Standing beside her boyfriend of four years, in her empire waist, strapless white dress, Yasmin Guadalupe Romero Gameros could pretend that she wasn't in the cafeteria of the Plamex facility in Tijuana, Mexico, where she welds headsets full-time. She could, that is, if it wasn't for the 27 other spiffed-up co-workers with her, all ready to take the collective plunge.
Plamex, a manufacturing plant for Santa Cruz-based headset-maker Plantronics, hosted its 11th annual mass wedding last Friday. The tradition began when a Human Resources director walked into the office of the president, Alejandro Bustamante, and asked: "Do you know we have a lot of people that have kids and aren't married?"
Gameros is one of those people. She started working at the Plamex facility when she was 16, and met her husband two years later at a party. Now she's 22 with an 18-month-old baby. She doesn't have a lot of money, and neither does her husband, who works in a nearby Foxconn warehouse.
The average hourly wage at the Plamex facility is $2.80, according to Bustamante. In Tijuana, an hour's labor at Plamex can buy you three bottles of domestic beer (90 cents each), 60 percent of a McDonald's combo meal ($4.66), and almost a pack of Marlboros ($3), according to Numbeo, a database of user-contributed data on living conditions worldwide.
While Plamex employees would be on the low-end of the labor ladder in the U.S., they're offered the kinds of perks found only in the the most boutique of Silicon Valley startups. There are 120 programs "for our people to get better focus on their whole life," in the words of Bustamante.
There are classes on everything from parenting to "say no to drugs" for the kids (perhaps an especially important lesson in a border city famous for its cartels and drug-related massacres). Employees were annoyed waiting at the DMV to renew their driver's licenses, so Bustamante brought DMV reps to his employees. Plamex has won pretty much every award Mexico's president gives out for best practices. Last year, it was named the "Best Place to Work" in Mexico by the Great Place to Work Institute. When the company has 50 openings, according to Bustamante, "we'll have 800 people show up."
An annual mass wedding was another way for Plamex to boost employee morale. The music is provided by Plamex co-workers; the company runs an "American Idol" style contest in the run-up to the wedding, which results in the perfect populist accompaniment. The company fills out all the paperwork, and pays for the the ceremony, the flowers, an array of white cupcakes, as well as the judge -- and the doctors who provide the mandatory prenuptial medical examinations. The Tijuana mayor was so impressed by the project that he even cut the Plamex facility a deal, and reduced the licensing fee per couple from $100 to $1.
Because of space restrictions, each of the 28 couples married last Friday were permitted 10 spaces each for family and friends. "Those are the ones inside the cafeteria," explains Bustamante, "but a lot of their peers are watching through the windows."
Until Plamex advertised the upcoming mass wedding in January, Gameros wasn't planning on getting married this year. But her husband liked the idea, and Gameros joined over 500 Plamex employees who have been wedded by the plant.
"She feels a little strange to be getting married under these conditions," Gameros' translator explained over the phone. "But she wants the world to know she's getting married, and the more the merrier."
Now legally tied, Gameros and her husband will be able to pool their incomes and qualify for a loan, which will allow them to move out of Gameros' mother-in-law's house, and into their own place, nearer her parents.
"I'm looking forward to getting away from the mother-in-law," Gameros says, "and being a family."
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