Mexican Government Calls Foul on North Carolina Union-Busting

Editor's note: This is a release from the International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions.

The National Administrative Office (NAO) of Mexico’s trade pact enforcement agency in the Labour Ministry has issued an immediate call for answers to questions on the progress in gaining collective bargaining rights for public sector workers in the US state of North Carolina.

The US, Mexico, and Canada share the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), in which a side accord, the North American Agreement on Labour Cooperation (NAALC), is being used to challenge the lack of labor rights in North Carolina.

NAALC is the only NAFTA side agreement signed by the US government that addresses labor standards.

The NAO in Mexico sent a six-page query to its American counterpart. It asked for answers to questions related to a state law that prohibits collective bargaining in the public sector, as well as a progress report by the US NAO following a rebuke of the state law by the ILO’s Freedom of Association Committee. Specifically, the Mexican government asks, “What have the governments of the United States and North Carolina done in respect to the recommendation of the Freedom of Association Committee?”

The action in Mexico is a result of action by trade union Frente Autentico del Trabajo (FAT), on behalf of their northern comrades, the ICEM affiliate United, Electrical, Radio, Machine Workers of America (UE). FAT’s Mexican petition, and one by the UE to the US government, has 53 co-signers, ranging from community organizations to labour groups, including Global Union Federations ICEM and Public Services International (PSI).

Local 150 of the UE, the North Carolina Public Service Workers Union, has build a strong union membership of 3,000 workers in the US state, but most are without bargaining rights due to an archaic state law.

In March 2007, the ILO committee said that failing to comply “with freedom of association principles in North Carolina has resulted in grievous working conditions for many public sector workers.” The Committee on Freedom of Association specifically cited ILO Conventions 87, 98, and 151, and stated that “although these Conventions have not been ratified by the United States,” the ILO’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work makes the US government “obligated to respect, promote and realize the principles embodied in these Conventions regardless of ratification.”

Workers of UE Local 150 see other rights being abused as well. On 26 October, the union and supporters delivered a petition to University of North Carolina President, Erskine Bowles.

The petition demanded that Bowles lift a censorship decree on university workers who had submitted an article to a university publication. The workers composed the article as part of its yearly Employee Forum contribution and it spelled out basic information and education on collection bargaining. Administrators at the state-run school censured and stopped the article from appearing in the magazine.

UE Local 150 is comprised of low-wage workers such as janitors, garbage haulers, groundskeepers, housekeepers, medical helpers, and bus drivers, who are mostly employed in different government sectors.

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