LabourStart logo.
Where trade unionists start their day on the net.

Rubies de Mexico: The Facts

A letter from Stephen Coats, Executive Director, US/LEAP. His email address is [email protected].

* * *

Thank you very much for the support you have been providing for the workers at Rubie’s de Mexico and their campaign to hold Rubie’s and Time Warner responsible for the use of child labor and other human and labor rights violations at the Halloween costume plant in Hidalgo, Mexico.

The workers and their democratically-chosen union, the FTVO, have asked US/LEAP to assist with English-language communication and international solidarity support.

We have received a copy of the response by the president of Rubie’s Costume Company in Queens, NY, Marc P. Beige, to Labour Start activists’ emails. Mr. Beige’s response may appear quite balanced and reasonable to the uninformed reader but we can assure you that it is full of inaccurate and misleading declarations in Rubie’s effort to sidestep worker rights violations and cast the conflict as a dispute “between two unions.” First, it’s important to review the basic facts, which are documented by the FTVO union in a recent submission to the U.S. government and provided in a report that is available on our website

1.Unresolved labor violations. Rubie’s workers initially approached the FTVO office in Tepeji del Rio, Hidalgo in March 2005 because they wanted to form a democratic union to help them negotiate a collective bargaining agreement to resolve human and labor rights violations, including child labor, unsanitary conditions, no drinking water or toilet paper, no emergency medical kit or staff, frequent workplace accidents, regularly required overtime, locked in the factory to meet production quotas, and forced pregnancy testing.

2.Denial of freedom of association. After organizing their union, the workers affiliated with the FTVO and negotiated a collective bargaining agreement that was signed with the company on April 13. The very next day the factory administrator unilaterally refused to recognize the agreement. One week later, on April 22, the Sindicato Nacional Textil “Adolfo López Mateos” of the CTM appeared, claiming that it already had a collective bargaining agreement with the company.1 The workers, who had never been informed of the existence of this union, rejected the “protection contract” and insisted that the FTVO serve as their bargaining representative. Three days later, Rubie’s illegally locked out the 62 workers (out of approximately 80 then working at the plant) who affiliated with the FTVO, none of which have been rehired by the company.

It is important to address some of the concerns that have arisen regarding the FTVO’s affiliation to the national labor federation called the CROC. Mr. Beige mentioned in his reply The New York Times article that refers to a strike at a newspaper in Oaxaca involving the CROC, which has been criticized by international organizations including Amnesty International.2 As in the U.S. and other countries, the FTVO is just one of many unions affiliated to the CROC. The union in Oaxaca, though part of the same national organization, is not the same union as the FTVO. While elements of the CROC also reportedly practice the use protection contracts, as in the case of many national-scale labor federations, the CROC includes all types of unions with varying reputations. We believe that the FTVO is genuinely committed to its workers and the formation of a democratic trade union at Rubie’s. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t be supporting them.

3.Protection contract phenomenon in Mexico. The Fair Labor Association’s 2004 annual report3 describes the prevalence of the protection contract system in Mexico (it uses the term “white unions” rather than protection contract, but the principle is the same). The report states: “It is common for white unions to have virtually no relationship with their members and to collude with management to improve enterprise profits. In such cases, workers rarely know their representatives and sometimes do not even know that a union exists in the factory. These unions are common in Mexico's legal environment, where “closed shops” and “exclusion clauses” of CBAs (see sidebar) make it possible for white unions to maintain power in many enterprises.” Also, two recent articles in one of Mexico’s most prominent daily newspapers quote the Mexican government as confirming the existence and in fact prevalence of protection contract unions, including that 90% of collective bargaining agreements on file with the Labor Board are “protection contracts”.4

In Mexico it is unfortunately all too common that, when workers want to organize a union and negotiate a collective bargaining agreement to address workplace violations, the company, a protection contract union and the government collude to deny workers their rights. In the Rubie’s case, that is exactly what has happened. After exhausting all of the available legal resources in Mexico, including three appeals before the highest labor courts in the country, on October 14 the FTVO filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor citing systematic violations of nine of the 11 principles of the NAFTA labor side accord. [This complaint will be posted on our website next week.] The basis for this complaint is that the Mexican government has not upheld its Federal Labor Law nor respected its obligations according to ILO conventions and the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) labor side accord. In addition to signaling the failure of the Mexican government to hold Rubie’s responsible for the use of child labor at the plant, the complaint also points out the various ways in which the federal labor board has colluded with the CTM to deny the Rubie’s workers their fundamental right to freedom of association, and by extension any possibility to their right to collectively bargain a solution to the aforementioned human and labor rights abuses.

Now, let us turn to Mr. Beige’s reply. The majority of his letter is untrue and intended to paint the conflict as a dispute between two unions. As mentioned earlier, it is very convenient for Rubie’s to hide behind the Mexican labor law and suggest that both unions work out the dispute amongst themselves, since the protection contract phenomenon in Mexico prevents any real, democratic remedy for workers who, in the Rubie’s case, choose to affiliate to a democratic, accountable union whose every efforts to achieve justice are systematically blocked by the collusion between the company, the CTM and the federal labor board.

