The New York Times
November 25, 1998

          Mexico May Face NAFTA Sanctions
      for Not Protecting Workers' Rights

          By ANTHONY DePALMA

               TORONTO -- Mexican officials have acknowledged that their labor
               laws do not adequately protect the rights of Mexican workers,
          according to documents obtained by Canadian union officials who have
          filed a complaint against Mexico under the North American Free Trade

          The Canadian complaint involves conditions at an automobile brake plant
          outside Mexico City that is owned by Dana Corp. of Toledo, Ohio, and
          follows a similar action taken in the United States earlier this year.

          If both complaints determine that Mexico did not adequately enforce its
          labor laws, it could lead to the first sanction applied since NAFTA went
          into effect in January 1994.

          The Canadian office of the United Steelworkers of America and 40 labor
          and human rights organizations from Canada, Mexico and the United
          States contend that workers at the plant were intimidated and in some
          cases beaten when they tried to switch unions in 1997.

          According to the complaint, workers at the brake plant, which operates
          under the name Itapsa, wanted to organize an independent union because
          wages were stuck at $5 a day and there were dangerous levels of
          asbestos dust.

          The existing union, the Confederation of Mexican Workers, has strong
          links to the government and reportedly ignored worker complaints. On
          Sept. 9, 1997, Itapsa workers voted on switching to an independent
          union, but they said they did so in the presence of outsiders carrying sticks
          and pipes. They also were forced to declare their vote at an open meeting
          in front of plant supervisors.

          Under the labor side agreement to NAFTA, each of the three countries in
          the accord has established an administrative office to receive such

          In April, the Canadian office received the complaint about the union vote
          and the safety conditions at the Itapsa plant. In September, the head of
          the Canadian office, May Morpaw, traveled to Mexico to meet with her
          counterpart, Rafael Aranda, and officials from the Mexican Labor

          In the notes of the meeting, which were obtained by the steelworkers
          union, Mexican labor officials acknowledged that union representation
          elections usually are not conducted in secret, even though workers can be
          dismissed if they vote for the losing union.

          The Mexican officials also said they were not concerned that the lack of
          secrecy had made it inevitable that employers would know how a worker
          had voted. The Mexican officials said such elections were free and open,
          but they could not guarantee that coercion did not occur outside the
          voting site, according to the document.

          In response to calls over several days seeking comment, the Mexican
          Labor Department sent a one-page summary of the complaint by fax but
          did not elaborate on the contents of Ms. Morpaw's notes.

          The administrative office in the United States issued a report in July
          supporting most of the accusations in the complaint about Itapsa filed
          there. The office sent the complaint to the next stage in the regulatory
          process, which is direct consultations among the labor ministers of the
          three countries.

          Ms. Morpaw of the Canadian office said a vote on whether to make a
          similar reference was scheduled for early December.

          The accusations concerning free association for union members can only
          be taken up in talks among the labor ministers. But if two of the three
          labor ministers are sufficiently convinced that asbestos levels prove
          worker safety laws were not enforced at the plants, the issue could result
          in the first labor sanctions against Mexico.