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US brands call on Puebla state authorities to hold free and fair union vote

October 17, 2007

In response to a request from MSN, six major US apparel brands that buy blue jeans from Mexican jean manufacturer Grupo Navarra are speaking out in favour of the right of workers employed at the Vaqueros Navarra factory in Tehuacan, Mexico to be represented by the union of their free choice.

In a joint October 16 letter addressed to the Puebla State Secretary of Labour, representatives of Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle Outfitters, Express, Gap Inc., Levi Strauss and Warnaco (Calvin Klein) call on the Puebla State labour authorities to set a “definitive date” for a union representation vote at an upcoming hearing scheduled for the end of October in order “to ensure that the vote takes place without further delay.”

The letter also calls for the vote to be “undertaken in accordance with applicable laws and in a manner that gives workers the ability to register their preference without fear or intimidation.” It goes on to say that “holding the vote in an accessible and neutral location that protects the confidentiality of the workers would help ensure such an outcome.”

MSN and the September 19 garment workers’ union, which is affiliated with Mexico’s Authentic Labour Front (FAT), are also calling on the brand buyers to take a series of actions in response to reports that workers at the Vaqueros Navarra factory are being harassed, unlawfully dismissed, pressured to sign resignation letters, and threatened with the closure of the factory if they support the the September 19 union.

The workers are currently “represented” by an “official union” affiliated with the CROC, which is linked to Puebla state government and the PRI party that governs the state. To make the situation even more complicated, another official union affiliated with the CROM has also entered the picture and has been given free rein inside the factory to recruit members while the supporters of the independent union are being harassed and fired. The CROM has also filed a petition for title to the collective agreement, which the state labour authorities have used as a pretext to delay setting a date for the union representation vote.

To make matters worse, there are now rumours that two additional official unions, affiliated with the CTM, that are unknown to the workers have also filed petitions for title to the collective agreement, which will likely be used as an excuse to further delay setting a date for the vote.

MSN is also calling on the buyers to release the findings of a Verite investigation carried out in response to the workers’ complaints, as well as the corrective action being demanded of the employer, and to take immediate steps to ensure that the employer ceases all harassment, intimidation and dismissals of September 19 supporters.

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