Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network Newsletter
June 11, 1997
Volume I, Number 2
Webmaster: Peter Dillard ("ishmaelMD@aol.com")
Editor & Coordinator: Garrett Brown ("firstname.lastname@example.org")
P.O. Box 124, Berkeley, CA 94701-0124
Who We Are
Letter from the Editor
Letter from the Coordinator
APHA Grants to the Network
Maquila Managers Training Project Moves Forward
CAFOR Survey Follow-up in Tijuana
Trainers' Exchange Conference
Updates on Ongoing Projects
WHO WE ARE
The "Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network" is a volunteer
network of 300 occupational health and safety professionals who
have placed their names on a resource list to provide information,
technical assistance and on-site instruction regarding workplace
hazards in the over 3,500 "maquiladora" (foreign-owned assembly)
plants along the U.S.-Mexico border. Network members, including
industrial hygienists, occupational physicians and nurses, and
health educators among others, are donating their time and expertise
to create safer and healthier working conditions for the over
850,000 maquiladora workers employed by primarily U.S.-owned transnational
corporations along Mexico's northern border from Matamoros to
Tijuana. The Support Network is not designed to generate, nor
is it intended to create, business opportunities for private consultants
or other for-profit enterprises. On the contrary, Network participants
will be donating their time and knowledge pro bono to border area
workers and professional associations. The Maquiladora Health
& Safety Support Network was launched in October 1993 at the annual
meeting of the American Public Health Association (APHA). It includes
occupational health specialists from Canada, Mexico and the United
States who are active in the APHA, American Industrial Hygiene
Association, American Society of Safety Engineers and the 25 local
grassroots Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (COSH)
groups in the U.S. and Canada. The Support Network is continuously
seeking more health and safety professionals and activists to
join the network, as well as looking for more border community
organizations who can make use of the information and technical
assistance offered. Please join us!
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LETTER FROM THE EDITOR - Peter Dillard
Since the first issue of the Maquiladora Health & Safety Support
Network Newsletter (we really must have a shorter name!), the
mailing list has doubled! Many, many of new subscribers are people
who have already been very active in their worker health & safety
movements. It is heartening to see the level of activism that
exists despite the lack of commercial media coverage. As you will
see from our Coordinator's letter, things are moving along well
for an all-volunteer effort!
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LETTER FROM THE COORDINATOR - Garrett Brown
As you can see, the Network's electronic newsletter is not only
coming out a second time, but will be expanding over the next
year into a printed format as well! A second project will bring
the Network's database and directory of volunteers up to speed.
These developments have been made possible by two "Challenge Fund"
grants from the American Public Health Association. Many thanks
to the APHA and, especially, to the leadership of its Occupational
Health & Safety Section whose strong support was key to winning
For anyone who actually cares about workers' health and safety
on the U.S.-Mexico border (and in the countries on either side),
two recent developments are cause for great concern. The reputation
for professionalism and ethical behavior of occupational health
professions, especially that of industrial hygiene, is also at
On January 21, 1997, the Mexican government promulgated a new
"Federal Regulation on Workplace Safety and Health" to replace
its 1978 predecessor. While the new law has some positive aspects,
the most notable change is the privatization of government enforcement
and regulation of occupational health and safety in Mexico.
The government has decided to permit privately-owned "verification
units" to conduct workplace inspections and, upon "verification
of compliance" with regulations, to exempt the inspected companies
from further inspections and fines by the government's Secretaria
del Trabajo y Prevision Social (STPS - Department of Labor and
Social Welfare). The Mexican government has apparently given up
on improving the professionalism and technical capacity of STPS
inspectors, who have a widespread reputation for ineffectiveness
and corruption. Numerous private companies, including US-owned
insurance companies and consulting firms, have submitted applications
to be certified by the STPS as official "verification units."
North of the border, both Republican "OSHA reformers" and Clintonian
"government re-inventors" have proposed allowing "independent,
third-party certification" by private consultants which would
also lead, with a positive "certification," to exemption from
OSHA inspections and other benefits for the inspected employers.
This privatization plan has not yet been enacted (unlike Mexico),
but is under serious consideration in Washington and has garnered
the support of several professional associations whose membership
is heavily drawn from private consulting firms.
Consultants hired and paid by corporations to conduct "certification
inspections" are anything but "independent third parties;" in
fact, these firms are entirely dependent on corporate clients
for their current and future livelihoods. Any consulting firm
which gains a reputation for being a "stickler" for accurately
assessing corporate compliance (which might lead to loss of certification
and denial of exemptions to its clients) risks seeing its client
base shrink into oblivion. In order to maintain their clients,
"independent" consultants will be under tremendous pressure to
minimize, overlook or simply ignore workplace hazards.
