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U.S. Pushes Mexico To Open Some Factories


American officials and corporations are urging Mexico to reclassify some U.S.-owned factories there as essential. They want the plants and the U.S.-Mexico supply chain to remain open during the current coronavirus lockdown. But as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, as more workers get sick from the virus, Mexican officials are pushing back.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: Last week, hundreds of workers walked off the job at several U.S.-owned factories in Ciudad Juarez, just across the border from El Paso, Texas.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: In front of this Honeywell plant, workers told local reporters they were scared of catching the virus and infecting their families. Their plant makes sensors and alarm systems. They held signs reading, alarms aren't essential, but my life is. State health officials report at least 13 factory workers in Ciudad Juarez have died from COVID-19.


UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: This factory employee agreed to be interviewed by phone but asked NPR not to use their name out of fear of being fired. The worker was one of hundreds who walked off the production line at Syncreon, a factory that repairs U.S. ATMs. The workers said employees didn't have proper protective gear and were too close together on the assembly line, and five had died of COVID-19.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "I have to work, but we are all scared," the worker said. In statements to NPR, both Honeywell and Syncreon said the health and safety of their workers is top priority. Both said they were saddened by the effects of the virus on their employees. Honeywell acknowledged one death and said it will provide medical benefits to affected workers. Parts of the factory remain open. Syncreon would not disclose any worker fatalities but closed its plant.

These U.S.-owned factories remain caught in a debate over which businesses should be deemed essential during the pandemic. Pressure is mounting on Mexico to keep more open.


MICHAEL KOZAK: Mexico has, in practice, had a much more restrictive set of criteria than we have.

KAHN: Acting Assistant Secretary of Western Hemispheric Affairs Michael Kozak says many components assembled in Mexico are essential to supply factories in the U.S. The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico Christopher Landau tweeted that the binational supply chain cannot fall victim to the virus. And more than 300 CEOs of U.S. companies wrote to Mexico's president, urging an easing. Late Friday, Mexico announced it would allow automotive plants critical to the U.S.-Canada supply chain to reopen.

Arturo Perez, who heads the Economic Development agency in the border city of Tijuana, is sympathetic to U.S. businesses.

ARTURO PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "The pressure they are exerting is understandable," he says. "It's in their interest."

PEREZ: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "But for us in government, the interest of Mexicans comes first," says Perez. The employee at the Syncreon ATM repair factory in Ciudad Juarez hopes the government does have workers' best interests at heart. If it reclassifies the Syncreon plant as essential, the employee said workers will go back on the job. Money is running out.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "That moment is coming," the worker said, "when I won't have enough money to feed my kids." Going back to work soon may be risky, though. Health officials say Mexico is still weeks away from the peak of the coronavirus.

Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Mexico City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.