Unifor Canada is standing behind striking workers in the Mexican border city Matamoros, where tens of thousands of auto parts and plastics plant employees walked off the job last week in an action that industry groups say is costing US$50 million per day.
An estimated 25,000 workers at about 48 factories went on strike last Friday to demand higher pay. Minimum wage for maquiladora workers in border towns such as Matamoros, a city with about 130 factories directly south of Brownsville, Texas, is about $9.20 a day or $1.15 an hour. Workers were pushing for a 20 per cent raise and a one-time bonus of $1,700.
As of Thursday, at least 18 plants acquiesced to the pressure to avoid breaching contracts with the automotive industry, according to industry groups including Index and the Mexican Automotive Industry Association (AMIA). In a statement, these groups put the $50 million price tag on the strike, called the workers’ demands “unacceptable” and stated the disruption could put jobs at risk if factories decide to move shop.
The strikes have affected some auto production in Canada. Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. has taken three days of down time at its Oakville, Ont. assembly plant due to supplier parts shortages, spokeswoman Lauren More said in an email.
“We will make up all lost production,” More said of the plant, where about 4,600 employees make Ford and Lincoln SUVs.
General Motors Canada said the strikes have had minimal impact on its Mexican operations and no impact on manufacturing in Canada or the U.S.
“We continue to monitor the situation,” spokeswoman Jennifer Wright said in an email.
While these strikes may not have a direct affect on Canadian operations, it’s likely they will affect the assembly of certain parts eventually, said Flavio Volpe of the Automotive Parts Manufacturer’s Association.
“This industry relies absolutely on the security of supply, volume and timing because we’re all so integrated,” Volpe said. “These things tend to have ripple effects.”
I am thrilled that the Mexican workers are fighting back. They deserve decent wages and benefits
Jerry Dias, Unifor national president
The labour action comes after Mexico elected a new leader, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who raised the minimum wage in border towns such as Matamoros as of Jan. 1. It also comes after updates to NAFTA, which was renegotiated in part due to anger over auto production shifting from the U.S. and Canada to Mexico where labour is drastically cheaper. The yet-to-be-ratified United States Mexico Canada Agreement requires the Mexican government to allow workers to form collective bargaining units.
Unifor national president Jerry Dias believes the renegotiations paved the way for the strikes by calling for improved collective bargaining and labour standards in Mexico.
“It is long overdue. This is to a large extent what the renegotiation of NAFTA was about,” Dias said. “I hope they shut down the entire auto industry.”
Unifor is currently campaigning against the movement of auto production to Mexico after GM announced last year it planned to close its assembly plant in Oshawa. But Dias doesn’t see a conflict between his union’s goal to keep jobs in Canada and its support for the Mexican workers. He said Unifor planned to reach out to its Mexican counterparts on Thursday to offer support.
“We can’t continue to bleed jobs in Canada and the United States because they’re exploiting Mexican workers,” Dias said.
“I am thrilled that the Mexican workers are fighting back. They deserve decent wages and benefits.”