Labor strikes in Mexico: What to do if your company is on work stoppage?

The employer has the obligation of respecting this right, without considering termination or replacement with temporary collaborators.

Note published on October 27 in ExpansiónCarrera [Career] Section by Nancy Malacara.

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Labor strikes in Mexico have been a powerful tool in the fight for workers’ rights. Since the historic “Rio Blanco Strike” in 1906 and up to more recent events, such as the strike at the Caterpillar plant in Nuevo Laredo, they have played a fundamental role in the search for better labor conditions and fair wages.

Labor strikes are protest demonstrations carried out by a coalition of workers, often with the support of unions, with the objective of temporarily suspending their labor activities. The objective of this suspension of work is to put pressure on employers to get them to address various demands, which can include the improvement of wages, safer labor conditions, the revisions of collective bargaining agreements or the correction of violations of legal provisions, among others.

The first labor strike in Mexico

The first documented labor strike in Mexico took place in1906 at the Rio Blanco textile factory, in the state of Veracruz. This so-called “Rio Blanco Strike” became a milestone in the fight of workers for their labor rights.  The employees, mostly in precarious conditions, demanded better salaries and safer working conditions.

But the  strike turned violent due to repression by the authorities and culminated in the tragic “Rio Blanco Massacre”. This event left a lasting legacy in the labor history of Mexico, ultimately contributing to the creation of a more organized union movement and to the promulgation of labor laws that were more favorable to the workers.

What does the Federal Labor Law say about strikes?

The regulation of strikes in Mexico is found in Article 450 and the following articles of the Federal Labor Law (LFT). These articles define the conditions under which a strike is considered to be legally existing, and they establish the objectives that a strike can pursue.

According to the LFT, a strike is considered to be legally existing if it is conducted by the majority of the company’s workers and pursues specific objectives, such as achieving an equilibrium between production factors, the review of collective bargaining agreements, the demand of compliance with legal provisions on profit sharing, among others.

Andrew Richard Grepe, a partner at GLZ Abogados, explains that, if the collective strike procedure has been complied with, there is no obligation to provide the service to the employer until the requirements posed by the majority of the workers in the petitions document have been discussed and, if applicable, resolved. There are, however, exceptions to the definitive suspension of the execution of the work.

The competent court, in a hearing with the parties, will determine the essential number of workers who must continue working when the suspension is a serious threat to the security and the conservation of the facilities, machinery and raw materials,

“In the case of companies in the area of hospitals, sanatoriums, clinics or other similar service, the care of patients who are hospitalized at the time of the suspension must continue until they can be transferred to another facility.” If there are ships, aircraft, trains, buses, or other transportation vehicles en route, they must be taken by the workers to their destination”, he explains

The example of Caterpillar and the need for reforms

The strike at the Caterpillar plant in Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas formally broke out on September 22 of this year. The strike started because of the workers’ dissatisfaction with the salary increase proposal, which they considered to be insufficient.

This situation brings attention to the ongoing debate about strikes in Mexico. Óscar de la Vega, founding partner of De la Vega & Martínez Rojas, points out that there is increasing concern over the possibility of more strikes breaking out because of internal fighting among the workers and the lack of agreement on salary increases.

De la Vega emphasizes the need to reform the strike procedure in order to make it more expeditious and efficient, as there have not been any modifications made to it since the last century and, additionally, the 60 day period that the law establishes before resorting to arbitration to reach a solution in this type of conflicts could be damaging for some companies and for the workers.

“There are companies that have the economic possibility of increasing salaries and benefits, but there are others that do not. Thus, employees must be aware of how far they can push, because the problem is that when the string breaks, there are companies that disappear, workers that lose their jobs, the government loses taxes, and it is a lose-lose game.”

What do I do if my company is on strike?

In the midst of a strike, it is essential that the workers are informed about the process and the economic conditions that are at stake. Strikes can be long and complex processes, and it is crucial that employees understand the process and the implications of a work stoppage.

“We know when strikes start, but not when they will end. When a strike ends, accrued salaries are negotiated, that is, what was not paid. The majority pays 50% of the accrued salaries, but this is more a custom than an actual legal obligation as such”, De la Vega emphasizes.

Both labor lawyers recommend that the workers cast an informed vote and actively participate in the process, supporting the decisions made in the name of the majority. Furthermore, it is fundamental that unions are prepared with solidarity funds to provide support to the workers during the suspension of the work.

An important point that employees must be informed about is that the company cannot retaliate against them for going on a legal strike. During a work stoppage, workers have the right to conduct a pacific protest and, therefore, the employer has the obligation of respecting this right, without considering terminations or replacement with temporary collaborators.

Once an agreement has been reached and the strike is resolved, the return to work must be organized and safe. This can include the reinstatement of the workers who went on strike and the revision of the labor procedures and conditions as agreed.

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