protective tunics.
Mexican worker deaths were also concentrated in agriculture.
When Urbano Ramirez suffered a nose bleed picking North Carolina tobacco, his
supervisor prescribed shade rest. Ramirez's body was found 10 days later.
A medical examiner said he died of unknown natural causes, the body too
decomposed for a definitive finding. His brother suspects heat stroke.
Like Ramirez, many deceased workers came with little more than a grade-school
education - and often left behind large families.
Criminal charges are rare, fines more typical. One exception is a California
dairyman who faces involuntary manslaughter charges after two of his workers
drowned in liquid cow manure.
Jose Alatorre was overcome by fumes from the fetid stew as he tried to fix a
pump at the bottom of a 30-foot concrete shaft. His partner died trying to
Both men were full-time workers but, according to prosecutors, were given no
safety training and no safety equipment to deal with the predictably hazardous
The deaths received a burst of attention in early 2001, but 18 months later
in the same small town, a third Mexican-born worker died in the same way at
The AP's investigation focused on 1996 through 2002, the most recent set of
worker death data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those were years
when the economic boom coaxed about 1 million Mexicans beyond the border states,
according to government estimates.
During those years, the analysis showed, Mexicans were increasingly more
likely to die on the job than U.S. workers of any race.
The annual death rate for Mexicans increased to the point that about 1 in
16,000 workers died. Meanwhile, for the average U.S.-born worker, the rate
steadily decreased to about 1 in 28,000.
Mexicans now represent about 1 in 24 workers in the United States, but about
1 in 14 workplace deaths.
Workplace fatalities had distinct regional patterns:
CALIFORNIA AND TEXAS: These states, where generations of Mexicans have
developed strong support networks, still rank atop the annual number of Mexican
worker deaths - but their numbers have steadied or fallen recently. Though low
relative to other states, the death rate for Mexican workers in California is
still greater than the average for U.S.-born workers.
SOUTH: In the bloc of states from Louisiana to Maryland, the Mexican death
rate averaged about 1 in 6,200 workers - four times that of native-born workers.
Total deaths more than tripled from 27 in 1996 to 94 in 2002 in the South
(excluding Texas), where some states saw Mexican populations triple to more than
WEST: Outside California, deaths in Western states increased from 41 to 58,
and death rates hovered above the national average. Colorado and Washington
stood out with consistently high rates.
MIDWEST: The number of Mexicans killed annually doubled between 1996 and
2002, from 19 to 38; death rates were slightly above the national average for
NORTHEAST: The region has the fewest Mexicans, but death rates still far
exceeded American worker averages. Total annual deaths rose from eight to 17.
Construction was the deadliest industry. Across the nation, about 1 in 3,100
Mexican construction laborers died at work, a rate notably greater than
native-born white and black construction laborers, though in line with the rate for
Federal and state safety officials are starting to grapple with the problem.
OSHA Director John Henshaw points to Spanish-language materials the agency
has put on its Web site, as well as the agency's Hispanic Taskforce, which
The greatest frustration is that so many deaths are avoidable.
"Ninety-five to 99 percent of the time, there's going to be noncompliance
with a standard that could have prevented the fatality," says Joe Reina, the No.
2 OSHA official for Texas and neighboring states and a leader of the Hispanic
Still, Reina holds workers partly responsible.
"They just don't know that they have rights and responsibilities," Reina
says, including the ability to complain against employers.
Explaining those rights is one thing, enforcing them another. Some of OSHA's
own officials say their resources are insufficient and note the agency's own
policies generally provide for punitive action only after an accident. It's
unclear what Bush's guest worker program, if approved, would do for worker
As OSHA works to improve safety, language remains a barrier. By the agency's
own count, there are no Spanish-speaking inspectors or accident investigators
in the half of Georgia that includes immigrant-rich Atlanta. Some other
Southern cities do have Spanish-fluent enforcement officials.
In its eight-state Southeastern region, OSHA has a single Spanish-speaking
outreach worker. Marilyn Velez encourages workers and employers to avoid unsafe
It's not easy. Some wary workers see Velez as a police officer; others,
having survived abject poverty in rural Mexico and dangerous border crossing, feel
they don't need her.
"They are looking at you like, 'Are you crazy? I have done worse things,"'
Velez says. "It's just the way they see risk."
Sometimes the lessons do register. But America's Mexican labor force is
constantly in flux. Workers graduate to safer jobs, or perhaps they move back home.
Their replacements may be the next victims.
Associated Press researcher Julie Reed contributed to this report.
03/13/04 19:15 EST
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