By Ben Davis of the United Steelworkers.
In the early 1990s, the multi national metals company Alcoa began sourcing from Arneses y Accesorios de Mexico, S.A. de C.V, a maquiladora producing wire harnesses for the North American auto industry in Ciudad Acuña, on the Mexico-USA border in the state of Coahuila.
Alcoa subsequently acquired Arneses through a joint venture and eventually assumed full ownership in 2005. By then Arneses also included wire harness plants in Piedras Negras, Torreon, and Puebla (The Puebla plant was closed in 2008).
In Piedras Negras and Torreon, Arneses signed labour contracts with the CTM. In Puebla, the plant (acquired from Siemens in 2001) had an independent union affiliated to the UNT. In contrast, Ciudad Acuña remained a union-free zone – not even the CTM was allowed to operate there. Today there are approximately 7,000 workers at the Arneses plants in Ciudad Acuña.
Starting in the 1990s, workers at Arneses y Accesorios began to organize with the support of the Border Committee of Women Workers. The workers formed “dialogue committees” to address issues including low pay and health and safety. With the assistance of United Steelworkers and a group of religious shareholders, the workers attended the 1996 Alcoa shareholders meeting in Pittsburgh and confronted management.
In 2000 and 2001 CFO led worker mobilizations and wildcat strikes. In 2002, workers at the Alcoa wire harness plant in Piedras Negras revolted against the CTM union that controlled the factory in close collaboration with management. They called union assemblies, elected their own delegates and for nine months operated as an independent union until they were violently suppressed by the combined efforts of the CTM and the company.
The independent union filed a complaint with the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association. See ILO CFA report, Case No. 2393,
Conflicts in Piedras Negras continued over the next few years. In Ciudad Acuña, the dialogue committees – facilitated by the religious shareholders – were able to win significant improvements in health and safety and other working conditions.
The USW also helped the workers and CFO on health and safety and conducted several training sessions for the committee leadership. In 2007 a delegation of local leaders from Alcoa plants in the US visited Ciudad Acuña.
In 2007, the CFO evaluated its organizing campaign and concluded that even with international solidarity, it would be difficult to advance beyond dialogue to collective bargaining unless the Arneses workers were represented by a democratic union with the legal right to engage in collective bargaining. The CFO approached the SNTMMSSRM (Los Mineros), which began meeting with the Arneses workers. In July 2009, the Arneses workers formed Section 309 of Los Mineros.
In June 2009, Alcoa sold its wire harness division, Alcoa Electronics and Electrical Solutions (AEES) to Platinum Equity, a U.S. equity fund controlled by Tom Gores.
The Mineros organizing campaign continued with the support of the UAW and the USW, with regular assemblies, house calls and leafleting in the plants. The campaign also received assistance from the IMF organizing project. See IMF project evaluation, CFO presentation to IMF project evaluation meeting.
In August 2011, Platinum Equity sold AEES – including Arneses y Accesorios – to the Finnish company PKC Group. Including AEES, PKC now has production facilities in 10 countries. Major wire harness clients in Europe are Volvo and Scania. There is a PKC European Works Council comprising Finland, Poland and Estonia. The Finnish union also maintains a close relationship with the union in Russia. The German plant is not organized as in a plant in the Republic of Ireland. We do not have information on the plant in Ukraine. In Brazil, PKC workers are also unionised. In North America, PKC’s largest customer accounts within the truck industry are Daimler Trucks North America, Navistar and PACCAR.
Major customer accounts relating to the light vehicle industry include Continental, Ford, General Motors, Harley-Davidson and Lear. The company produces some components for the U.S. military.
In response to the sale, coordination efforts were initiated between Los Mineros, CFO, Metalliliito, IMF, UAW, USW and Solidarity Centre. A meeting was held at the USW Convention in August followed by two conference calls and a second meeting at the IMF Central Committee in December which was joined by the CNM/CUT. Contacts have been made with Força Sindical and Conlutas which also represent workers in Brazil.
On October 19th, the Los Mineros wrote to PKC to propose negotiations. Jyrki Raina General secretarty of the IMF also spoke to PKC CEO Harri Suutari, and the UAW sent a letter encouraging negotiations. The EWC also sent a letter. The company did not respond to the letters, but announced a wage increase the same day as the Mineros letter, and began distributing anti-Mineros leaflets in the plants and holding anti-union meetings. Los Mineros made a formal bargaining demand in accordance with Mexican law on November 28th last year.
On December 6th, the company responded refusing to bargain because of an existing collective bargaining agreement with the “Miguel Trujillo López” union of the CTM, which is controlled by Tereso Medina, CTM leader in Coahuila and President of the Labor Commission of the Federal Chamber of Deputies.
According to the Federal Labor Secretariat, this union has 51 contracts including General Motors, Faurecia and Magna. It should be noted that none of the workers at the Arneses plants in Ciudad Acuña have ever received a copy of this collective agreement, nor have they had any participation in contract negotiations or election of union representatives.
On January 31st this year, the company informed the workers that they were now represented by the CTM “for their own protection.”
Workers were not given a copy of the union contract nor, of course, any opportunity to voice their opinion. The company said that it would pay the workers’ union dues directly to the union rather than deducting them from their paychecks.