By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
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If Maxi Switch's wages barely satisfy the legal minimum and are below the industry average, the company doesn't even fully comply with the law. When Maxi Switch revised its contract last January, it raised the daily wage from 50 to 52 pesos for workers with three months on the job and from 60 to 63 pesos for workers with six months in. Even though the contract was applicable from January 31, 2002, a worker's pay slips show she received no increase until March 1, and no retroactive pay, which is illegal, according to labor experts.
In fact, a closer look at the labor contract itself shows that it openly violates several articles of Mexican federal labor law, according to Graciela Bensusán, a political science professor specializing in labor relations at the Latin-American Faculty of Social Sciences. For instance, by stating that the number of positions offered at the plant will vary according to the company's needs, the contract disregards labor law. "This is extreme flexibilitythat is, the company can do whatever it wants," she added. This shows the union doesn't really defend its workers, according to Bensusán. These violations to the law are mild in comparison to the one that concerns Gracia's remuneration by Maxi Switch. When asked whether workers had to pay union dues, Gracia answered that union dues are exclusively for the workers.
"So, who pays us, if that's what you want to know?" she added. "The company pays us like a fee, like they'd pay any lawyer. But don't think that because the company pays us a fee, we'll do what the company wants. That is, it's like a punishment for the company to have to pay us so that we act as consultants to the workers."
However, Maxi Switch's contract doesn't say a word about paying the secretary general or other members of the union executive committee a fee to give professional advice to workers or for any other purpose. "This would be absolutely abnormal that the company pay any amount to the union leader," said Bensusán. In fact, if Maxi Switch paid Gracia, as she said it does, this payment would be illegal and unethical. "This would precisely be like a protection union," Bensusán said, before adding that this shows Gracia "is acting more as a representative of the company than of the workers."
When interviewed by the Voice, Bloomberg LP's Taylor said the company had looked into the issue of its relationship with Maxi Switch during Bloomberg's campaign for mayor. The company's attorney, Thomas Golden, also mentioned that he had read information about the demand presented to the NAO by the CWA on behalf of the Maxi Switch Workers' Union. This submission, which is available on the U.S. Department of Labor's Web page, clearly describes the poor working conditions at the Cananea Maxi Switch plant, how Maxi Switch engaged in anti-union practices, and how it sought to sign a contract with a protection union. This should certainly have pushed Bloomberg LP to question Maxi Switch's labor practices.
Eight months have passed since Bloomberg's campaign ended with his election, and Bloomberg LP's reaction is to say that "if Bloomberg did learn of any unfair or illegal labor practices by Maxi-Switch [sic], it would promptly take appropriate action," according to the company statement. In fact, Golden told the Voice, "Whether or not the union is acting in the best interest of the workers, I have no idea."
During his campaign, Bloomberg was much more assertive about his subcontractors' labor practices. Once, he was asked how he would face New York's complex and powerful union machine given his lack of experience in dealing with unions, since his own media company is union-free. "I deal with unions all the time," Bloomberg replied. "We negotiate contracts. We employ nothing but union labor in our company for all of our subcontractors. I know how to balance a budget. I know how to get things done on time. That's what being a mayor is all about."
Whatever action Bloomberg takes now will show New Yorkers whether the claim that all his company's subcontractors are union shops does mean something to him. If that's really what being a mayor is all about, workers, unions, and New Yorkers in general should be interested in knowing whether Maxi Switch's workers see their wages and conditions improve.
Research assistance: Peter G.H. Madsen and Catherine Worth.
Laurence Pantin lives in Mexico and her research was partly funded by an award from the Foreign Press Association in New York.