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Union Campaign Helps Scuttle Fast Track As CWA Points to NAFTA Failures

CWA and other unions pulled out all the stops to derail "fast track," and Congress heard the message, "No More NAFTA's." The House of Representatives in early November delayed indefinitely a vote to permit the negotiation of trade agreements that could only be voted up or down by Congress, without amendment.

Said CWA President Morton Bahr, "No longer can big business and the congressional leadership assume we will roll over and accept trade deals that fail to protect workers' rights."

Over a six-week period, the AFL-CIO spent $1 million on radio and TV advertising targeting 14 undecided districts, and CWA members responded to appeals from Bahr and central labor bodies, helping generate more than 800,000 phone calls and 750,000 postcards from workers asking representatives to vote against fast track.

CWA Local 3104 took the lead in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., on Oct. 30 leafleting outside Bell South headquarters and two other work locations. "We hate to see our jobs move off shore. We're looking to protect our futures," said local President Don LaRotonda.

More than 420,000 American jobs have been lost since NAFTA was approved under fast track in 1993. Bahr went to the media with a strong case that the NAFTA labor side agreement also fails to protect workers on both sides of the border from intimidation and reprisals for attempting to organize unions.

Following a bitter two-year organizing campaign at Maxi-Switch, a Taiwanese computer parts maquiladora in Cananea, in the state of Sonora, hundreds of workers are left jobless. Their colleagues still have no independent union.

It is the second case in which CWA and its counterpart union in Mexico have sought justice for workers under the North American Free Trade Agreement labor side accord. Nearly 200 Spanish-language telemarketing workers who organized to join CWA at the Sprint subsidiary La Conexion Familiar have been jobless for more than three years, despite intervention by the National Administrative Office, the agency set up by NAFTA to look into international charges that a nation is violating its own labor laws.

"This turn of events painfully demonstrates the ineffectiveness of our current trade agreements to protect the right of workers to elect independent unions," said Bahr. "Indeed, the national administrative offices set up under NAFTA have been able to do little more than attempt to embarrass corporations that shamelessly flout the law."

"To extend fast track authority to trade agreements under consideration for the entire Western Hemisphere and other parts of the world would further deprive the American people of their right to demand that Congress impose standards for the fair treatment of workers and for workers' right to organize."

Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo and other Latin American presidents at an August summit passed a declaration many Americans would find shocking, reported San Francisco Chronicle staff writer Robert Collier in his account of the Maxi-Switch debacle: "As a matter of principle, labor and environmental worries must not be allowed to be used as instruments to affect free trade in the world."

Collier followed up with an analysis by Harley Shaiken, a NAFTA expert at the University of California at Berkeley: "The whole economic strategy of the Mexican government is based on attracting investment by depressing wages. What Zedillo wants to avoid is labor rights that set a precedent, especially in the maquiladora industry."

All Mexican workers, including those at Maxi-Switch and 900,000 others working in foreign-owned maquiladora plants, are nominally represented by the Mexican Workers Confederation, or CTM. The CTM, which opposes independent unions, has consistently supported and enjoys the favor of the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Under the threat of public scrutiny that an international hearing would entail, the Mexican government ordered recognition of the independent Union of Maxi-Switch Workers. It was understood the deal would include reinstatement of three union activists fired after helping obtain 750 signatures from 900 workers on a petition for a union election.

To obtain the hearing, the three leaders, with the support of the STRM, CWA's counterpart union in Mexico, had prompted the filing of a complaint by CWA under the NAFTA labor side accords. Figuring they already had obtained the best deal possible, with the NAO having no enforcement authority, the Maxi-Switch workers in April backed off. The NAO canceled the hearing, two days before it was to have taken place in Tucson, Ariz.

Finally, on Oct. 21, Sonora Gov. Manlio Fabio Beltrones ordered Maxi-Switch, which manufactures Nintendo games and computer keyboards, to recognize the independent union. He ordered a new election for the union to become the workers' collective bargaining agent - without setting a date. The company refused to rehire the three leaders, claiming they were discharged for reasons other than pro-union activity. The next day, the governor left office.

The plight of the Maxi-Switch workers has been left hanging, with no resolution in sight.

La Conexion Familiar
Two years ago STRM launched a complaint on behalf of 177 workers fired in July 1994 from Sprint's La Conexion Familiar telemarketing facility in San Francisco just prior to their opportunity to choose CWA membership through a National Labor Relations Board election. The Mexican government took the complaint to the NAO, which called for a hearing to be conducted by the U.S. Labor Department.

The hearing, held in San Francisco early last year before an audience of government and labor officials from Mexico, Canada, Germany, Switzerland and the United States brought no results other than airing the plight of the workers. The NLRB found Sprint guilty of more than 50 violations of U.S. labor law, ordered reinstatement of the workers and payment of more than $12 million in back pay. Sprint continues to appeal the decision and the workers still await justice.