Educating Workers about Labor Laws in Mexico


A version of this story ran in the August 2012 issue.

Ed Krueger always wanted to do mission work like his father—a minister for 50 years. The only difference was that Krueger, who lives in Edinburg, wanted to help people help themselves, to empower them.

In 1980, Krueger helped found Comite de Apoyo, a nonprofit that empowers women working in maquiladoras, the foreign-owned assembly plants in Mexico’s border communities, by educating them about Mexican labor laws. For example, workers are guaranteed eight days of vacation each year.

Comite de Apoyo, or Committee of Support, evolved from Krueger’s longtime advocacy for workers along the Texas-Mexico border. “I was concerned about the lack of justice that we see around us, and I was finding ways in which people could work together to help solve their own problems,” says Krueger, who worked in the Rio Grande Valley for many years for the Texas Council of Churches and the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC), a Quaker social-justice organization.

Women, says Krueger, constitute a majority of the workforce in maquiladoras. “Also, they bore a lot of the burden of the oppressive system.”

Many of the larger maquiladoras are unionized. But some of the unions are “protection unions,” meaning the leaders cooperate with factory owners to keep wages low and stifle disputes over unsafe working conditions.

Ministers and community leaders on both sides of the border worked with Krueger to form Comite. The nonprofit receives funding from churches, individual donations and grants.

Krueger, 81, travels from Edinburg to Reynosa and Rio Bravo, Mexico, sometimes two or three times a week to meet with Comite’s staff of nine women project facilitators. The women meet with workers in their homes and in the community, educating them about the law, working conditions and worker grievances. Recently, the organization began working with a mother of six who lost her hands in an accident at a plant that makes plasma TVs. Rosa Moreno was operating a massive press that shapes the backs of TVs when her hands were pinned to the television part and crushed. Krueger says the intense production schedule at the plant didn’t allow for regular safety inspections of the machines. Comite hopes to bring attention to the incident to highlight dangerous conditions in the plants and to help Moreno get prosthetic hands.

All of the promotoras, as Comite’s women staffers are called, have worked or are currently working in the maquiladoras. They receive a modest stipend from the nonprofit for their outreach work.

Krueger was born in Wakarusa, Indiana, and has a Bachelor of Divinity from Eden Seminary, near St. Louis, Missouri. He worked as a missionary in Honduras, and Krueger and his wife, Ninfa, worked with AFSC in Chile in the 1970s.

Krueger works for Comite for free; the organization pays for his travel and other work-related expenses.

He says the women in Mexico working for Comite deserve more attention than he does. “The people I have worked with, that’s been a blessing,” Krueger says.