company was going to be shut down. Now, it seems like the company no longer exists, at least not here in Reynosa.” What became of the company executives is a mystery. Phone numbers of mid-level managers from McAllen, like Lisa Obst and Juan Sepulveda, have been changed, and their new listings are not published. The company’s number in San Diego, California, no longer works. Envisions CEO Bob Waller has gone, and the Reynosa daily El Mariana refers to Envisions as “the disappearing maquiladora.” There’s even one American Congressman, Democrat Sherrod Brown of Ohio, looking for Envisions executives. Brown used the Envisions story, and accounts of working conditions of other maquiladora workers, to stiffen the resolve of Democratic colleagues wavering on the Fast-Track vote that never came to the floor, because President Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and the Republican majority in the House failed to put together the votes. The Congressman visited the abandoned Envisions site in October and met with workers maintaining a vigil there two months after the company closed. “In the United States we have unions, and we have a government that from time to time supports workers,” Brown said. “The story of Envisions, to me, is that the Mexican government doesn’t care and the NAFTA enforcers in this country have never been interested in labor rights or even fairness, for that matter.” /n a sense, Envisions is a case study in the mobility of capital and the powerlessness of labor in the global economysituations that Wall Street, Bill Clinton, and Newt Gingrich are so enamored of and that Fast-Track legislation is intended to accelerate. “The workers have no recourse,” labor advocate Silva said. “The building is rented, the machinery inside was rented, and the owners are hiding on the other side of the border. In Mexico, it is as if the company doesn’t exist.” A worker from a maquiladora housed in the same building as Envisions said it better. “Have you ever been screwed by a ghost?” he asked as we stood in the parking lot, looking at the faded red and black strike flags strung across the door of the abandoned typesetting operation. “That company doesn’t exist. It’s a ghostes una fantasma. These workers, a ghost screwed them.” Like most of the 2,000 maquiladoras located along the border, Envisions was a ghost even while it employed 320 workers who sat at computer terminals typing a set of coded numbers for each envelope that appeared on the screen in front of them. With rented facilities in places like the Arguelles family’s Finsa parks here on the lower border, or the Bermddez family’s Antonio J. Bermddez Park in Juarez, companies are invisible, represented by real estate they don’t own and a few American managers who commute across border bridges. \(In El Paso there’s even talk of high-toll “Lexus equipment, as Envisions does, they’re even more invisible and it’s even easier for them to fleeshould labor conditions in another developing country look better. They took their refrigerator, video cassette player, computers, and their files, all in one weekend,” Varela said of her former employer. “It was as if no company had ever been here.” Varela said she tried to call supervisors in McAllen, but their phone numbers had been changed. Caught between a workforce convinced that she had sold out and corporate executives who had run out, Varela did what she thought a union leader should do. She went to Ciudad Victoria, the capital of the border state of Tamaulipasand called a strike against a company that didn’t exist. “In Mexico a strike iswell, there is a sui generis to a strike in Mexico,” government labor lawyer Juan Martin Silva said. “Once it is in place, it can only be stopped by the union leader that called it. And it has the effect of paralyzing, of freezing, everything. Accounts, shipments, movement. Everything. Everything is stopped.” In this instance, Silva said, a strike against Envisions couldn’t end until “Ms. Varela an ti nounces it is over.” Yet in August in Ciudad Victoria, Mercedes Varela, the secretary general of her company union, was told by officials at the Ministry . …, ,” of Labor that she could not ., ,,, ……. .,….,.,.,. ,…. ……. .,……_,.. . . .. . call a strike. Not because the company no longer existed, but because the union she directed had never existed. “I thought their first trick was when they never gave me the union dues,” she said of the executives at Envisions. In the state capital, Varela said she discovered the company had been dishonest from the beginning. “They never registered our union,” she said. In retrospect, she sees that she was set up. Envisions hired her to establish a union, knowing that she had no background in labor. Then the company didn’t get the union certified by the labor ministry. So in August in Ciudad Victoria, Mercedes Varela became a union leader. She pressed her case with government labor officials, who recognized the urgency of her appeals, and, as she had all of her membership documentation with her, they certified the union and the strikeone year after the Sindicato de Mecanografos y Trabajadores de Envisions was “established” and one week after Envisions skipped the country. “If this were a Mexican company we could resolve this immediately,” Silva said. “We’ve successfully prosecuted a Mexican company that did this in Reynosa. But labor law has its territorial limitations. We can’t cross the border and enforce Mexican law in the United States.” If this were a Mexican company, according to Silva, workers would have been indemnified. All workers, according to Mexican labor law, are entitled to severance pay that is based on the length of time a worker has been employed by a company. Envisions skipped the country, Silva said, without paying severance pay. “That’s 320 heads of families with no income today,” Silva said. “Multiply that by the number of family members who depend on those wage earners. This is not just a labor problem, this company has created a social problem in this city.” A few of those wage earners were still hanging on during the NOVEMBER 21, 1997 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 9
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