Vigils for Disappeared Labor Organizer

Mexican labor and environmental activist Oscar Hernández Romero has been missing since September 23, 2019 and is presumed murdered

Human rights advocates have held vigils outside the U.S. Capitol Building and Mexican consulates from coast-to-coast calling for an investigation into the disappearance of a Mexican labor activist and for greater enforcement of labor rights in a pending trade agreement between the United States and Mexico.

Three people attempting to organize a union at the Media Luna gold mine in southwestern Mexico have been murdered in recent years, and on September 23, 2019, labor and environmental activist Oscar Hernández Romero disappeared.

His family and coworkers fear he has also been killed, and are asking authorities to investigate. Loved ones who have searched for his body in garbage dumps and ravines have reported receiving death threats for doing so.

“We want justice for Oscar Hernández Romero,” said Catherine Houston of United Steelworkers, District 12, at a vigil in San Francisco. “The starting wage for Media Luna miners is less than $2 an hour. That is not enough to provide for one’s family. Mining is hard work, and these miners deserve the right to be treated with dignity as human beings, to have enforceable labor protections, and the right to organize a union of their own choosing that is free from violence.”

“I’m here to call on leaders who have the power to start the investigation of what’s going on,” said A.J. Mendoza, president of CWA Local 7901, at a vigil in Portland, Oregon. “We can’t fall into the trap of thinking that Mexican workers’ rights are in any way separate from the working conditions of folks in my local. It is the same fight.”

Romero’s disappearance and the earlier murders of unionists Quintin Salgado, Marcelino Sahuanitla Peña and Victor Sahuanitla Peña have all come as the United States attempts to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Mexico and Canada. Unions in all three countries have demanded stronger labor provisions in a NAFTA replacement to be backed with swift and certain enforcement mechanisms.

“The disappearance of Oscar Hernandez Romero and the murder of his three colleagues is a painful reminder that workers in Mexico still need protection. Strong labor rights and enforcement in the renegotiated NAFTA would help counter the violence against workers and improve the lives of Mexican and U.S. working people. [NAFTA’s replacement] must have strong labor standards and enforcement, or it will not earn my vote,” said Congressman Jesús “Chuy” García at the vigil in Washington, DC.

“As we are negotiating a deal to replace NAFTA, we must use this opportunity to secure rights and justice for our brothers and sisters in Mexico. The Mexican government must do its part and investigate unresolved cases of violence against Mexican unionists. It means a commitment of real funding to ensure that legal changes to protect worker rights are implemented. And it means that the agreement must include a strong enforcement mechanism that covers all workers, works quickly and includes strong penalties for violators,” said Communications Workers of America (CWA) President Chris Shelton outside the Capitol Building.

“Multinational corporations tend to move jobs to Mexico because of the low wages, abysmal labor conditions and weak environmental protections there,” said Rudy Gonzalez, Executive Director of the San Francisco Labor Council. “The Trump Administration’s proposed agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada needs stronger terms in order to protect workers and the environment in all three countries. NAFTA 2.0 cannot be another pact that puts corporate profits ahead of working people and the environment.”

“My heart goes out to the family and friends of the missing workers in Mexico. Collective bargaining and the right to organize are a fundamental part of a strong economy and strong workforce,” said Congressman Adam Smith in a written statement read at a vigil in Seattle. “I stand with labor unions and workers on this critical issue.”

“I stand here as a follower of Christ asking lawmakers to hold strong and insist upon protections for workers in Mexico,” said Sister Quincy Howard OP, representative of NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice. “They are the most vulnerable stakeholders in these negotiations and their treatment, in turn, impacts the fate of workers here in the U.S. In the face of the globalization of labor, Pope Francis calls for global solidarity in the fight against poverty and exploitation. Any lawmaker feeling pressure to accept the current offer needs to ask themselves how they would respond if American workers were being murdered by anti-union vigilantes.”

More than one hundred labor, faith and human rights advocates have participated in vigils that have taken place to date in New York, Portland, San Francisco, Seattle and Washington, DC. Another vigil is planned in El Paso, Texas.

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