Pacific Media Workers protests anti-union firings at Mexico’s most progressive newspaper
On behalf of the Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA Local 39521, executive officer Carl Hall has written to the management of Mexico City daily, La Jornada, protesting firings and union busting. After a short strike last June, the paper’s director, Tania Paulina Olmos, fired the leaders of its union. As of the date of the letter, nine officers and activists have been terminated, and they accuse Olmos of tearing up their union contract.
“These actions are fundamental violations of the labor rights of these workers under Mexican law, and under the conventions of the International Labor Organization,” Hall said in the letter. He continued, “We have admired the newspaper and our colleagues who have produced it. For that reason, we find it inconceivable that you would adopt the worst tactics of those employers whose crimes against workers your newspaper has exposed.”
La Jornada is one of Mexico’s most popular daily newspapers, published in Mexico City. It was founded in 1983 by a group of journalists who left their jobs in other papers, and under the leadership of its founders Carlos Payan Velver and Carmen Lira Saade, came together to start a paper that would “give a voice to those who have none.” For 34 years it has covered the news about workers and unions, farmers, the growing environmental movement, indigenous communities and human rights, in a way that no other newspaper in Mexico has done. It has a staff of about 300 people, and hundreds of others contribute reporting, columns and photographs.
The Independent Union of Workers at La Jornada was organized in 1985, and has represented about 200 of the newspapers workers, including reporters, editors, photographers and administrative personnel. It has had an excellent relationship with the paper’s management, and some of the workers are themselves shareholders in the paper. The union contract is one of the best in the Mexican newspaper industry, and in addition to the base salary, workers get a variety of “prestaciones,” or additional pay and benefits according to seniority and other criteria. These prestaciones amount to 29-45% of workers’ paychecks.
Two years ago the corporation that owns the paper, Demos, Desarrollo de Medios SA de CV, told the union it was on the point of closing, in part because it had not paid millions of pesos in taxes it had deducted from workers’ paychecks, but failed to pay to the government. The union agreed to drastic cuts in the prestaciones for a period of 14 months, and the paper agreed to make monthly reports on how the money was being spent.
No reports were ever made. After two changes in management, an outside accountant, Tania Paulina Olmos, was brought in to manage the paper. She demanded that workers give up all prestaciones permanently, in essence scrapping the union contract. At the same time she hired additional employees outside of the bargaining unit, and a management-side lawyer, Alejandro Roel. The union proposed measures to help in the paper’s financial crisis, but refused to accept the elimination of all its prestaciones. Olmos then unilaterally implemented the cuts.
One prestacion mandated by the contract is the payment of a life insurance benefit to the family of a worker who dies. “Our reporter Jesus Aranda just passed away, and his family was left without this support, which amounted to 170,000 pesos [about $10,000],” the union’s general secretary, Judith Calderon, told the Mexican magazine Proceso.
In June union members voted to strike, 133 to 64, and in July struck for four days. They then agreed to return to work and continue negotiating, and management agreed not to retaliate against workers for striking. Nevertheless, Olmos then began firing the leadership of the union, including its general secretary Calderon (33 years seniority), and its organizing secretary, Leonardo Mondragon (22 years seniority). After members elected a new set of officers in August, Olmos fired the new treasurer, Mario Contreras (32 years seniority). To date, nine officers and union activists have been fired.
Olmos then filed criminal charges against Calderon, Mondragon and fired member Maricela Delgado, accusing them of holding people hostage in the newspaper building during the strike. She even charged Calderon’s 20-year-old son, who’d come to the picketline to support his mother.
The union is demanding the reinstatement of all fired members, dropping the charges against its leaders, restoration of its contract, and good faith negotiations. It has been supported by most progressive unions in Mexico, including the telephone workers (the sister union to CWA), university workers, teachers, miners and the Mexican Electrical Workers (SME). Victor Enrique Favela, national officer of the telephone workers union, said that the firings were unjustified and called them “a punishment” for going on strike, despite Olmos’ promise not to retaliate. “Even worse, we condemn the criminal charges for the ‘crime’ of having exercised the right to strike,” he told Proceso. “If she is guilty, so are we all.”
Letter to La Jornada
Tania Paulina Olmos, director
Ave. Cuauhtémoc # 1236
Col. Santa Cruz Atoyac
México, D.F. 03310
October 21, 2017
Dear Ms. Olmos,
Our union represents hundreds of workers at newspapers in California and Hawaii, and many more who work in other capacities in the media.
We are writing to protest the actions taken by you and the management of Demos, Desarrollo de Medios SA de CV, against the workers and union at La Jornada. These actions are fundamental violations of the labor rights of these workers under Mexican law, and under the conventions of the International Labor Organization.
These actions include the firing of Judith Calderon (33 years seniority), general secretary of the Sindicato Independiente de Trabajadores de La Jornada (Sitrajor), the union’s secretary of organization, Leonardo Mondragon (22 years seniority), its treasurer, Mario Contreras (32 years seniority), active member Maricela Delgado and others. In an even more serious violation of labor rights, you have pressed criminal charges against Calderon, Mondragon, Delgado and even Calderon’s son (not a La Jornada employee) because of their strike in July.
We join Sitrajor and many progressive independent unions in Mexico in demanding that the fired workers be immediately reinstated, and that charges against them be dropped.
La Jornada has been an invaluable “voice for those who have none” for 34 years, providing journalism that has courageously covered the battles by workers and communities to defend their human rights, and to seek government policies in the interest of all Mexicans, not just wealthy corporations. We have admired the newspaper and our colleagues who have produced it. For that reason, we find it inconceivable that you would adopt the worst tactics of those employers whose crimes against workers your newspaper has exposed.
If La Jornada is facing the same economic crisis faced by so many other media institutions, its problems can only be addressed through good faith negotiations with its own workers and their union, who have already sacrificed much for the sake of La Jornada’s survival. The union contract at La Jornada must be restored, and the union rights of La Jornada workers respected.
Carl Hall, executive officer
Pacific Media Workers Guild, CWA, AFL-CIO