In a remarkable turn of events this weekend, corporate giant Lexmark settled with the remaining Maquiladora workers who were fired October 2015 for seeking a six-peso raise.
Last week, Lexmark offered specific terms to the workers to end their strike that they agreed upon collectively. They signed the terms on Sunday, April 10th; including a confidentiality clause that limits them to talk about the specific details. They also vacated their camp in front of the Lexmark plant.
The issue received international attention and wide media press. Its coverage was heightened with the Pope’s visit on February 17th when he articulated the need to support workers.
According to Attorney Susana Prieto Terrazas: “The discussion of the working class presented by the Pope, was the result of hard work, work all of us have invested in.”
Representatives and workers attributed this change of heart by the company to a letter sent to Paul Rooke, Lexmark CEO, and company executives Rocio Sarabia and Robert Patton that was signed by 32 unions and NGOs from the U.S., Canada and Mexico on March 23, 2016 that demanded that they respect the labor rights of the workers and the labor law and international norms.
Officials say the Lexmark Maquiladora Strike did many things for workers in Cd. Juárez. The effort gave voice to wage issues in a city of over 300,000 maquiladora workers. It also brought international attention to the exploitation and poor and hazardous working conditions of workers in Cd. Juárez’s maquiladoras.
Finally, the Lexmark effort has had a direct influence in other maquiladoras raising their employees’ pay at other factories to avert what happened at Lexmark.
In their release announcing the settlement, officials concluded by saying, “The conflict with Lexmark doesn’t end here; but it constitutes the beginning of an association called OBRER@S MAQUILER@S DE CUIDAD JUÁREZ, A.C, an organization that has as its objective to bring a voice of all the industry workers to fight for permanent change and better working conditions.”
The on-going labor dispute between international printer cartridge manufacturer Lexmark and their workers in Juarez was the subject of a Thursday news conference in El Paso, just miles from the worker’s camp.
Former Lexmark employees and Susana Prieto Terrazas, a lawyer representing the employees, continued their call for justice against the treatment and firings of Lexmark employees during a press conference on held at Cafe Mayapan.
Emotions ran high during the conference, as employees gave detailed accounts of their treatment while working at the factory and the challenges they faced then, and now that they are without work.
“These women, most of them single mothers, worked up to 14 hours a day,” Terrazas said in Spanish during the Press Conference. “Some of them having to travel 2 hours to work and 2 hours back home leaving them no time with their children. They went through terrible conditions and were terrified to ask for more pay because they were under the impression that they did not have rights, and had to endure mistreatment at work because they did not receive an education.”
Miriam Delgado Hernandez, Paulina Rodriguez and San Juana Perez each talked about their experiences, and nodded along when Terrazas spoke of what she said were injustices at the factory.
“We were given three pairs of gloves to handle the materials each day,” Perez said. “If one of the pairs of gloves tore, you had to keep working with them. Also, because of the chemicals you worked with, some employees would get sick, and in some instances you’d get nose bleeds. Lexmark official would have you examined and each time the test results would come out saying you were ‘fine.”
Other instances of injustice, Rodriguez said, was a new company policy that was enacted which promised employees raises from 112, 114 and 120 pesos a day. However, there was a catch, new employees that were hired were more likely to receive these raises faster, than those who had worked at the factory for several years.
Rodriguez explained that any former skills or experience that employees had gained over the years, was completely wiped out.
“Here are our cards,” Rodriguez said. “For each new skill that we learn or master a hole is punched to show that we are certified in that area.
But then they issued these new cards. And they said that now our old cards and experience was no longer valid. So, in order to get a raise, we had to work with these new cards for 3 months without any infractions.”
But any little thing could be an infraction, Delgado added.
In other instances, employees were docked about half their pay if they missed a day of work for being sick, Delgado said.
“I’m a single mother and I would get paid 664.71 pesos a week if I didn’t miss work,” Delgado said showing her pay stub. “But if I missed a day of work because one of my kids was sick, they would take away close to 300 pesos and pay me 399.55 pesos for the week.”
The dispute amongst workers and Lexmark began in November when workers had asked for a raise of 6 pesos, or about 34 cents a day. They are currently paid 70.1 pesos or about $4.03 a day. In addition raises were being requested for workers who had been with the company for five years or more.
When the increase was denied, according to Terrazas, employees walked off last week with the hope that they would receive a just response from Lexmark. Instead, Terrazas said, they were fired and their annual bonus was withheld.
Delgado said she feared for her life now that her face and name have been mentioned in the media. She added that the former employees are still without work and need assistance.
On Sunday, at noon a posada will be held for the family’s of Lexmark employees outside of the factory in Juarez at 3550 Bulevar Independencia (Independence Boulevard.) Terrazas said donations of children’s toys would be gladly welcome so that the children can have Christmas presents.
On Thursday, the media line for Lexmark’s Corporate Office was not available and an automated message answered, with the option for media to leave a voicemail. A message, from the El Paso Herald Post, requesting an interview was left at 2:30 p.m., MST.
Officials from Lexmark did not immediately return calls for comment.