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Unions Challenge USMCA Labor Protections

The AFL-CIO is fighting for Mexican workers denied independent labor representation

Brian Young's picture
May 14, 2021

For the first time under the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), labor groups have filed a complaint under the Rapid Response Mechanism of agreement. The complaint was against Tridonex, an auto parts factory located in Matamoros in the state of Tamaulipas, Mexico.

The case tests the reforms that Mexico was supposed to put in under the USMCA to give Mexican workers their fundamental right to organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions. The complaint was filed by the AFL-CIO, SEIU, the Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y de Servicios Movimiento 20/32 (SNITIS) and Public Citizen. In the complaint the unions say that for two years, workers at Tridonex have been harassed and fired for trying to organize with SNITIS, an independent Mexican union instead of with the corrupt “protection” union.

The lawyer for the workers, Susana Prieto Terranzas, got the fight international attention when the Tamaulipas governor, who is opposed to labor reforms, had her jailed for a month on trumped-up charges. She was only released after agreeing to internal exile in another Mexican state and a ban on appearing in labor court.

“USMCA requires Mexico to end the reign of protection unions and their corrupt deals with employers,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The ongoing harassment of Susana Prieto and SNITIS members is a textbook violation of the labor laws Mexico has pledged to uphold.”

The company, which is a subsidiary of the Philadelphia-based Cardone Industries, has fired 600 supporters of the independent union.

“Tridonex’s suppression of workers’ rights has cost our members in Philadelphia hundreds of good manufacturing jobs, and now they’re doing the same to workers in Matamoros,” said SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry. “USMCA requires Mexico to enforce its labor laws and the Rapid Response Mechanism was designed to ensure facility-specific enforcement opportunities to help workers here at home and in Mexico who want to join together in unions, have safe workplaces, and raise their families with dignity.”

In another challenge to the new labor laws under USMCA, General Motors Workers in Mexico are on track to scrap a union contract negotiated by the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which is one of the nation’s largest unions. On Wednesday, the Biden Administration called for a probe into the allegation that workers at the GM plant were denied their rights during a vote to ratify the contract.

The Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said on Thursday that he would accept the US recommendation and oversee the vote to ensure that there was no fraud after irregularities were found. The workers at the GM plant say that CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, is one of several traditional unions that puts business interests over workers’ rights. In the original vote, 1,784 workers voted against the contract with 1,628 voting for it, but the Mexican labor ministry found ballots in CTM’s possession that were cut in half, leading the ministry to call for a new vote within 30 days.

Many collective bargaining contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without workers' approval, which has helped keep Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States. The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which took effect last year and replaced the 1994 NAFTA, sought to strengthen worker rights in Mexico and slow migration of U.S. auto production south of the border.


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