“…the efforts of a Mexican labor union to wrest control of our facility from its duly elected representation…” We have asked Mr. Beige to provide documentation showing that the CTM was “duly elected” by the workers. Given that the workers did not know CTM union existed, we doubt very much that Mr. Beige is going to be able to provide any such documentation. On the other hand, the FTVO has signed membership affiliation forms, proceedings from the formative assembly of the FTVO union at the factory, and a signed collective bargaining agreement with the company to prove it is the democratically-chosen representative of 62 of the approximately 80 workers employed at the plant when this conflict began.

“…[the CTM is] the largest union in the textile and apparel sector…” That may be, but bigger is not always better and, in Mexico, no guarantee of legitimacy. We don’t disagree with Mr. Beige’s claim, only its meaning. According to the book “Modernización Empresarial y Corporativismo en el Sector Textil” by Rosa Silvia Arciniega Arce, published in 2002, the CTM is the largest official or corporativist [emphasis added] union in this sector in Mexico (pgs. 23-4; 120-131). An “official” union is traditionally linked to a major political party and by extension the Mexican government and, as described in the book, its leaders, contract terms, and union processes are unknown to workers until a labor conflict arises, thereby obligating the CTM to reveal its presence at a company. This is essentially the textbook definition of a protection contract union.

“…[Rubie’s is] not in the position to make a unilateral decision to ‘fire’ one union and ‘hire’ another…Moreover, Mexican law forbids us from participating in any negotiations between the two unions.” No one is asking Rubie’s to break the law. Obtaining a resolution is a matter of will, for which there is ample precedent in Mexico in cases of this nature (e.g. Nike and Reebok got the job done at Kuk Dong a couple of years ago). Rubie’s and its business partners, including Warner Bros., simply need to exercise their will and ensure implementation of the perfectly legal neutrality agreement provided to Rubie’s on August 2 that would ensure a democratic union selection process. Hiding behind a Mexican legal system that essentially upholds the protection contract system does not represent a commitment to respecting worker rights and freedom of association.

“…completely false and unproven allegations…” As mentioned on the LabourStart website, birth certificates and pay stubs for the underage workers are posted at www.usleap.org/Recent%20Headlines/Recent%20Headlines%206-05/Mattel.htm, along with a detailed report and timeline of the facts in the Rubie’s case. With respect to Mr. Beige’s claims that Rubie’s has been absolved by Mexican government inspection reports, we assume he is referring to two reports he sent to us in August. One is an excerpt of a longer report, and rejects only one of the half-dozen cases of child labor. We have asked him several times for the rest of the report or any other report that rejects the evidence we have posted on our website. He has not responded. The second report bears no relationship to the claims he says it represents, and actually finds Rubie’s in violation of Mexican law on other matters. But it does not refute the workers’ claims. Again, we have asked him whether there is another report, thinking perhaps he sent us one by mistake. Again, he has not responded.

“Not only is this illegal but it contravenes the established principles of the freedom of association. Our employees have and should be allowed to choose their own representation as they have for the previous eight years. …employees would flock to CROC in an open election if conditions at our facility are as intolerable as CROC claims.” This is exactly what happened. If the CTM union had been doing its job, there would have been no child labor, unsanitary conditions, and all the other violations. Rather, conditions were so bad at the factory that 62 of 80 employees did indeed choose their own representation and “flocked” to the FTVO to exercise their rights to freedom of association. But Rubie’s, instead of respecting freedom of association, colluded with the CTM who in turn colluded with the Mexican government to systematically deny workers their rights.

“We are willing to take whatever legal steps necessary to help swiftly resolve this issue such as continuing to urge the unions to negotiate or filing the necessary papers to immediately conduct an official election so that the will of our workers can be clearly determined.” While this may sound good on paper, what Mr. Beige is saying here is that they want to conduct an election in which the FTVO workers don’t get to vote while the workers the company brought in after the FTVO workers were fired do. This is like letting the strikebreakers vote but not the strikers. Anyone would understand that this is not a fair “election.” On August 2, the FTVO proposed a lengthy, detailed, legal proposal to Rubie’s suggesting how the company can rehire the illegally fired workers and agree to remain neutral in a transparent process by which each union can achieve a showing of interest petition to end, once and for all, the dispute about which, if any, union truly represents the workers. To date, Rubie’s has not responded in good faith to this proposal.

My apologies for the length of this rebuttal but understanding Mr. Beige’s response requires a fair amount of background. I hope that it is clear to Labour Start activists that Rubie’s has failed and continues to fail to respect freedom of association, that its collusion with the protection contract system created the miserable working conditions and use of child labor, and that it can no longer hide behind this system which denies workers their basic rights. Neither can Rubie’s business partners. Warner Bros. has not intervened adequately enough with Rubie’s or this conflict would have been resolved long ago.

Thanks again for your support. Please do not hesitate to contact us if you have additional questions (or if you get another letter from Mr. Beige that merits another rebuttal!).

In solidarity,


Stephen Coats
Executive Director
US/LEAP




Texts appearing here are often press releases sent to us by unions and other organizations which do not appear elsewhere on the web. LabourStart takes no responsibility for their content.

Return to LabourStart