Mexican Industries Closes Detroit Plants, Making Good on 1999 Threat

In 1999 the owners of Mexican Industries, a Detroit-based auto parts maker, threatened to close if their workers voted for the UAW. In June 2001 they made good on their threat, filing for bankruptcy and laying off 900 mostly Latino workers.

Mexican Industries, founded by former Detroit Tigers pitcher Hank Aguirre, had been a major source of jobs for Latinos—a majority of them women--on Detroit’s southwest side. Aguirre was fiercely anti-union, and his daughters, now the company’s owners, continued that tradition. Workers blame the owners not only for hostility toward their union but for mismanaging the company.

DELEGATION TO UAW

Months before the shutdown, the company stopped turning over union dues, deducted from workers’ paychecks, to UAW Local 600, with the union’s acquiescence. Union officials said they did not want to publicize the company’s financial situation and scare away investors. The company also stopped paying for health insurance—although it continued to deduct insurance money from workers’ checks.

The UAW is suing Mexican Industries for this money, for unpaid vacations, and for money owed under the WARN Act, which requires 60 days’ notice of a plant closing.

Two small joint venture plants remain, but the owners have said they will not respect the union contract there, despite a successor clause. High-seniority workers have bumping rights into these plants.

A few days after management announced the closing, a delegation of 15 rank and file workers went to UAW International headquarters and asked for a meeting with Vice President Bob King, who had been in charge of their 1999 organizing drive. The workers presented King with a list of demands. King and other officials promised to sue Mexican Industries and to help workers find jobs, and admitted that the union had erred in not keeping workers informed about what was happening with the company.

Local 600 arranged for social service agency representatives to meet with the workers and for some workers to take an employment test at Ford Motor Co. The test was in English, however. One worker said that employers did not want to hire Mexican Industries workers because they knew their hands were useless from overwork.

READY TO KEEP FIGHTING

Marisela Garcia, both her wrists in braces, said, "Many factors were involved in this catastrophe, but workers are ready to keep fighting for justice. We are watching." Many workers fear that the shutdown will damage future union organizing efforts among Detroit Latinos for years to come.

SEMCOSH and UAW Local 22, also located on the southwest side, are sponsoring an August 12 fundraiser for the Mexican Industries workers, some of whom will not be able to collect unemployment benefits. Rep. David Bonior and Baldemar Velasquez, president of the Farm Labor Organizing Committee, will speak.