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It's the first strike since the company was privatized by billionaire Carlos Slim. It's the first strike since the company was privatized by billionaire Carlos Slim.

Telmex workers strike for first time since 1985; company says service unaffected

The union says a hiring freeze has employees stretched to the breaking point

Telmex, one of the largest internet, phone and television providers in Mexico, is guaranteeing that its services will not be affected by a strike of its workers that might head into the weekend.

Owned by Carlos Slim and based in Mexico City, the company was hit by a strike at noon Thursday when thousands of  members of the Telephone Operators Union of the Mexican Republic (STRM) placed red and black flags in their offices, branches, maintenance sites and service centers.

They are alleging a violation of their collective bargaining agreement with Telmex, which has never had a strike since it was privatized in 1990. The last strike was in 1985 when Teléfonos de México (Telmex) was still a state company.

The main issue, union leaders say, is that the company has failed to fill vacancies created by the retirement of workers, which puts a major strain on current workers trying to fill the void. For three years, the union says, Slim’s company has left up to 2,000 job openings unfilled.

Carlos Slim (center) in 2017, chatting with then-president Enrique Peña Nieto and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.
Carlos Slim (center) in 2017, chatting with then-president Enrique Peña Nieto and actor Leonardo DiCaprio.

“We are fighting and we are going to defend our rights,” the union said on Twitter. STRM, which represents some 26,000 active workers and more than 30,0000 retirees, alleged other misdeeds by Telmex, including “coercive measures such as withholding wages, and [retirement] benefits, [and] physical and verbal attacks.”

Telmex is a subsidiary of the América Móvil corporation, which is owned by Slim, the Mexican tycoon whom Forbes says is worth US $81.5 billion. Forbes lists “Carlos Slim Helú and  family” at No. 12 on its list of global billionaires.

A potential earlier strike was put on hold after the parties reached an agreement in early June to review the collective bargaining agreement. At that time, Telmex promised to increase the salary of active and retired workers by 4.5%, according to news reports.

But union leadership said a hiring freeze has led to 1,942 vacant jobs, and that Telmex wants to put an administrator in charge of personnel who are about to retire and to modify a clause that outlines retirement benefits.

Telmex workers in offices across the country stopped serving clients midday on Thursday when the strike began. Pictured: a Telmex branch in Xalapa, Veracruz.
Telmex workers in offices across the country stopped serving clients midday on Thursday when the strike began. Pictured: a Telmex branch in Xalapa, Veracruz.

For its part, according to the newspaper Reforma, Telmex is claiming that the financial viability of the company is being hurt by older workers and retirees.

Telmex has been shrinking in recent years while Telcel, a cellphone company also owned by Slim, has grown, Reforma reported. Telcel has another union and a different employment contract, so it is not being affected by the strike, Reforma added.

Telmex has 11.1 million landline phone customers and 10.1 million internet subscribers, Reforma reported. It also offers packages with satellite TV and/or video streaming options.

The company, which said it’s willing to continue negotiations, put out a statement about its service: “Telmex guarantees the quality and continuity of all its telecommunications services thanks to its state-of-the-art technology, which allows it to have a network that operates autonomously.”

According to reports, users waiting in Telmex branches at midday on Thursday were no longer served as soon as the red and black flags went up. However, those who were calling in to set up a new phone line and/or internet service were assisted by Telmex operators.

The Labor Ministry quickly stepped into the fray, suggesting a way to get both sides to the bargaining table that would involve Labor Minister Luisa Alcalde acting as mediator. On Thursday, Alcalde posted on Twitter that “progress is being made” and expressed hope that an agreement would be reached on Friday, followed by a union vote that would end the strike.

Reuters reported early Friday that President Lopez Obrador said he expects a deal to get done later Friday or on Saturday. “[Carlos Slim] has told me that [Telmex] has come out ahead of competitors because of its workers. So I think they will reach an agreement,” Lopez Obrador told reporters in his daily news conference.

With reports from Reforma and Forbes

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