The law provides for the right of workers to form and join unions, to bargain collectively, and to strike in both the public and private sectors; however, conflicting law, regulations, and practice restricted these rights.
The law requires a minimum of 20 workers to form a union. To receive official recognition from the government, unions must file for registration with the appropriate conciliation and arbitration board or the Secretariat of Labor and Social Security (STPS). In order for the union to be able to perform its legally determined functions, its leadership must also register with the appropriate conciliation and arbitration board or STPS. Conciliation and arbitration boards operated under a tripartite system with government, worker, and employer representatives. Outside observers raised concerns that the boards did not adequately provide for inclusive worker representation and often perpetuated a bias against independent unions, in part due to intrinsic conflicts of interest within structure of the boards exacerbated by the prevalence of representatives from “protection” (unrepresentative, corporatist) unions.
Under the law a union may call for a strike or bargain collectively in accordance with its own bylaws. Before a strike may be considered legal, however, a union must file a “notice to strike” with the appropriate conciliation and arbitration board, which may find that the strike is “nonexistent,” or in other words, cannot proceed legally. The law prohibits employers from intervening in union affairs or interfering with union activities, including through implicit or explicit reprisals against workers. The law allows for reinstatement of workers if the conciliation and arbitration board finds the worker was unfairly fired and the worker requests reinstatement; however, the law also provides for broad exemptions for employers from such reinstatement, including employees of confidence or workers who have been in the job for less than a year.
Although the law authorizes the coexistence of several unions in one worksite, it limits collective bargaining to the union that has “ownership” of a collective bargaining agreement. When there is only one union present, it automatically has the exclusive right to bargain with the employer. Once a collective bargaining agreement is in place at a company, another union seeking to bargain with the employer must compete for bargaining rights through a lengthy representation election process (“recuento”) administered by the conciliation and arbitration boards. The union with the largest number of votes goes on to “win” the collective bargaining rights. It is not mandatory for a union to consult with workers or have worker support to sign a collective bargaining agreement with an employer. The law establishes that internal union leadership votes may be held via secret ballot, either directly or indirectly.
The government, including the conciliation and arbitration boards, did not consistently protect worker rights. The government’s common failure to enforce labor and other laws left workers with little recourse regarding violations of freedom of association, poor working conditions, and other labor problems. The conciliation and arbitration boards’ frequent failure to impartially and transparently administer and oversee procedures related to union activity, such as union elections and strikes, undermined worker efforts to exercise freely their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. A report commissioned by the President’s Office, produced by CIDE and released in April, found no guarantees of impartial and efficient labor justice from the boards and recommended the eventual incorporation of the conciliation and arbitration boards into the judicial branch.
By law penalties for violations of freedom of association and collective bargaining laws range from 16,160 pesos ($960) to 161,600 pesos ($9,640). Such penalties were rarely enforced and were insufficient to deter violations. Administrative and/or judicial procedures were subject to lengthy delays and appeals. To reduce backlogs and time to issue a ruling from a year to 90 days, some states began implementing oral trials at their labor boards. The government announced in July 2014 it would create 66 oral trial courts. As of March there were 19 courts located in four states. In the state of Mexico, the new process reduced the number of pending actions from 35,000 to 27,000.
Workers exercised their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining with difficulty. The process for registration of unions was politicized, and the government, including the conciliation and arbitration boards, occasionally used the process to reward political allies or punish political opponents. According to union organizers, the government, including the conciliation and arbitration boards, frequently rejected registration applications for new locals of independent unions and for new unions on technicalities.
Companies and protection unions used complex divisions and a lack of coordination between federal and state jurisdictions to manipulate the labor conciliation and arbitration processes. For example, a company might register a collective bargaining agreement at both the federal and the local level, and later alternate the jurisdictions when complaints were filed and appealed to gain favorable outcomes. In addition, union organizers from several sectors raised concerns about the overt and usually hostile involvement of the conciliation and arbitration boards when organizers attempted to create independent unions.
Protection (unrepresentative, corporatist) unions and “protection contracts,” collective bargaining agreements signed by employers and these unions to prevent meaningful negotiations and ensure labor peace, continued to be a problem in all sectors. The combination of exclusivity in bargaining and the lack of a requirement that workers demonstrate support for a collective bargaining agreement or the union that negotiated it before the agreement could take effect facilitated the existence of these contracts. Protection contracts often were developed before the company hired any workers and without direct input from or knowledge of the covered workers. For example, in August a leader of the Confederacion de Trabajadores de Mexico (CTM)--a known protection union--claimed that he was negotiating a collective bargaining agreement to cover workers at a tire factory in San Luis Potosi that was not set to begin production until 2017.
