Article 43


Thursday, November 10, 2005

High Tech Mexican Sweatshops

"Be happy you got a job,” insensitve people tell me - after venting frustration of still searching for meaningful work, going from a 20+ year career as a highly-skilled technician and manager at AT&T a year and a half ago, to a 50-year old SERF-LIKE DAY LABORER with a dwindling WILL TO LIVE - as hope drains that good jobs here in America, and happy retirement - NO LONGER EXIST for middle-aged American techies.  Adding the insult of companies SCREWING RETIREES, paints a clearer and bleaker picture [Be happy you had a job] of where society places our (and it’s) value.  Thank you H1-B VISAS, NAFTA+CAFTA, COPRPORATE GREED, WORTHLESS LABOR LAWS, etc. Us Americans aren’t alone.


[Be happy you got a job]
“We can hire three Hondurans for every one of you Mexicans.”

This is what Alcoa management is telling its over-12,000 auto parts workers in Acua and Piedras Negras, Mexico, who manufacture automotive electrical systems for export to Ford, General Motors and Subaru in the U.S. Conditions have never been good for Alcoa workers in Mexico, who - despite the fact that Alcoa refers to them as associates - still live in primitive one- and two-room cinderblock huts lacking windows and potable water.

The base wage in these high-tech Alcoa plants ranges from just 66 cents to $1.41 an hour. The median wage is $1.04 an hour, which can rise to $1.22 an hour including the attendance, punctuality and food bonuses that make up what is known in Mexico as the “integrated wage.” [Be happy you got a job] The highest production wage we found in any of the plants was $2.45 an hour, which only a very small handful of Alcoa workers actually earn. Upon hearing of a $2.45-an-hour wage, some people in the U.S. might think this is not too bad for the developing world. [Be happy you got a job] The fact is, the cost of living along the border, where the maquila factories are located, is higher than it is in Mexico City, the capital. Many products, like milk, eggs and gasoline, cost more in Mexico than they do in the U.S. By a very conservative estimate, the cost of living along the Mexican border is at least 60 percent of that in the U.S., making that $2.45 the equivalent of trying to live on $4.08 an hour in Pittsburgh or Detroit. The median wage of $1.22 an hour earned by the Alcoa workers in Mexico would be the equivalent of $2.03 an hour in the U.S. This is why an estimated 20 to 30 percent of Alcoa workers in Piedras Negras cross the U.S. border twice each week to sell their blood plasma. They receive $15 for the first transfusion and $30 for the secondalmost equal to the base wage they earn at Alcoa.

Over the last three years, the gratuity paid by Baxter International for the workers plasma has risen by 50 percent, while Alcoas wages have remained stagnant. Between October 2003 and April 2005, Alcoa workers received a nominal 10 percent wage increase, adding 11 cents an hour to their wages. But this increase was completely wiped out by a combined inflation rate of 9.5 percent in 2003 and 2004. Inflation for 2005 is running at 3.4 percent.

When we asked the Alcoa workers if they were better off now [Be happy you got a job] than they were three years ago, everyone responded, ”no.” At best, for a very few, living conditions had remained stagnant, while the vast majority said they were actually going backward and losing ground. Alcoa is a $23.5 billion multinational corporation. Yet, at its high tech plants in Mexico, wages have actually been falling behind other maquiladora plants in the area, including, for example Carolina Processing, where women scan and sort coupons for U.S. companies, a far simpler task, for which they are paid $1.88 an hour, which is more than 50 percent higher than the median wage paid by Alcoa.

Click HERE for the full story on high tech Mexican sweatshops.

Posted by Elvis on 11/10/05 •
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