UE President Hovis letter to Secretary Chao
(July 24, 2002)

July 24, 2002
Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor
United States Department of Labor
Re: Submission No. 9703
200 Constitution Ave., N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20210

Dear Secretary Chao:

I am writing to you on behalf of the United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE), the lead Petitioner in the Itapsa case (Public Submission 9703), to advise you that we will not be participating in the seminar you are planning for Monterrey pursuant to the Ministerial Agreement regarding that submission because we do not choose to lend any further credibility to a process which has so totally failed to protect workers' rights..

It has now been more than 4 1/2 years since we first filed the case, and almost exactly four years since the decision. In the better than two years since the Mexican government committed itself to "promote secret ballot elections" Mexican workers have had their rights violated and have suffered physical and emotional abuse in connection with elections where they must still vote out loud in front of company officials and oftentimes in front of thugs. It was precisely this continuing failure by the Mexican government to protect the associational rights and the safety of workers in representation cases that led us to file the ITAPSA case. .

The case focused on some of the most egregious ways in which Mexican workers are deprived of their rights, and the NAO decision found serious problems in all of the following areas: the absence of secret ballot elections, the lack of public registries of unions and contracts, the use of exclusion clauses, violence against workers who were conducting lawful organizational and informational activity in public places, and the lack of transparency and inherent bias of a system in which the labor representatives on the Mexican labor boards are virtually always from the CTM.

The case involved a brake plant just outside of Mexico City where predominantly young workers suffered serious exposures to asbestos and solvents in the course of their work. Not surprisingly, testimony revealed chronic deficiencies in worker protection, training, the labeling of chemicals and an inspection system where inspectors were clearly not competent to detect violations related to occupational exposures or disease and where a minor slap on the wrist was the most serious sanction assessed. To put it bluntly, many of the young workers from that plant who courageously stood up for their rights and were fired for their efforts may well be dead twenty years from now as a result of asbestos exposure at work.

We were impressed with the NAO's concern with the issues we raised during the hearing process and felt that while the decision was not all that we had hoped for, it laid strong groundwork for serious consultations on a ministerial level.

The initial phases of the case took approximately seven months: The Submission was filed on December 15, 1997; the hearing held on March 23, 1998; and the Public Report (decision) issued July 31, 1998. However, it was not until almost two years later (May 18, 2000) that an agreement was reached with the Mexican Ministry of Labor. A review of the terms left us highly skeptical of the process. Instead of firm commitments regarding changes in policies and practices which constitute major violations of Mexican and international law, we found platitudes, commitments only to "promote" change, rather than to change itself, and more seminars, when we had made it very clear from the beginning that we were not interested in discussions, that we wanted serious change.

The first of the seminars specified in the agreement took place on June 23, 2000, in Tijuana, the location of the Han Young plant which was the site of the violations which were documented in Submission 9702. As you are no doubt aware, this seminar was to be held to educate workers about their right to freely organize trade unions. Ironically, no time on the agenda was allotted for worker participation and instead of constituting a forum which advanced the cause of workers' rights in Mexico, particularly the rights of workers at the Han Young facility, this seminar became the site of further brutalization of Mexican workers when maquiladora workers assembled at this seminar, including workers from Han Young, were viciously attacked by thugs from the CROC (a federation which is noted for its protection contracts and opposition to independent unions.

When we protested the manner in which the seminar had been conducted, we were assured by Secretary Herman that, among other things, "the UE and other interested organizations [would be] consulted on the planning of the tri-national seminar on labor boards."

We were subsequently assured by Mr. Karesh, Acting Secretary of the U.S. NAO, that the next seminar would be conducted in Mexico City, as we suggested, and that the principal focus would be on the issue of how the Labor Boards handle representation questions and specifically the question of secret ballot elections. We were also assured that he welcomed our suggestions regarding the agenda. We worked closely with organizations in the U.S., Mexico and Canada to prepare an agenda which was designed to take advantage of the experiences in each of our countries and to promote the active participation of workers and their legal representatives both as panelists and members of the audience. Mr. Karesh advised us that there was some discussion about including the TAESA case as well and asked our opinion. After consulting with our Mexican colleagues we informed him that we had no objection and worked that into the proposed agenda. Although Mr. Karesh warned us that it was likely that there would be some changes when the details were worked out with the Mexican NAO, we believed that our proposal was being seriously taken into account.

And then we waited. And waited. And quite by accident, a friend who attended a seminar recently in Toronto reported that in response to a question from the audience, the secretary of the Mexican NAO had said that the seminar in the ITAPSA case was to be held in Monterrey. This seemed unlikely since the intention of the Ministerial Agreement which first described the seminar was to hold it in a location accessible to the workers in the case. There was certainly no connection with Monterrey, some 1000 kilometers away.

However, when we inquired of the US NAO what was going on, we were finally faxed the Joint Declaration and press release which had been reached over a month earlier. We were told that the meeting would be held in Monterrey because the President of the Mexican labor board was from that area, that no part of the agenda we had proposed was being used, and that the only presenters would be government officials.

Given this history, we believe that the NAO process has deteriorated into a farce, and under these circumstances we see no value in participating further. Sincerely, John H. Hovis, Jr. President UE One Gateway Center, Suite 1400 420 Fort Duquesne Blvd. Pittsburgh, PA. 15222-1416