Many observers noted working conditions of a majority of workers were under the control of these contracts and the unrepresentative unions that negotiated them, and that the protection unions and contracts often prevented workers from fully exercising their labor rights as defined by law. Independent unions, a few multinational corporations, and some labor lawyers and academics called on the government to institute legal reforms that would prohibit registration of collective bargaining agreements where the union cannot demonstrate support by a majority of workers or where workers had not ratified the content of the agreements. These same groups advocated for workers to receive hard copies of existing collective bargaining agreements when they are hired.
According to several NGOs and unions, many workers continued to face procedural obstacles and various forms of intimidation (including physical violence) from protection union leaders, or employers supporting a protection union, in the lead-up to, during, and after bargaining-rights elections from other workers, union leaders, violent individuals hired by a company, or employers favoring a particular union. Some employers attempted to influence bargaining-rights elections through the illegal hiring of pseudo employees immediately prior to the election to vote for the company-controlled union.
In March thugs with insignia on their helmets from the CTM--the largest confederation of labor unions--threatened and physically attacked a Coahuila labor leader who had stated his desire to join the independent union Los Mineros in early 2011. The companies had already signed collective agreements with the CTM without the knowledge of or ratification by the workers. Although a majority of workers in each plant signed affiliation cards with Los Mineros, the Coahuila labor board refused to set a date for a collective bargaining rights election or provide copies of the existing collective bargaining agreements between the companies and the CTM. As of November no election date had been announced.
Union elections were often delayed for many years, which resulted in serious irregularities. For example, in November an independent union in the automobile industry in Jalisco was narrowly defeated in a hard-fought election characterized by irregularities. More than five years after the company dismissed 12 union leaders for forming an independent union, 2,500 workers were finally able to choose between the independent union and the CTM’s union. In the days leading up to the recuento process, the election board failed to provide a reliable list of voters and called the election with only a few days’ notice. A team of international observers was denied access to the polling and to workers. Workers reported that the list of voters included ineligible names, such as deceased workers, management based in Japan, and security personnel.
Other intimidating and manipulative practices continued to be common, including dismissing workers for labor activism. For example, during the year every worker who was involved with a September 2014 informal work stoppage at a factory in Torreon over alleged wage theft was fired. Workers fired for labor activism often had difficulties being reinstated. In April, for example, authorities concluded that four of 122 workers who were fired in 2012 after trying to dislodge a protection union at an auto parts assembly plant in Coahuila should be reinstated. As of November none had been reinstated.
Independent labor activists reported the requirement that the conciliation and arbitration boards approve strikes in advance gave the boards the power to show favoritism by determining which companies to protect from strikes. Few formal strikes occurred, but protests and informal work freezes were common. For example, local farmworkers in San Quintin, Baja California, began a “wildcat” or unofficial strike on March 17, reportedly against the wishes of the protection unions that officially represented the farmworkers with farm owners. Workers engaged in work stoppages and demonstrations to demand improved working and living conditions during the year. They also demanded that the government begin labor inspections, enroll workers into the national social security, build clinics, and ensure access to decent education for their children.
Farmworker labor activists and owners in San Quintin reached an agreement on June 4 with the help of government representatives to end three months of strikes and protests, which had included sporadic violence. The agreement called for the full enforcement of labor law in the area, a three-tier increase of the minimum wage for workers, and increased government services and oversight. As of November, however, labor activists reported that farm owners and the government had not kept to the terms of the agreement and that farm owners systematically fired or imposed other forms of reprisal against farmworkers involved in the protests and strike action, such as increased workloads or mistreatment on the part of overseers and managers. The companies fired the worker leaders and those identified to have participated in work stoppages and demonstrations. Those leaders and participants were blacklisted and excluded from new seasonal work. On November 7, a total of 23 representatives of the San Quintin agricultural workers (the Alianza de Organizaciones Nacional, Estatal y Municipal por la Justicia Social), together with five representatives of workers from the Xochimilco area (located within the Federal District), obtained official recognition as a national union granted by the Federal District’s local conciliation and arbitration board.