Silao, Mexico – In a first test of the labor mechanisms negotiated under the United States-Mexico-Canada Trade Agreement (USMCA), workers at a General Motors plant in Mexico have voted to reject a collective contract negotiated by an old guard union accused of intimidation tactics in earlier votes.
An initial contract vote in April was suspended after Mexico’s Labor Ministry found irregularities in the process, prompting the United States to lodge the first complaint under the labor enforcement mechanism of the USMCA, and the Biden Administration to ask the Mexican government to review potential worker violations at the factory.
The vote opens the door for workers to oust the plant’s Miguel Trujillo Lopez union – part of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), one of Mexico’s largest and most powerful Labor organizations – and select or start a new union to represent the workers and negotiate a new contract.
Nearly 6,000 workers at the GM plant in Silao voted over two days, Aug. 17-18, according to a statement from Mexico’s Labor Ministry. Workers voted 3,214 to reject the contract to 2,623 votes in favor.
Although the vote terminates the contract, GM said it would continue production at the plant under the terms of the current contract until a new one is negotiated.
A new group has been working to organize the plant’s workers.
Choosing a new union will require another vote, in which the Miguel Trujillo Lopez union could also vie to take back the contract.
FIRST TEST OF LABOR PROTECTIONS
The vote, with safeguards agreed upon by Mexico and the United States to ensure a fair vote, was the first to test the labor mechanisms in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement last year. The USMCA included language giving factory workers in the United States, Canada and Mexico the right to form unions and authorized penalties for factories that violate workers’ rights of free association and collective bargaining.
The vote was held inside the plant with observers from the Labor Ministry, National Electoral Institute and the United Nations’ International Labor Organization.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said the vote results demonstrated the role of the trade accord’s “rapid-response” mechanism and congratulated the Mexican government for overseeing the vote.
“Free and fair union votes are a critical component of freedom of association and collective bargaining and the related labor provisions of the USMCA,” Tai said in a statement.
Many workers who campaigned for the “no” vote told Reuters their current union did not fight hard enough for better salaries at the plant, which produces pickup trucks.
‘FAIRER PLAYING FIELD’
The United Auto Workers (UAW), which represents thousands of GM’s U.S. workers, said the vote would create a fairer playing field in Mexico, marking a win on both sides of the border.
Unifor, Canada’s largest private sector union, said the vote demonstrate what USMCA aimed to achieve by giving workers a voice.
Richard Neal, chairman of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, and other top Democrats said the vote showed how “vigorous enforcement” of Labor standards in U.S. trade agreements could help dismantle pervasive obstacles to freedom of association and other workers’ rights.