The accident occurred as the Joselyn Personnel Transport (JPT) company bus was returning workers home to Juarez after an evening shift at Foxconn’s huge electronics factory outside the city limits at Jeronimo-Santa Teresa on the Chihuahua-New Mexico border.
The bus veered off the Camino Real, a controversial highway constructed during the first mayoral administration of Hector “Teto” Murguia (2004-2007) which connects the urban zone of Juarez with the border mega-development located about ten miles away at Jeronimo-Santa Teresa, and plunged 60 feet or more into a canyon.
Rodriguez and Gomez were killed, and 18 other workers reported lightly or seriously injured. The surviving passengers, ranging in age from 18 to 53, included 11 men and 7 women. Three of the injured workers were reported still hospitalized as the week drew to a close. Almost miraculously, the death toll was not far higher.
Esmeralda Castor Gomez, an eighteen-year-old Foxconn worker and the niece of Martin Gomez, was among the lucky ones. “The truth is, I didn’t get badly hurt,” Castor said. “Nothing happened to me. I didn’t even get struck.”
Law enforcement officials detained Jose Antonio Perez Rocha, the 24-year-old driver of the bus.
The cause of the November 3 tragedy is in dispute.
Castor, for instance, said driver Perez fell asleep at the wheel. But JPT owner Raul Rodriguez Santillanes defended his employee, saying the young man had a good record in his five years of service with the company.
What’s more, the GPS data from the bus showed that Perez was going the speed limit when vehicle crashed, Rodriguez said. As for early speculation that a tire or other bus equipment had failed, the unit in question was in good condition and recently inspected, he affirmed.
Rodriguez pointed to dangerous road conditions on the Camino Real, adding that his company and a second one servicing Foxconn decided after the accident to suspend use of the desert highway even though it meant a longer ride and commute time for workers.
“We prefer this,” Rodriguez told El Diario de Juarez. “There are a lot of rocks on the road, and we don’t want to risk something else. There is no lighting. The (highway) lamps are pretty but they do not work.”
For his part, Ciudad Juarez Mayor Enrique Serrano blamed human error, possibly related to transport company practices of “overexploiting the personnel and making them work extra hours-we don’t know.”
Hernan Ortiz Quintana, public policy researcher and spokesperson for Citizens for Better Public Administration, said the Camino Real, presumably a “jewel of engineering,” was “literally falling to pieces” like much of the public infrastructure in Juarez.
The two Foxconn employees killed had little time with the company. According to German Rodriguez’s sister-in-law, Lourdes Alanis, her brother-in-law had six months under his belt at Foxconn but was ready to quit because of he was “tired.” Last week, Rodriguez put in double shifts, Alanis said. The factory worker left behind two daughters, aged 12 and 15, respectively.
Relatives of Gomez, who had put in only two weeks with Foxconn, described the ill-fated worker as the sole support for a 77-year-old invalid father. According to his sister, Gomez ironically had not even cashed his first paycheck when he was killed.
Negotiations are reportedly ongoing between victims’ families on one side and JPT and Foxconn on the other over the payment of funeral expenses and other compensation. JPT’s Raul Rodriguez said his company has insurance to pay for the disaster.
“We want justice to be done, even if that sounds trite,” said Lourdes Alanis.
German Rodriguez and Martin Gomez worked at one of the most important links in the global electronics chain of production. Also the locus of the growing Jeronimo-Santa Teresa border economic cluster, Foxconn manufactures computers for Dell and other brand-name clients. In turn, Foxconn sub-contracts its workers through employment agencies and sub-contracts employee transportation and other services.
The November 3 accident occurred at a moment of ferment in the Ciudad Juarez industrial sector, which mainly consists of maquiladoras, the foreign-owned factories like Foxconn’s that manufacture products for export to the United States and other nations. Hundreds of workers at least four separate companies continued protests that included camp-outs this week.
The unresolved grievances variously include wages and benefits, safety, management practices, sexual harassment, and union representation. The companies witnessing protests include Commscope, Eaton, Lexmark and Scientific Atlanta, a Foxconn affiliate with another plant inside Juarez’s urban core.
Safe and reliable transportation has also been a recurrent issue of contention in the maquiladora industry. According to El Diario, the number of mishaps involving company contracted buses jumped from 115 in 2014 to 179 so far in 2015. Citing numbers from the municipal public transportation department, the newspaper reported that 2,400 private buses are deployed to transport workers employed in the massive maquiladora sector.
Meanwhile, more than 2,000 workers were temporarily evacuated from two Flextronics plants in Juarez the afternoon of November 5 after a foul odor was detected. A suspected gas leak was later discounted, but no definite determination of the source of the bad smell was reported.
For another recent FNS story about the labor situation in Ciudad Juarez maquiladoras check out: https://fnsnews.nmsu.edu/behind-ciudad-juarezs-new-labor-movement/
Sources: El Mexicano, November 5, 2015. El Diario de Juarez, November 3, 4 and 5, 2015. Articles by Luz del Carmen Sosa, Martin Orquiz, Aracely Castanon, Fernando Mendez, and editorial staff. Nortedigital.mx, November 3, 4 and 5, 2015. Articles by Carlos Omar Barranco and Miguel Vargas. Arrobajuarez, November 3, 2015. Opendemocracy.net, January 16, 2015. Article by Devi Sacchetto and Martin Cecchi. Albuquerque Journal, May 20, 2013. Article by Kevin Robinson-Avila