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Mexican Factory Workers Accuse State Authorities Of Favoring Corporate Interests

Members of a factory union in Ciudad Juárez gathered outside the state labor office on Friday to demand fair representation by authorities.
Mónica Ortiz Uribe
Members of a factory union in Ciudad Juárez gathered outside the state labor office on Friday to demand fair representation by authorities.

CIUDAD JUAREZ, Mexico — Hundreds of workers at an American-owned factory in Ciudad Juárez are prepared to go on strike Tuesday if the state labor authority gives its approval, according to a labor attorney representing some of those workers.

A sanctioned factory strike would be an unprecedented event in this Mexican border city whose economy depends heavily on industry.

More than 50 unionized workers protested on Friday outside the Chihuahua Board of Conciliation and Arbitration, which hears labor disputes in a court setting. They accused the board of unfairly favoring the American telecommunications company CommScope, in their ongoing attempt to engage the company in contract negotiations.

"The company is causing unreasonable delays over legal terminology and the court continues to rule in its favor," said Cuauhtemoc Estrada, the workers' attorney.

Joaquin Barrios, the local president of the state labor board, denies that the court is playing favorites.

"If that was true we wouldn't have authorized the creation of their union," Barrios said.

The union, which was established in December, wants higher salaries and better working conditions, including protection for workers injured on the job. Workers at CommScope currently make a base wage of $8 a day. According to Estrada, the company has so far refused to negotiate, so the union is asking the labor board to authorize a worker strike.

Union members have visited the homes of more than 500 current CommScope employees in the past month and claim the majority support a strike.

CommScope has denied requests for interviews. In a written statement the company said it's committed to engaging with its employees.

The CommScope workers, many of whom claim they were fired for their organizing efforts, run the city's only independently established factory union. Workers from at least three other factories have petitioned to start their own unions, but the state has yet to authorize them.

Independent factory unions along Mexico's northern border are virtually nonexistent. Multinational companies like CommScope depend on cheap labor to help make countless products including electronic gadgets, car parts and medical devices.

The labor board is scheduled to make a decision on the CommScope strike Tuesday morning. If it approves the workers' case, the strike would move forward that same afternoon.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been modified to reflect the dateline of where the story was reported, and the involvement of the union members.

Updated 3/24/2016 at 11:41 a.m.