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Labor fight comes north
Mexican dispute aired in Belmont

The Evening Citizen
Laconia, NH Thursday, November 21, 2002

By John Koziol
Staff Writer

BELMONT — Rafael Salinas traveled thousands of miles to make a point on Wednesday that Alcoa, regardless of where its subsidiaries may be located, should respect the rights of its workers.

Salinas was among a handful of placard-holding protesters who gathered for about an hour along Route 106 in front of the Alcoa Fujikura Limited’s (AFL) Telecommunications Noyes Fiber Systems Division plant.
AFL’s Automotive Division employs some 17,000 workers at 13 engine wiring harnesses factories in Mexico and recently fired 20 employees, including Salinas, for what it maintains was an illegal work stoppage.

Andy Davis and Judy Elliott were among labor activists who held up signs along Route 106 in Belmont Wednesday protesting Alcoa’s allegedly unfair labor practices in Mexico. (Citizen Photo/Daryl Carlson)

Salinas and New Hampshire labor activists, however, say AFL was retaliating against the workers for trying to organize an independent union at plants in Piedras Negras and Ciudad Acuna, both of which are in the state of Coahuila.

He and representatives from the American Friends Service Committee’s New Hampshire Office in Concord as well as from the New Hampshire AFL-CIO came to Belmont to raise public awareness and to meet with Noyes management to discuss the situation at the company’s Mexico plants.

The group gave Rich Tyler, plant manager at Noyes Fiber Systems, a letter to pass on to Alain Belda, chairman and CEO of Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Alcoa, asking that the fired workers be re-instated and that AFL Automotive not harass its workers in Mexico, who are attempting to form independent unions there.

" They say they are firing us for an illegal work stoppage, but that’s not the case," said Salinas through an interpreter. AFL’s claims are simply "not true," said Salinas, who hoped that his visit to the Granite State, which he called "very pretty," would "help me and all my co-workers get good results in our struggle" with AFL.

In its documentation of the so-called work stoppage, "the company treated us just like criminals and followed us with cameras inside and outside the factory," said Salinas.

Alcoa, in a prepared statement acknowledged that in firing the workers, it had reviewed both photos and videotapes, but insisted that they showed that some of them had engaged in an "illegal work stoppage" and were subsequently terminated.

" Throughout that time period, AFL communicated that the company is neutral on union issues and fully supports the Freedom of Association principle" which allows workers to join unions. But AFL, the company statement continued, does not support "the use of violence and intimidation to drive change, and cannot support actions that are illegal. The initiation of a work stoppage of this nature violated several clauses in the Mexican labor law and we determined that termination of those responsible was the correct course of action.

" The claims that AFL terminated these workers to put an end to a labor movement is simply false. The terminations were solely the result of initiating an illegal work stoppage."

Asked why the Noyes plant should be picketed, AFSC-NH Program Coordinator Arnie Alpert replied that the bottom line is that it’s part of Alcoa.

The demonstration is being treated as a success, said Alpert, because it does send a message to Alcoa, if only in a small way, that the company is being watched in the court of public opinion and that it has to do right by all its workers.

New Hampshire AFL-CIO President Mark MacKenzie, who was holding a sign that said "Make the global economy work for working families," said he was there to show solidarity with the worldwide labor movement. Also, it was important to picket Noyes to let New Hampshire residents know about the questionable behavior of its corporate parent, he said.

Tyler was hard-pressed to understand why his facility was picketed. "It really is so far removed," from what is happening in Mexico, he said.

Noyes is a subsidiary of a subsidiary, he said, explaining that AFL has an automotive division, which includes the engine harness factories in Mexico, and the telecommunications division which includes Noyes.

Started by local resident John Noyes, Noyes Fiber Systems manufactures fiber-optic testing equipment, said Tyler, and, according to a framed cover of a "BusinessNH" magazine, was one of the 10 best companies to work for in the state in 1997.

Short of being courteous and welcoming to the labor activist, Tyler said he could only give them a copy of the letter that came from Alcoa headquarters on Wednesday stating the company’s position on the events at its factories in Mexico.

John Koziol can be reached by calling 524-3800 ext. 5940 or by e-mail at jkoziol@citizen.com



www.cfomaquiladoras.org is produced in cooperation with the
Mexico-U.S Border Program
of the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC)

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