In addition to the real danger of "certifying" unsafe conditions
and work practices as "in compliance," the obvious conflict-of-interest
inherent in the proposed third-party certifications threatens
to taint and sully the reputations and ethical standing of the
inspecting professionals. "Third party IH consultant" may well
end up with "company doctor" as titles of professionals who place
the welfare of their corporate clients above that of the workers
and patients their professions were designed to protect.
The Mexican law is already approved and in the implementation
process. The law merits close examination to see whether it does
more for workers' health and safety in Mexico than simply line
the pockets of politically-connected companies who will win government
approval as "verification units." The changes in the U.S. are
under discussion and everyone concerned with occupational health
in North America should be part of the discussions occurring in
Washington and inside many professional organizations.
In any case, these developments reaffirm the importance of efforts
like those of our Network to provide information and assistance
to those to whom workers' health and safety is of primary importance:
the workers themselves. Although the Network's efforts are very
modest in scale at present, the importance of volunteers' donation
of expertise, technical assistance, training instruction and other
forms of support, should not be underestimated. All the more so
in the context of for-profit privatization of government regulatory
enforcement throughout North America.
With this in mind, please remember that there are many roles for
Network volunteers who don't happen to live on the U.S.-Mexico
border, or who don't speak Spanish. As the Network grows, we don't
want to let anyone fall through the cracks. So if you have an
idea or suggestion for the Network, or for how your skills might
best be utilized, please do not hesitate to contact me at "email@example.com"
or 510-558-1014. There's plenty of work to do and the door is
wide open for new ideas, energy and projects.
Thanks for your interest and I look forward to hearing from you!
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NETWORK RECEIVES APHA GRANTS
With the backing of APHA's Occupational Health & Safety Section,
the Support Network has received two $2,000 Challenge Fund grants,
running from June 1997 to May 1998, from the American Public Health
Association. The grants will be used to update the directory of
Network volunteers and to publish and mail a printed version of
The volunteer directory grant will create an electronic database
of volunteers and their areas of expertise, which will allow for
rapid referrals of appropriate occupational health professionals
in response to requests for assistance from the border. The database
will be published in directory form to update the pilot edition
issued in March 1996. The directory will be sent to 250 organizations
and individuals on the U.S.-Mexico border working with maquiladora
workers. Additional copies will be available for $8 to Network
volunteers and the general public. Publication of the updated
directory is scheduled for fall 1997.
Renewal forms for the updated directory will be sent out in the
first week of June to all current volunteers. If you have not
received a renewal form by June 15th, or want to add your name
to the Directory, please send your postal address to "firstname.lastname@example.org"
or to P.O. Box 124, Berkeley, CA 94701-0124.
The newsletter grant will publish and mail four quarterly newsletters
to 300 subscribers in the United States, Canada and Mexico. The
English-language publication will contain the same information
as the electronic version (which will continue), and will be sent
to Network volunteers without e-mail addresses and to organizations
and individuals with whom the Network wants to maintain regular
contact. In addition to continuing the newsletter beyond June
1998, we are hoping to publish a Spanish-language edition as well.
Network volunteers receiving the current electronic version will
also be able to get the printed version for $10 per year. The
first printed version of the newsletter is scheduled for the third
quarter (August) of 1997. Network members who want to subscribe
to the printed version of the newsletter should send their postal
address and their $10 contribution to P.O. Box 124, Berkeley,
CA 94701-0124. Anyone who is not currently on the electronic version
mailing list, and wishes to be on, should send her or his e-mail
address to Peter Dillard at "email@example.com"
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MAQUILA MANAGERS TRAINING PROJECT MOVES FORWARD
Network members who are also members of the American Industrial
Hygiene Association (AIHA) met May 21st in Dallas at the American
Industrial Hygiene Conference & Exposition (AIHCE) to plan the
next steps in a project to offer trainings to supervisors with
health and safety responsibilities in the maquiladoras.
Although most of the 3,500 maquiladora plants now operating on
the US-Mexico border are owned by Fortune 500 companies, there
is often little or no health and safety training for either line
workers, supervisors, or members of the legally-required "joint
health and safety commissions" in the plants. As one means of
improving working conditions for the close to 900,000 maquila
workers, Network members have been working with the Americas Subcommittee
of AIHA's International Affairs Committee to sponsor on-site,
Spanish-language and at-cost trainings of supervisors and joint
commission members on a variety of health and safety topics.
