Many Mexican companies that produce for the US market expose their workers to infection risks – and face layoffs. They are under pressure to maintain supply chains for the United States.
There are blurred amateur videos with the cell phone, the sound is quiet or rustling – filmed hastily so that the security service does not detect them. It shows groups of demonstrating workers in the manufacturing industry in northern Mexico. They throw their overalls at overseers’ feet or protest in front of factory gates that they either have to continue working under health risks or lose their jobs.
Hyundai, Roger’s, Carso, Safran, Hisense and Ontex in Tijuana have seen protests in recent days, according to journalist Alfredo Alvarez. According to Luis Hernández, chairman of the Association of Manufacturing and Export Industries in Baja California (index), 60 percent of the 1,200 suppliers are currently closed. There were conflicts in about 20 companies, “mainly due to employees who see the pandemic as an opportunity for paid vacation” – at least that’s how he saw things in an interview with DW.
Actually, only systemically relevant companies are allowed to work in Mexico. But many of the maquilas that produce for the US market opposed the order and threatened to lay off workers if they did not appear, reports journalist Alvarez on his website. The consequences of this practice are fatal: 20 deaths due to the coronavirus in Maquilas have been reported to date – 13 of them alone at the car supplier Lear in Ciudad Juárez.
Lear’s health service, which according to the Los Angeles Times research had been aware of COVID 19 cases by the end of March, fed the sick with painkillers and sent them back to the assembly line. It is apparently so careless in many companies. In Tijuana, a spokesman for Surgical Specialties confirmed two coronavirus deaths in the medical device manufacturing factory on Wednesday. The factory is considered systemically important. But workers complain that they have to work in full occupation instead of the officially prescribed 50 percent. The business association Index has recommended its members to install clinical thermometers on factory gates – only one company has complied with this.
But the pressure comes not only from employers, but also from the United States. The US Ambassador to Mexico, Christopher Landau, tweeted that he would do everything in his power to maintain the supply chains. There is also a lot at stake for Mexico: seven million jobs and almost two thirds of exports.
Both free trade partners currently define differently what is essential in the pandemic. Mexico is one of the systemically important companies, especially food and health needs. The aerospace and defense industries are also part of the United States. And there is a lot in a gray area: While the lighting industry considers itself indispensable for security reasons, the governor of Baja California had the maquila of the US company Copper Lightning closed. “If Mexico and the United States don’t agree, the supply chains will break. That is our main concern,” said entrepreneur representative Hernández of DW.
The governor in Baja California, Jaime Bonilla, initially showed little indulgence with the industry. The politician belonging to the ruling party Morena repeatedly blocked unreasonable maquilas – presumably also because his hospitals are on the verge of collapse. “Companies want to continue earning money even if they sacrifice their workers in the process,” he criticized journalists. Baja California ranks third in the nation with the most infected states. 975 people tested positive, 133 died of the virus. In the past two days, however, Bonilla has suddenly become more conciliatory. “In the United States, manufacturing operations are still open and operating under conditions, we are watching that closely.”
Author: Sandra Weiss