The Abascal Plan: Codifying Employer Control

September 25, 2007

What would the law do exactly? While written in apparently innocuous language, it would create a series of impediments to workers’ self-organization, unionization, bargaining and strikes. It would further institutionalize the control of the highly corrupt existing unions, while codifying the worst existing practices. The most important points are these:

  • In an initial attempt to organize a union or to demonstrate a majority in order to gain the right to administer an existing contract, workers would have to reveal their identities to initiate processes leading to union recognition or collective bargaining, thus exposing them to discharge.
  • Workers would have to produce documentation that is only available from labor authorities, which are institutionally opposed to independent labor unions.
  • Labor Boards would not be able to consider more than one petition at a time, meaning that at the first sign of a union campaign, employers could turn to “ghost unions” and file preemptive petitions to create delays and keep independent unions’ petitions for recognition from being heard.
  • Workers would lose job security, as employers would be given greater latitude to hire contingent and temporary workers who may be fired at any time with no penalty. This would be a dramatic change in current protections offered by Mexican law, which does not allow hires on a temporary basis, and prohibits discharges except under limited circumstances.
  • The mandatory eight-hour workday would be eliminated, as employers would be given latitude to change work-hours. Employers would have additional rights to substitute productivity bonuses for wages, without specific obligations to share productivity gains with workers.

The reform would provide three new ways in which union certification can be revoked.

  • It would weaken provisions requiring that employers notify the worker or union regarding the grounds for dismissal.
  • It would diminish the preference for previous employees and for unionized employees, and also weaken seniority in filling job openings.
  • It would shift the burden of proof against workers in questions of overtime hours.

Just as important, however, is what the law, if implemented, would not change. It in no way responds to the democratic and independent union movements’ demands for transparency. Union officials would still be elected by voice vote, rather than by secret ballot. The government wouldn’t be required to provide a registry of labor unions and contracts, one of the central demands of the movement. The tripartite labor board (one-third government representatives, one-third employer representatives and one-third “official” union representatives) would stay in place, meaning that independent unions and workers would have no opportunity for an impartial hearing. Workers involved in workplace representation elections would still have to disclose their identity to employers.1 Unions could still use the exclusion clause to expel union dissidents. In the public sector, government agencies would still recognize only the existing union monopoly, and independent unions would have no rights whatsoever. Nor would the law stop the use of pregnancy tests for women workers in the hiring process, nor provide sanctions against management employees who engage in sexual harassment. Domestic workers would have no labor rights at all under the reform proposal.2

1. Although the Abascal Plan purports to provide for secret ballot elections, this is illusory since the Plan also requires that workers seeking such an election must disclose their identities in order to obtain an election.
2. Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), “Public Communication to the U.S. NAO,” Feb. 17, 2005. I have relied upon this document’s interpretation of the problems of the Abascal Project, and have largely paraphrased the language used there.

Tags: Mexico, labor, labor law reform, unions, ABASCAL

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