A 775-piece mailing to maquila plant managers and parent company
health and safety managers went out last October explaining the
AIHA initiative. Approximately 15 companies responded expressing
interest in the training and two dozen AIHA members have offered
to be volunteer instructors.
At the AIHCE meeting, Network members divided up responsibilities
for contacting the interested employers to set a date, time and
place for the pilot training. Volunteer instructors for the classes
will be selected based on the curriculum developed out of a needs
assessment conducted with the actual participants. Four subject
areas -- hazard communication, chemical use and waste management,
noise and Mexican legal requirements -- were selected as the focus
of the proposed pilot training.
The training participants are expected to be Mexican-born managers,
supervisors and joint commission members who have health and safety
responsibilities in their plants, but little or no formal training
in the field. Anyone interested in working on this project should
contact Garrett Brown at "firstname.lastname@example.org" or call 510-558-1014.
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CAFOR WORKER SURVEY FOLLOW-UP TRIP
Over the weekend of May 17-18th, three Network members traveled
to Colonia Vista Alamar in Tijuana to conduct follow-up interviews
with survey interviewers and worker respondents of the working
conditions and health effects survey organized by the CAFOR (Border
Region Workers Support Committee) organization.
The team consisted of health educator and project coordinator
Michele Gonzalez Arroyo of the Labor Occupational Health Program
(LOHP) at UC Berkeley; Simone Brumis, a Certified Industrial Hygienist
who works for the State of California; and Dr. Tim Takaro, an
occupational physician at the University of Washington in Seattle.
The team interviewed at length a dozen workers and several of
the survey-takers who had interviewed 175 of their peers working
in 72 maquiladora plants in the industrial parks in and around
Tijuana last June and July.
The Network team is writing up their reports from the interviews
and the analysis of the survey for a comprehensive report to be
issued in English and Spanish in July 1997. CAFOR and the San
Diego Support Committee will simultaneously release the survey
results for Maquiladora Workers, which facilitated the survey
and did the initial data entry.
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TRAINERS' EXCHANGE UNDER CONSIDERATION FOR 1998
The Support Network, jointly with the Labor Occupational Health
Program (LOHP) at UC Berkeley and the Labor Occupational Safety
and Health Program (LOSH) at UCLA, is considering convoking a
"trainers' exchange" conference on the U.S.-Mexico border in early
1998. The purpose of the conference would be to exchange information,
materials and lesson plans among the many groups and individuals
who are actually conducting health and safety trainings with maquiladora
workers and their communities.
The conference will be a major step toward increasing joint projects
along the border, and toward eliminating the necessity for trainers
to "reinvent the wheel" (when producing didactic materials and
lesson plans) with each new training. The goal is to have as many
people actually conducting trainings, who are often maquila workers
themselves, attend the conference. A major fund-raising effort
to subsidize the attendance of these participants will have to
be undertaken before the conference.
Anyone interested in working on this project should contact Garrett
Brown at "email@example.com" or call 510-558-1014.
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FUNDRAISING IDEAS/SUGGESTIONS NEEDED
Along with the good news of the APHA grants, we received word
that the Network's request for a grant from the RESIST Foundation
in Boston had been declined. Additional funding for a Spanish-language
version of the newsletter, and to continue the printed English
version after the first four issues, will be needed by the end
of the year. Other projects, such as the trainers' exchange conference
and printed health and safety materials in Spanish, are also dependent
on finding new resources to fund them. Anyone with funding ideas,
experience or energy should contact Garrett Brown at the numbers
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NETWORK READING & RESOURCE LIST
In the first week of June an updated version of the Network's
Reading & Resource list will be posted on the web page of the
American Public Health Association (APHA). The list first went
electronic in September 1996 and the current update includes materials
up to March 15, 1997. The list can be found at "http://www.igc.org/mhssn/Front.htm". The list is divided into the following sections:
List A, references for technical articles and reports
List B, background books
List C, reports and articles from the mass media about conditions
on the U.S.-Mexico border and about economic globalization
List D, names and contact numbers for a selection of border organizations
List E, information on audio-visual materials
List F, addresses for various electronic and on-line resources
Another update is planned for October 1997, but an editing of
the list needs to be done as it has become very lengthy and not-so-user-friendly.
