Over 100 workers were laid off at a Lexmark plant in Ciudad Juárez, Chihuahua, after going on strike for two days to press for a daily wage increase of 6 pesos, or US $0.35.
They sought the increase, from 114 to 120 pesos, for more experienced workers, but the company rejected the demand in October.
Discontent among workers had been brewing for months, with reports of harassment, unfair wage deductions and unsafe work conditions as well as poor wages.
On November 3, a group of 78 employees submitted a formal request to the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration of the state of Chihuahua to start a union.
Some workers claim that’s when Lexmark began using harassing measures against them, such as paying the 120-pesos salary to new employees and to senior staff who had not protested.
It was those measures that prompted the strike by about 700 workers on December 7 and 8, said Susana Prieto, the lawyer representing them.
Two days later, Lexmark laid off about 120 of the striking workers for “violations to the factory’s code of conduct.” The 78 who had attempted to set up the union were among those dismissed.
Prieto declared that the layoffs suggested collusion between the company and the state government, as only the Board of Conciliation and Arbitration had the list of those who had made the request to unionize.
Government officials have publicly defended the company and accused labor organizers of self-interest, suggesting that a strike was not the right way to improve conditions.
“Strikes promoted in Ciudad Juárez are nothing but extortion measures by union leaders, who seek their own benefit. They not only harm businesses but the workers themselves,” said Labor Secretary Fidel Pérez Romero.
Lexmark spokesman Jerry Grasso said in a statement, “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.”
Meanwhile, an unfair dismissal complaint will be lodged before the conciliation board this week, said Prieto.
This year has seen a wave of protests by factory workers in Ciudad Júarez amid growing unrest over low pay, harsh conditions and workers’ rights which campaigners say haven’t improved in decades.
Júarez is the hub of Mexico’s manufacturing sector, with around 300,000 factory workers but no independent unions. U.S.-based companies are drawn to the city by tax benefits, low transportation costs due to its proximity to the border and low wages.
Lexmark is a U.S.-based manufacturer of laser printers and other products. Its sales last year totaled US $3.7 billion and it employs 12,700 people worldwide.