Mexico: high court rules against electrical workers

Thousands of laid-off Mexico City electrical workers suffered a major setback on Jan. 30 when a panel of the Supreme Court of Justice of the Nation (SCJN) overturned a lower court decision supporting the workers’ claim to jobs at the Federal Electricity Commission (CFE). Lawyers for the workers’ union, the Mexican Electrical Workers Union (SME), had argued that the workers were entitled to replacement jobs at the CFE because the decision by former president Felipe Calder贸n Hinojosa (2006-2012) in October 2009 to close down their employer–the Central Light and Power Company (LFC), which serviced the Mexico City metropolitan area鈥攚as unjustified. The federal government owned LFC before its closing, and the government continues to own and operate the CFE.

The SCJN panel ruled that since LFC was losing money, Calder贸n’s decision was due to circumstances beyond his control (“por causa de fuerza mayor“), and that in any case the president didn’t have the power to transfer employees from one company to the other–even though both LFC and CFE were state enterprises, the justices ruled, they were independent entities with their own management. The decision appears to invalidate an agreement Calder贸n made with the SME in September 2011 to have the CFE hire its workers. However, the panel ruled that the workers were entitled to a severance package.

Calder贸n’s abrupt closing of LFC in 2009 was widely seen as an effort to shut down a militant union by laying off its active 44,000 members. The SME responded with a dual strategy, pursuing legal arguments in the courts and mounting militant demonstrations in the streets. The majority of the laid-off workers accepted the government’s offer of a severance package, but about 17,000 held out for new jobs. A six-month sit-in by unionists in Mexico City’s main plaza, the Z贸calo, resulted in Calder贸n’s September 2011 agreement to have the CFE rehire the workers. It is unclear what the union’s next move will be. (Miami Herald, Jan. 30, from AP; La Jornada, Mexico, Jan. 31)

From Weekly News Update on the Americas, Feb. 3.