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LibreOrganize 0.6.0 - Documentation

VU Workers — Down but Not Out

from the Oct. 18, 2023 Bulletin

Cristina Ramirez is the mother of five children, and has worked in maquiladoras and in her own small businesses. In 2021, she was hired at VU Manufacturing. She quickly became a a union leader of La Liga Sindical Obrera Mexicana (LSOM). Now she is an organizer with Comité Fronterizo de Obreras (CFO),and continues to fight for justice for the former workers of VU.

Sergio Arturo Villalobos González is a political scientist in international relations, and has advised local governments and communities on a range of issues. Currently he is a union organizer for the VU campaign; he’s a firm believer in working for justice and equality.

Victor Noe Sevilla Peralta has lived in Piedras Negras for many years. He was a VU worker for more than seven years and even though he has a new job at the wholesale store CityClub, he continues to organize his fellow ex-workers to receive the compensation they’re due.

You worked at VU, which closed its doors rather than deal with a unionized workforce. What were your hours and wages? Did women face special conditions?

VU Manufacturing

Cristina:  We all worked 12 hours a day, Monday through Thursday — 48 hours a week — preparing and sewing leather and fabric used in auto interiors. There was often work on Fridays and Saturdays too. We could refuse the extra days paid at double time; I always accepted because I needed the money. Everyone got the same pay, no matter whether you worked there seven years or were a new employee: the  minimum wage, as set by the federal government, 312 pesos a day ($17.00). We didn’t have a union.

For women, it was harder since we spent so many hours away from home. If your child was sick, you had to get special permission to miss work. Harassment? I know of a woman who was sent suggestive messages on WhatsApp from a man in — Human Resources!

VU workers celebrating the victory of La Liga.

Photo: Charlie Saperstein

Did you get involved in trying to unionize?


Cristina: Inside the plant, we had a Base Committee who led our fight. I was the Recording Secretary. 

VU workers celebrating the victory of La Liga.

Photo: Charlie Saperstein

Victor: Both of us worked to convince our fellow workers that we needed a union. When the VU management heard we were organizing, they brought in the Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM), which is a union on the company’s side. Most of the workers knew the CTM would not stand up for us. But we couldn’t get a vote for union recognition until a Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM) under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was filed with the US government. That led to a vote — and our independent union, La Liga, won.

Two of those union committee members were fired, right? And what did you do when VU refused to bargain a contract with your new union?


Victor: When VU refused to bargain a contract, a second RRM was filed. This was the first company where 2 RRMs had to be filed. The US and Mexican authorities found our complaint was valid, and they set down a remediation plan for the company. But VU ignored the plan.


At one point, we were told the company owner was going to come to Piedra Negras and talk with the workers to investigate the problems. He did come from Michigan. But when the Treasurer and Special Delegate, Dario and Vicente, tried to talk with him, the executive refused. Two days later the company called the police, and they were dragged off the property and fired on the spot.


Cristina: I was let go too, not for my union activism but along with over 300 other workers. We did get our severance pay and what was owed us, but Dario and Vicente still haven’t gotten anything.


Victor: Some of us caught them moving equipment out of the factory, so we knew they were getting ready to close and maybe move to another location. They did close before the end of the remediation period, and the 71 who worked up to the end are still unpaid.


After the plant closed, were you able to find another job?

Victor: I got a job at CitiClub, which is like a Costco. But the majority haven’t been able to find work; the other maquilas don’t want them. Some just get turned down. Others are hired but are let go after their probation — and after the company finds out they worked at VU.


Sergio: We’ve visited former VU workers at their homes and compiled their stories; there is evidence that a blacklist is in effect. For example, Fujikura is “looking for you” as their ad says, but VU workers aren’t getting hired.

Where do you believe México’s Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare (STPS) and the RRM process failed you? Do you have recommendations for how to strengthen labor law enforcement in both Mexico and the RRM?

Jim West Photography/Protesters at the VU headquarters in Detroit on Sept. 26, 2023. 

Victor: After the second RRM, when VU refused to bargain, they were given six months to carry out the “Course of Remediation.” That was too long. It gave them time to take all the steps needed to close the plant. Also, specific actions with specific deadlines should have been demanded to meet the requirements. There should have been monthly monitoring. Out of 19 complaints, only two were addressed.

Cristina: We didn’t get support from the federal México labor officials either. The Secretary of Labor visited only once and put no pressure on VU; the officials seemed to be just waiting for the six months to run out.


Sergio: A legal complaint was filed for the unpaid workers and the fired union activist, but no one trusts the process. At one point, we filed to go on strike — which has to be approved  and the local labor court [which is still run by the old conservative regime-ed.] turned us down without a legal basis. That same court is now hearing the cases of the VU workers!

Should VU be punished?


Sergio: VU should be punished for violating the law. But the statement just issued by the US government just closes the case, it doesn’t resolve our issues. We’re afraid that if we’re the ones who lose and VU walks away free, other workers will be afraid to organize, and companies will be more likely to ignore our rights. Therefore, we’re going to file a third complaint against VU. They closed the plant without declaring bankruptcy.


To support you, the México Solidarity Project organized a protest at VU headquarters in Michigan, with support from UAW members, DSA, and Casa Obrera del Bajío, and wrote letters of protest to the US government. Do you think these actions can help?

Cristina:  What has happened is painful and unjust. We’re grateful that we have friends in the US who are outraged by that too.


Victor:  We understand that workers in México and the US are in the same fight, and in turn, we have sent letters of support to striking UAW workers. We ex-VU workers can’t win this alone, and we appreciate that you are pressuring your government to not abandon us. You are keeping our case alive; we must keep hope alive.

Photo courtesy of Charlie Saperstein/VU workers in solidarity with the UAW strike