Activists: NAFTA Provisions Don't Protect Workers

Groups of labor and environmental activists are planning a protest next week at the National Safety Congress in San Diego, claiming the NorthAmerican Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) has failed to protect workers and the environment.

The advocates for labor rights and environmental protections will hold a press conference on Monday, Oct. 7, at 11 a.m. at the main entrance of the San Diego Convention Center to protest the start of what they call "three days of secret government meetings" to be held inside the San Diego Convention Center to settle a NAFTA dispute filed by workers of the Autotrim/Customtrim plants in Matamoros and Valle Hermoso, Mexico.

The government-only "Binational Working Group on Occupational Safety and Health," appointed by the U.S. Department of Labor and the Mexican government to resolve the violations complaint filed under NAFTA at the Autotrim/Customtrim plants, is holding a meeting at the convention center. Thirty-seven members of Congress, including Senators Paul Wellstone (D, Minn.) and Edward Kennedy (D, Mass.), sent letters to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao denouncing the working group as insufficient. "This landmark case of worker health and safety violations joins the landmark case of toxic waste at the Metales y Derivados site in Tijuana in decisively demonstrating that NAFTA's labor and environmental side agreements defend corporations, not citizens' rights," says a press release issued by the group.

Participants in the press conference will include Martha Ojeda, executive director, Coalition for Justice in the Maquiladoras, San Antonio, Texas; Garrett Brown, coordinator, Maquiladora Health and Safety Support Network, Berkeley, Calif.; Enrique Iglesias, former worker, Autotrim/Customtrim Auto Parts Plant, Matamoros and Valle Hermoso, Mexico; and Connie García, policy advocate, Environmental Health Coalition, San Diego.

"Closed meetings of government functionaries - the same ones whose inaction prompted the complaint in the first place - is hardly an effective, transparent and meaningful resolution for workers who have been trying since 1997 to get to some improvement in their working conditions," says Brown.

(Stay logged on to www.occupationalhazards.com for more news from the National Safety Congress.)

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