Wednesday, August 6, 2008
Grupo Modelo, a major Mexican brewing company—the producer of Corona—has launched an all-out attack on the independent union at its Vidriera Potosí bottle-making plant in San Luis Potosí, Mexico. Since January 25, the company has fired nearly 300 workers, including the leadership of the independent union SUTEIVP (Sindicato Unico de Trabajadores de la Empresa Industria Vidriera del Potosí, S.A. de C.V.). The company's action violates both its collective bargaining agreement and Mexican law. The company has given a pro-employer union, the Revolutionary Confederation of Workers and Peasants (CROC), access to the workplace. Supervisors are telling workers that they will be fired if they do not sign petitions in support of the CROC.
Grupo Modelo and the Union
The Vidriera Potosí is owned by Grupo Modelo, Mexico's largest brewery, which produces Corona beer. Grupo Modelo, in turn, is controlled by Maria Asunción Aramburuzabala (estimated net worth $2 billion, according to Forbes), who is married to the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Antonio O. Garza Jr. The company is 49% owned by Anheuser-Busch.
For the previous decade, the union leadership, affiliated to the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), had given the workers no voice in collective bargaining. Then in April, 2006, workers at the Vidriera Potosí elected an independent slate to the union executive committee. In June and July, the company retaliated by firing three members of the independent executive committee and five of their supporters. The leaders were reinstated after an international pressure campaign, including a letter from the Glass, Molders, Pottery, Plastics & Allied Workers International Union on behalf of the Modelo workers.
The union disaffiliated from the CTM and became legally independent in January, 2007. The independent union then went on in July, 2007 to win a 19% wage increase, the biggest in the union's history and far above the national average of 4.5%.
The Current Situation
In December, 2007, Vidriera Potosí announced that it would close one of four glass furnaces, asserting that its sales have been hurt by the impending recession in the U.S. An analysis of the company's position does not support this argument. The company is currently initiating a new campaign to market Modelo Especial in North America and is building a new bottling plant in Piedras Negras on the US-Mexico border that will increase its capacity by 16%.
Continuing its campaign against the union, on January 25, 2008, the company fired another 207 workers. The workers were unilaterally discharged with no negotiation as required by the contract. Most of the targeted workers have many years of seniority in the plant. The union called a 24-hour work stoppage to protest the firings.
Decimation of the Union
In the past month, the company has fired nearly 100 more workers, including 13 members of the union executive committee and 40 shop stewards and committee members.
Beginning on February 7, the Company organized workplace meetings where representatives of the "Workers' Vanguard" Federation of the CROC were allowed to sign up workers. Workers report being told by supervisors that if they do not sign the CROC petition they will be fired. While the SUTEIVP leaders have all been fired, Grupo Modelo is giving the CROC unlimited access to the workforce.
Federal and state labor authorities are giving full support to Grupo Modelo's union-busting campaign. In December, the SUTEIVP requested an extension of their "toma de nota" (a document issued by the Federal Labor Board that gives the elected union officers the legal authority to represent the union). However, the Labor Board has refused to extend this certification, which expired on February 4.
In addition, the SUTEIVP filed a strike demand with the Federal Labor Board on January 29, arguing that the firings violated their contract. The Labor Board refused to act on it, thus making a legal strike impossible.
To date, 137 of the fired workers have refused offers of severance pay and have filed lawsuits with the Federal Labor Board demanding reinstatement. The fired workers report that they are being blacklisted by other employers in San Luis Potosí.