Migrant labor rights advocacy in Mexico and the United States

Mexican foreign policy toward emigrants shifted in the 1990s from a model of state introversion to one of state extension, with the explicit goal of engaging migrant communities abroad by crafting a series of new progr ams and policies supported by civic organizations on both sides of the border.36 These diaspora management policies would eventually (and perhaps inadvertently) pave the way for efforts by transnational migrant advocacy organizations in Mexico and the United States to improve labor standards enforcement for migrant workers. By leveraging the NAALC labor side accords, and eventually building linkages to the Consular Partnership program (CPP). the seeds of accountability began to be planted, hi a classic boomerang effect, the pressure to hold the Mexican government accountable to its diasporic workforce in the United States has also shaped parallel efforts to advocate for workers who have remained in, or returned to, Mexico.

Despite its many flaws, NAALC set a precedent in the North American region by incorporating labor standards into free trade negotiations, even if these standards were excluded from the binding elements of the agreement itself. Thus far. the most promising result of the NAALC process has been the “greater cooperation and inclusiveness among various NGOs and civil society groups, including previously marginalized groups such as unofficial Mexican unions and Mexican migrant workers in the United States.”37 By introducing some basic elements of participatory democracy, NAALC has created fertile ground on which to experiment with a tripartite model of labor rights enforcement.38 This model empowers public interest groups to provide support in enforcing regulations; and if carried out effectively, it has the potential to achieve enforcement by staking out a middle ground between deterr ence and compliance in which employers may find it increasingly difficult to abuse workers without facing any consequence. Beginning in the next section, we h ack some of the key petitions that have emerged in this framework and their consequences for building labor advocacy networks and alliances across borders.

Early attempts at accountability (2003 and 2005 petitions)

In February 2003, the Washington, DC-based Farmworker Justice Fund, Inc. (FJ) filed a petition with the Mexican National Administrative Office, thus launching the fust attempt under NAALC to improve the labor conditions of temporary migrant workers. FJ submitted the petition jointly with the Central Independiente de Obreros Agricolas y Campesinos, an agricultural worker organization based in Mexico City. The petitioners asked the North American Commission for Labor Cooperation to addr ess the mistreatment of and labor law violations concerning H-2A guest workers from Mexico employed in North Carolina’s agriculture industry. Key charges included blacklisting and denial of the freedom to associate. In their petition, FJ demanded worker education and restitution.39

There was no formal US government response from the North American Commission for Labor Cooperation to this petition. However, amidst a boycott against implicated growers, by September 2004, the North Carolina Growers Association in Raleigh signed a historic collective bargaining agreement with the Fann Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC). After the agreement, FLOC went on to establish offices in Monterrey. Mexico, and in North Carolina to serve its growing membership and administer the agr eement. The goal was to improve access to information for would-be H-2A workers. Publicity was vital in the "mobilization of shame,” which the turion would leverage to pressure decision-makers. In doing so, this petition to an otherwise weak international enforcement mechanism was creatively used to advance advocacy efforts.

The resulting settlement produced spillover effects to Canada by paving the way for holding accountable fraudulent recruiters who preyed upon desperate workers trying to obtain a legal employment contract through the Mexico-Canada guest-worker program in a lax regulatory environment. Tire United Food and Commercial Workers of America union in Canada leveraged the Fann Labor Organizing Committee precedent to denounce corruption in the state of Guanajuato against Mexican government officials from Mexico’s Labor Minishy who were illegally demanding kickbacks from migrant workers and to win restitution for temporary guest workers from Mexico who had been retaliated against after they exposed rampant violations.40

In 2005, the Northwest Workers’ Justice Project of Oregon, the Andrade Law Office of Boise, Idaho, and the Brerman Center for Justice in New York submitted a new petition to the Mexican National Administration Office raising concerns about the rights of migrant workers imder the H-2B visa program in Idaho. Texas, and Arkansas. The petition cited forced labor, employment discrimination, and rrnequal pay for women and men. among other violations. In Mexico, srrpport for the petition came from six NGOs, including the Frente Autentico del Trabajo (an independent labor union), the Red Mexicana de Action Frente al Libre Comertio (an anti-NAFTA organization), and Sin Fronteras (an immigrant advocacy organization).

In the United States, four organizations supported the petition: the Idaho Migrant Council. National Immigration Law Center, Oregon Law Center, and Pineros y Campesinos Unidos del Noroeste (PCUN), an affiliate of the United Farmworkers of America union with a history of transnational organizing dating back to 1985. Again, the North American Commission for Labor Cooperation did not issue any response under the NAALC. However, a 2004 MOU would later serve as a mobilizing framework.

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