GM strike displaces thousands of workers in Mexico

Border Report
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EL PASO, Texas — The labor strike at GM plants in Michigan has prompted Mexican factories that assemble components for the automotive giant to place 10,000 workers on furlough in the state of Chihuahua.

Workers at factories such as Auto Kabel in Juarez, Mexico have been told to report to the assembly line every other week, and in some cases not to come at all in exchange for half a weekly paycheck.

This the second week that approximately 200 workers have been partially laid off. We’re paying 50 percent of the salary and all the benefits remain the same,” plant general manager Pedro Yu said.

United Auto Workers (UAW) members man the picket line at the General Motors Flint Assembly Plant after the UAW declared a national strike against GM at midnight on September 16, 2019 in Flint, Michigan. It is the first national strike the UAW has declared since 1982. (Photo by Bill Pugliano/Getty Images)

The same thing is going on at the other six maquiladoras, as the assembly plants are known here as, in Juarez and others in the towns of Camargo and Meoqui.

We hope the GM strike comes to an end very soon so that factories that assemble their parts here no longer have to effect these partial layoffs,” said Juan Carlos Loera, the Mexican federal government representative in Juarez.

The United Auto Workers strike in the United States is in its sixth week, although the union and GM a few days ago reportedly reached a tentative settlement. UAW rank and file may vote in the coming days to ratify the agreement, which includes a $9,000 bonus, preserve current health benefits and a path to permanent employment of temporary workers, according to the Detroit Free Press.

The work stoppage has had a domino effect on GM suppliers as far away as Mexico. As of Wednesday in the state of Chihuahua — across the Rio Grande from Texas and New Mexico — 10,000 workers had experienced partial layoffs, Loera said.

He said the Juarez Maquiladora Association, also known as INDEX, is trying to prevent permanent layoffs by encouraging its members to keep workers on the payroll. However, this week the factories asked the Mexican government for assistance.

On Wednesday, Loera brought a trailer loaded with foodstuffs for the 220 laid off Auto Kabel workers. Each of them got more than 50 pounds of flour, canned goods, pasta and other edibles. The other affected factories will get similar aid in the coming days, he said.

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“We know this isn’t much, but we hope it helps,” Loera said, adding that the Lopez Obrador administration is assisting the laid-off workers in the same manner we have helped those who have come to the border from other countries recently.

He was referring to Cubans, Central Americans and others who’re being housed in a federal shelter in Juarez while they wait for asylum hearings in the United States.

Some of the laid-off workers include Ignacio Rosales, 50, who has spent the past 11 years assembling components for GM autos. He said his usual weekly check comes out to 1,300 pesos ($72), which has been reduced to 800 pesos ($44) during the furlough. “My wife works here, too, and she also was laid off. How are we doing? Do the math,” he said.

Osvaldo Uzueta on Wednesday said he was grateful for the 50 pounds of food for his family because he and his wife have a baby on the way.

Carla Murillo said she is still clocking a full shift at Auto Kabel, but that her husband has been laid off. “He was putting in nine hours a day, so this has had a big impact on our economy. The groceries are nice, but if this goes on for more weeks, he’s going to have to look for a job somewhere else, she said.

Other Juarez workers interviewed said they are doing odd jobs to survive the furlough, while some have resorted to selling arts and crafts and home-décor items from home.

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