Workers at VU Manufacturing auto parts plant fight for right to organize a union
This new era of laissez-faire capitalism that has spurred widespread economic globalization permitted by establishment of neoliberal free-trade policies has created a trend of fragmented labor in which U.S.-owned companies are able to outsource their labor to countries such as Mexico.
VU Manufacturing is a U.S.-based interior auto-parts manufacturer that is aligned with this globalized trend. VU Manufacturing, originated in 2008 by Don Cunningham, is headquartered in Troy, MI, and has manufacturing facilities in Texas. Since then, locations and operations have expanded to include a “maquiladora” in Piedras Negras, Coahuila, Mexico, a labor expansion nurtured by the free-trade neoliberal policies standardized by NAFTA. VU Manufacturing is not unique in its practices to outsource labor to Mexico’s market, exploiting the lower wages and weaker labor protections relative to U.S. laws. In the pursuit of profits and cost-reductions, VU Manufacturing leadership has exploited their Mexican workers and continuously neglected fair labor practices.
The company has violated workers’ right to “freedom of association” and “good-faith” bargaining, by pressuring workers to join the union Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), a bureaucratic and consistently employer-favored labor organization, as opposed to the independent union Liga Sindical Obrera Mexicana (LSOM).
Other issues that workers felt CTM would fail to address was the drastic reduction of their quota bonuses from 1,000 pesos to 700 pesos, and the outright denial of bonuses for workers who were advocates for their independent labor organizing. Workers also had been organizing to improve their unhealthy working conditions, including strong smells, broken roofs, and lack of air conditioners. VU manufacturing has consistently retaliated against workers’ choice of an independent unionby employing fear-tactics and threats. For instance, during a presentation organized by CTM, a worker that spoke out during the meeting was fired soon after. Temporary layoffs occurred of close to 100 workers affiliated with LSOM, reducing their pay by 50 percent.
In a struggle to halt VU Manufacturing ’s union retaliation, LSOM with support from the non-profit workers’ rights organization, Comité Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO), had filed a petition under the Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) of the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA) in June 2022.The labor organizations accuse VU Manufacturing of violating workers’ rights to “freedom of association” and “collective bargaining.” These rights are expressed as labor standards by the International Labour Organization (ILO), under the Conventions 87 and 98, which as of 2018 have both been validated by the Mexican government. According to the Comité Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO) which joined LSOM filingthe RRM petition, the union CTM “intimidates workers” and works to diminish the strength of their independent union organization. Workers at the plant are committed to organizing their own union and promoting democratic organizing for better protections, while the employer’s invitation of CTM was clearly a tactic to strike fear among the workers to diminish their agendas. The body responsible for investigating labor rights violations at the plant, the Interagency Labor Committee for Monitoring and Enforcement, had already found credible and convincing evidence that these labor rights threats were taking place at VU Manufacturing. The U.S. and Mexican government eventually reached agreement on this labor complaint and validated VU Manufacturing workers’ right to organize their own union for representation.
The steps to remedy outlined by the two parties include demands to “ensure the company will not impede La Liga Sindical Obrera Mexicana’s attempts to restore or exercise their right to represent workers for purposes of bargaining at the facility” among other steps with an expected date of implementation by the end of September. Part of these measures to ensure this includes requesting VU Manufacturing to make a formal statement of neutrality in the presence of representatives from Mexico’s electoral institution and to have the International Labor Organization observe the union vote. With these new labor protections, LSOM was victorious for VU workers’ choice of representation in August 2022. Though the resolution seemed hopeful, workers at VU manufacturing once again were subject to threats by their employer during efforts to negotiate their first labor contract as members of LSOM. Apparently, VU Manufacturing had been warning some employees, who assumed leadership roles with LSOM, that they would shut down the manufacturing plant if they did not join CTM. VU Manufacturing then had also been rejecting multiple proposed times for negotiations on a collective bargaining agreement proposed by LSOM. VU Manufacturing’s failure to bargain forced LSOM to file another complaint under RRM in December, 2022, against the company. Some of these reported practices that interfered with LSOM collective bargaining efforts was the company granting access to CTM officials to inside the factory premises. VU Manufacturing proposal to LSOM was merely 5.6% above the minimum wage for the highest wage category – salaries of 330 pesos a day, equivalent to around $18 per day. This encouraged workers to plan organizing a strike on February 6, 2023, to demand that VU Manufacturing management stop their consistent refusal to negotiate a collective labor agreement with LSOM. As of March 2023, the agreement was finalized between U.S. and Mexico authorities that recognized the labor violations of good faith bargaining committed by VU Manufacturing and sought to provide a solution. While another solution has been determined for labor-protections of VU workers in Piedras, Negras, this is reliant on U.S. and Mexican authorities to ensure its implementation, and VU manufacturing’s compliance . As of late June, 2023, the company has shown its lack of respect to the provisions demanded by U.S. and Mexican labor authorities, committed mass layoffs of close to 200 workers, particularly ones associated with independent organizing efforts. Workers are in need of financial support. You can make a donation to the SF Living Wage Coalition with a note that it is for VU Manufacturing workers.
by Krystal Rosales-Alejandre and Angelisa Rodriquez