Mexican Workers Testify About Safety at U.S.-Owned Plant

Twenty Mexican workers from a U.S.-owned auto trim plant will speak out\r\ntomorrow about the toxic fumes, rashes and other health problems they\r\nface as a result of their work.

Twenty Mexican workers from a U.S.-owned auto trim plant will speak out tomorrow about the toxic fumes, rashes and other health problems they face as a result of their work.

The workers will join a host of experts testifying at a San Antonio hearing of the National Administrative Office (NAO) of the Department of Labor on the Mexican government''s refusal to enforce its own health and safety laws at the Auto Trim and Custom Trim/Breed Mexicana maquiladoras.

The hearing could lead to the first-ever fines imposed under NAFTA for violations of workers'' rights.

The hearing is under the provisions of the NAFTA labor "side deal" -- the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) -- which provides for sanctions when participating countries in the treat don''t enforce their own labor laws.

Under NAALC, health and safety violations are among the few offenses which carry the possibility of a fine, which could run as high as $20 million.

The complainants include Mexican workers at the plant, labor and religious organizations, the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras and a U.S. law school clinic.

Workers will testify that problems they face include exposure to toxic fumes, extraordinary rates of repetitive motion injuries and high rates of birth defects and miscarriages.

Doctors and health and safety experts will also be among those testifying on Tuesday.

"What''s happening at this plant is global corporate piracy at its worst -- workers are becoming crippled because this U.S.-owned company isn''t honoring health and safety laws, and the Mexican government is just looking the other way," said Martha Ojeda of the Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras. "This hearing is these workers'' best shot at justice under the woefully inadequate provisions for workers'' rights in NAFTA."

The Breed Mexicana auto parts factory is located in Valle Hermoso and Matamoros. The parent company is located in Lakeland, Fla.

by Virginia Sutcliffe

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