Anyone interested in helping edit and/or annotate the reading
and resource list should contact Garrett Brown at the numbers
The San Francisco-based team of trainers (Michele Gonzalez Arroyo,
Garrett Brown, Leonor Dionne, Emily Merideth and Susan Teran)
is scheduled to work on the border this summer or fall with the
Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT) union confederation. The training
team will conduct the health and safety portion of a several-week
training of new border workplace organizers the union hopes to
recruit and train. Other trainings in the offing for 1998 are
with maquiladora workers along the Arizona-Sonora section of the
border, which encompasses Agua Prieta, Nogales and San Luis Colorado.
UCLA LIBRARY OF SPANISH-LANGUAGE MATERIALS
Coordinator Sonia Alas is moving forward with efforts to establish
an Advisory Committee of leading occupational safety and health
professionals from the U.S., Mexico and Latin America. The Committee
will help develop lists of organizations, government agencies
and corporations throughout the Americas and Spain, which have
safety and health materials. The Committee will also help develop
a classification scheme for the collected materials and for requests,
so as to respond with materials appropriate to the needs, educational
and literacy levels of those requesting copies of materials.
The collection, cataloging and distribution of Spanish-language
materials is being financially and materially supported by the
Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and the National Institute
for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). The library is based
at the Labor Occupational Safety and Health Program (LOSH) at
UCLA. Anyone interested in the project should contact Sonia Alas
at UCLA LOSH, 1001 Gayley Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024, 310-794-0369.
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NOTES FROM THE NETWORK
A meeting of Network members is in the planning stages for the
annual meeting of the American Public Health Association in November
9-13,1997, in Indianapolis, IN. Anyone interested in helping plan
the meeting should contact
Garrett Brown at the numbers above.
The San Francisco AFL-CIO has called a "Western Hemisphere Workers'
Conference Against NAFTA and Privatizations" for November 14-16,
1997, in San Francisco, CA. A Spanish-language call for the historic
initiative has been posted on the Internet and sent to labor organizations
throughout the Americas. The Network hopes to have a presence
at the conference and participate in workshops on safety and health
issues. For more information about the conference contact Ed Rosario
at the San Francisco Labor Council, 1188 Franklin Street, Suite
203, San Francisco, CA 94109, 415-587-7638.
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The Mexican Department of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS - Secretaria
de Trabajo y Prevision Social) has an Internet web page with many
interesting features, including the text of regulations and explanations
of recent changes in the laws. The web page is well worth a visit
to download the key documents regulating health and safety in
the maquiladoras. The address is "http://www.stps.gob.mx/index.html".
There are a variety of excellent newsletters covering developments
in the maquila industry and the U.S.-Mexico border region. Among
these periodicals, however, three stand out as "must-reads" for
those wanting to keep up:
(1) "Working Together" newsletter published six times a year by
the Labor Project of the Resource Center of the Americas in Minneapolis.
The newsletter has articles on key developments and an excellent
section of events, resources, web sites and "things brewing."
The $15 annual subscription cost is a bargain. Subscribe to "Working
Together," Labor Project, Resource Center of the Americas, 317
Seventeenth Avenue SE, Minneapolis, MN 55414-2077.
(2) "BorderLines" is the newsletter, published eleven times a
year, of the Interhemispheric Resource Center in New Mexico. The
publication is particularly strong in environmental coverage and
in tracking the activities of the tri-national bodies on labor
and the environment established by NAFTA. The $20 annual subscription
should be sent to "BorderLines," Interhemispheric Resource Center,
Box 2178, Silver City, NM 88062.
(3) Equipo Pueblo publishes "The Other Side of Mexico" six times
a year in Mexico City in English and Spanish. The newsletter has
articles on key developments in Mexico and analysis of the ever-changing
panorama of Mexican politics, economics and social development.
An annual subscription is $35 and can be initiated by sending
a check to "The Other Side of Mexico," Equipo Pueblo, Apartado
Postal 27-467, Mexico, DF, CP 06760, MEXICO. "Mexico Update" is
their electronic, English-language information service. It can
be subscribed to by sending an e-mail message to "firstname.lastname@example.org".
Two other newsletters which have excellent coverage of the impact
of globalization on many countries in the Americas and around
the world are:
(4) "Campaign for Labor Rights" newsletter, available for $35
from the Campaign, 1247 "E" Street SE, Washington, DC 20003; and
(5) "Worker Rights News," published the International Labor Rights
Fund (ILRF) and available for $15 a year from the ILRF, 110 Maryland
Avenue NE, Box 74, Washington, DC 20002.
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END OF NEWSLETTER - VOL. I, NO. 2 - June 11, 1997
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