Students return from union organizing in Mexico

By the

April 5, 2001

Members of United Students Against Sweatshops returned from Mexico March 27 after visiting with workers trying to form a union in a factory producing Nike and Reebok apparel.

The Kukdong factory in the city of Atlixco has been the target of recent action by USAS, Nike investigators and Verite, an independent auditing group commissioned by Nike and Reebok to look into possible labor law violations.

In January, workers at the Kukdong factory staged a work stoppage to protest the firing of five factory workers who had attempted to organize a boycott of the factory’s cafeteria, which they alleged had been serving rancid meat. According to a letter from Ivan de Erick Diaz Xolo, a worker at Kukdong, some workers were fired during the work stoppage and later reinstated, although not in their original positions as had been previously promised.

Marya Murray (SFS ‘01) met with workers from Kukdong. She said they had been attempting to organize an independent union since January and were in the process of getting official recognition from the government.

The Kukdong factory currently has a union, but according to Murray the workers did not choose the union, the union leader does not work at the factory and many union workers feel the union does nothing to address their concerns.

Murray said workers told the group that they do not get sick days or regular breaks, at times managers physically abuse workers and part of a worker’s salary consists of a food ticket redeemable in the factory cafeteria, which they said serves spoiled food.

“The [current] union had been threatening members of the factory, telling them not to talk to students or independent observers,” Murray said. “They said if they found out they were talking with the leaders of the new union they’d get fired and their family members would get fired.”

According to a statement by Umberto Rodriguez, an economist with the University of Puebla, workers in the Kukdong factory make 38 pesos?approximately $3.80?each day. He said that a family of four requires about130 pesos per day for food and housing expenses.

Rachel Wilson, a student at the University of Arizona, said the group did not need to focus on inspecting the factory because other inspectors had been there already.

“We really need to emphasize the fact that Mexican labor laws allow the workers to establish an independent union,” Wilson said. “It’s the politics that have been keeping it from happening so far.”

According to Wilson, the students worked with factory workers on ways to better time their actions together in the future.

“It’s crucial for students in the United States to support their fight for the union,” Wilson said.

A Nike press release from March 14 said the company is committed to workers’ rights to freedom of association but also planned on working with the union already in place.

“The [current] union representative has educated workers on the collective bargaining agreement that is currently in place,” Nike said, as an example of how the company is working to improve the environment at the Kukdong factory.

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