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Puebla workers at Johnson Controls sign first collective bargaining agreement

April 19, 2011

A long and dramatic struggle at the Johnson Controls Interiors (JCI) factory in Puebla, Mexico, has finally resulted in the expulsion of a sham "protection union" and the signing of a real collective bargaining agreement with Mexico's mineworkers' union (SNTMMSSRM or Los Mineros).

Milwaukee-based Johnson Controls is the world's largest independent manufacturer of automotive seating and interior systems. It has three plants in Puebla, Mexico that produce seats and seat parts, principally for the Volkswagen assembly plant in Puebla, but also for Chrysler, Ford, Mercedes Benz and Nissan.

The new JCI agreement, signed April 8, 2011, includes a 7.5% wage increase and better benefits for the 800 workers at the factory. This is the first negotiation since Section 308 of Los Mineros was recognized last year as the workers' chosen union. More than half the workers are women, many of them married with children.

JCI workers went on strike twice last year to win recognition of their chosen union. Workers walked out in May 2010 to force the ouster of a company-controlled "protection union" linked to the Puebla state government that held title to the collective agreement at the factory.

JCI workers had never been consulted about whether they wanted to be represented by the company-controlled union; nor had they ever received a copy of the collective agreement. Workers were not allowed to elect union leaders, participate in collective bargaining, or otherwise have input into the affairs of the union. Workers had no one to help process their grievances. This is common in Mexico, where employers often sign "protection contracts" with corrupt unions or lawyers without the workers' knowledge and/or consent in order to prevent workers from organizing or affiliating with an authentic, democratic union. In many cases, unions are already set up at a factory before the first worker is hired.

After the May strike, Johnson Controls initially agreed to recognize Los Mineros as the workers' representative. However, workers were forced to defend their choice again with a walkout in August after approximately 60 thugs apparently associated with the protection union entered the JCI factory, assaulting workers with rocks, sticks and chains and leaving many injured. Quick action by workers and their international supporters resulted in an agreement recognizing Los Mineros as the workers' union and severing the company's ties with the protection union.

The workers' struggle to organize an effective and representative union was supported by the tireless efforts of Los Mineros, the Worker Support Center (CAT) in Puebla, and trade union organizations and labour rights groups internationally, including the International Metalworkers Federation (IMF), the Canadian and US autoworkers unions (UAW and CAW), the United Steelworkers (USW), the AFL-CIO, US-LEAP and the Maquila Solidarity Network.

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