Printer giant Lexmark fires Mexico factory workers demanding $0.35 raise

December 17, 2015 in Economy, News by RBN Staff

The Guardian
 |  Mexico City;  New York | 

Around 120 were let go from the Júarez Lexmark plant after striking, and layoffs suggest collusion between the company and state government

Ciudad Júarez Mexico Lexmark worker pay strikes minimum wage

Marcos Godoy of Mexico City manufactures car dash mats at a maquiladora belonging to the TECMA group in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. Photograph: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/AP

Printer and software giant Lexmark has fired dozens of workers from its factory in the Mexican city of Ciudad Júarez after they demanded a pay rise of $0.35 per day.

Hundreds of workers at the printer cartridge plant went on strike last week, calling for the company to increase its daily rate for experienced employees from 114 to 120 pesos – a raise of approximately $0.35.

Days later, Lexmark fired around 120 of the striking workers. Most of those dismissed had been involved in attempts to set up an independent union to advocate pay increases and improvements in working conditions.

The mass layoff has left families in dire straits in the run-up to the holidays. Low-paid workers in Mexico often rely on the traditional end of year benefit – known as the Aguinaldo – to settle debts and pay for Christmas.

Ciudad Júarez is the hub of Mexico’s manufacturing sector, with around 300,000 factory workers but no independent unions. The city – located over the border from El Paso, Texas – was until recently the most dangerous in the world as warring drug cartels battled over territory.

But despite ongoing security concerns, American companies are drawn to the city by tax benefits offered through the North American Free Trade Agreement, low transport costs due to its proximity to the border and low wages. Mexico’s minimum daily wage is 70 pesos – around $4.

The bilateral trade relationship between Mexico and the US is worth over half a trillion dollars a year.

This year has seen a wave of protests by factory workers in Ciudad Júarez amid growing anger low pay, harsh conditions and weak labour rights which campaigners say haven’t improved in decades.

Lexmark, a world leader in laser printers, is worth $2.01bn. In 2014, its revenue totalled $3.7bn, though it has fallen this year. It employs 14,000 people worldwide.

Discontent among its workers had been brewing for months, with reports of harassment, unfair wage deductions and unsafe work conditions as well as poor wages.

Miriam Delgado, 37, who was fired last week after five years and seven months at Lexmark, told the Guardian: “They didn’t provide face masks or gloves to protect us, many people have injured hands. They cut our salaries for being even slightly late, even if our children were sick and we had to take them to hospital, and we had to put up with harassment from supervisors.”

In October, the disgruntlement intensified after the company rejected a request to increase the top salary band to 120 pesos a day.

In response, a group of 78 workers, including Delgado, submitted a formal request to start a union before the state government’s Board of Conciliation and Arbitration in hope of negotiating improvements.

The 78 were among the group fired last week after participating in a strike with around 700 colleagues.

Susana Prieto Terrazas, the lawyer representing the workers, told news website Sin Embargo that the layoffs suggested collusion between the company and the state government, as only the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration had the list of names.

Government officials have publicly accused the labour organisers of self-interest, and said striking was not the right way to improve conditions.

An unfair dismissal complaint will be lodged before the Board this week, said Prieto Terrazas.

In a statement Jerry Grasso, company spokesman, told the Guardian: “We take our values of mutual respect and employee satisfaction very seriously. We are committed to engaging in open and honest conversations with our employees to ensure Lexmark continues to be a rewarding place to work.”

Delgado, who has worked in factories since moving to Ciudad Juarez 30 years ago, told the Guardian: “They fired those of us who were trying to organise and fight. Nothing has changed in Juarez, we are still forced to put up with unjust and undignified working conditions. I don’t know what I will do, but I can’t work in the factories anymore.”

Lexmark’s disputes with labor have landed the firm in legal trouble domestically as well: in 2010 an LA county superior court judge found that the company’s longstanding “use it or lose it” vacation policy (which disallowed employees from rolling vacation days into the new year) was in fact illegal; a year later an appeals court ruled against the company again, though it reduced the multimillion-dollar payout on appeal.

The policy, which was ruled wage theft, had been in place since Lexmark spun off from IBM in 1991.

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Lexmark spun off from Microsoft, instead of IBM.