Mexican authorities on Monday extended the deadline for the union of GM’s Silao plant in Mexico to redo a controversial contract vote that caused the United States to review, warning that if the date is missed, the plant’s collective contract will be terminated.
The Ministry of Labor said in a statement that the union of the factory in the central city of Silao must hold a vote before August 20. The factory has approximately 6,000 employees.
After Mexican officials discovered “serious violations” (including the destruction of ballots), workers conducted an initial union-led vote in April on whether to keep the current contract, but it was cancelled midway.
Concerns about possible interference in voting prompted the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to request for the first time a review of potential labor violations under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
The trade agreement that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement aims to safeguard the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining, and is supported by Mexico’s 2019 labor reforms.
The law requires a nationwide contract approval vote to ensure that workers are not bound by behind-the-scenes contracts between the company and the union.
Activists accused many traditional unions in Mexico of putting business interests above workers’ rights.
‘Support this process’
The Mexican Ministry of Labor ordered the General Motors Union to hold a new ballot within 30 days on May 11.
After the deadline, the AFL-CIO American Federation of Labor expressed its “deep concern” about the delay, and US lawmakers urged General Motors to ensure that it complies with USMCA requirements.
GM said in a statement that it will “do everything possible to support this process,” including cooperating with the Mexican government and allowing authorized independent observers to monitor the vote. The company reiterated its condemnation of violations of labor rights.
The ministry stated that the deadline was postponed at the request of the union to ensure that there would be no logistical “obstacles” to the participation of most workers.
Silao’s GM workers are represented by the Miguel Trujillo Lopez union, which is affiliated with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which is one of the largest and oldest labor organizations in Mexico.
Tereso Medina, head of the Miguel Trujillo Lopez union, said that the request to postpone the date stems from a “liability issue” to ensure that all workers can vote because General Motors is struggling to deal with the global semiconductor chip shortage, which forced them to suspend some production.
He added that his union will not miss the August 20 deadline.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Enforce labor standards
However, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai told members of the American Auto Workers Union during a visit to Flint, Michigan, that the Biden administration will work hard to implement trade policies, raise wages, and expand opportunities for workers everywhere.
“In the Office of the United States Trade Representative, we hope to encourage competition with higher standards and real and rapid implementation of our trade agreements,” she said. “We don’t want to encourage companies to transfer jobs overseas to maximize profits.”
Tai told auto workers that the US government’s decision to file a lawsuit against the General Motors factory reflects the Biden government’s determination to fully implement the labor standards negotiated under the USMCA trade agreement.
“We know that Mexico’s protection union does not actually represent workers. When workers are deprived of independent union representation, it is easier to suppress wages,” she said.
This case is the first case under the USMCA’s rapid response labor mechanism and may result in tariffs on some of GM’s most profitable cars under a trade agreement.