February 16, 2024

Border bridges blocked as rail workers seek back pay, benefits


Former Mexican rail workers held protests and blockades at U.S.-Mexico border crossings in Arizona and Texas on Wednesday, seeking benefits, severance pay and more communication from the federal government. 

“There is a protest by retired railroad workers taking place on the Mexico side of World Trade Bridge that is currently impeding all north and south bound commercial truck traffic,” stated an email from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the trade community. “Colombia Solidarity Bridge is open and traffic can be diverted to that location or to the other 7 ports of entry.”

The protests and blockades occurred on the Mexico side of the World Trade Bridge connecting Laredo, Texas, with Nuevo Laredo, Mexico; the Ysleta-Zaragoza International Bridge connecting El Paso, Texas, with Cuidad Juarez; and the Mariposa port of entry connecting Nogales, Arizona, and Nogales, Mexico.

The blockades by former rail workers stem from Mexico’s privatization of its state-run railroad in 1997.

When the privatization process started in 1996, the state-run National Railroads of Mexico (FNM) company had around 43,000 employees, according to a 2001 study titled “The Privatization of Mexican Railroads.” By 1998, more than 23,000 workers had been rehired by the private investors that bought the railroads.

About 3,000 FNM workers opted for retirement, while 16,700 workers either resigned or were laid off. Many of the retired or laid-off workers said they have not received benefits or severance payments stemming from the privatization.

According to the Railway Union Reconstruction Front (FERRO) union, some workers are owed thousands of dollars in benefits and severance payments. In 2022, Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador signed a decree for the former railroad workers for back pay and benefits.

“We do not know if the president of Mexico is aware of this situation and if he is, there is agreement on his part, but since we have no way of knowing nor an answer regarding the application of the [decree], what we have left is to express ourselves publicly in protest of the mistreatment that we have been subjected to,” Eduardo Canales Aguiar, president of FERRO, said, according to MSN

Members of FERRO also held protests and blockades in front of the president’s administration building in Mexico City, along with several other locations throughout the country.

According to some social media posts, the blockade at the World Trade Bridge in Laredo ended around 1 p.m. EST. It’s unclear whether the blockades are still ongoing at crossings in El Paso and Nogales.

As of 2 p.m. Wednesday, the cargo truck wait time at the World Trade Bridge was 10 minutes, while the wait time at the Ysleta-Zaragoza Bridge was 35 minutes. The wait time in Nogales was 25 minutes.

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