Mexico City. The union reported that AFL-CIO, the largest trade union in the United States, handed over to Washington on Monday a request to the United States government to file its first labor complaint against Mexico under the Mexico, USA, and Canada Treaty (TMEC). .
The AFL-CIO petition states that workers at the Tridonex auto parts plant in Matamoros have been denied independent union representation in violation of the treaty, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) last year.
Since the entry into force of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, which has had few tools to enforce labor standards, wages in Mexico have stagnated and are now the lowest among the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries.
TMEC is designed to change that by enabling workers to demand better wages, which also aims to prevent lower labor costs from cutting more jobs in the US.
Reuters reported last week that hundreds of workers have sought representation since 2019 by a new union led by activist and lawyer Susanna Prieto. However, state labor officials never put his request to a vote.
Prieto said about 600 of his Tridonex supporters were fired last year, in what some workers described as revenge for their efforts to transform unions.
Tridonex’s parent company is Philadelphia-based Cardone Industries, controlled by Canadian Brookfield Asset Management. Cardon did not respond to a request for comment.
“Everything is wrong,” said Jesus Mendoza, leader of the SITPME union, which represents the Tridonex workers. “The majority of Tridonex employees are 100 percent with SITPME.”
Under the TMEC Rapid Response Action Mechanism, companies in Mexico and the United States could face tariffs and other penalties for failing to guarantee workers’ rights, such as freedom of association.
The AFL-CIO petition marks the first time that the enforcement component of a TMEC trade agreement has been put into effect. Companies and activists will be very alert.
“This sets a precedent,” said Kathryn Feingold, director of international management at AFL-CIO, who has pushed for improved provisions for workers’ rights at TMEC. “It will be a test of this new system.”
The AFL-CIO will send the petition to the United States Bureau of Commerce and Labor, which has 30 days to review the suit and determine whether the case should be brought to the Mexican government for further review.
Mexican labor officials will then work with their US counterparts to agree terms to remedy the situation. The entire process, including the final stage of determining possible penalties and fines, must be resolved within five months.
A US official said President Joe Biden’s administration will look into cases that fall under the provisions of TMEC’s labor law.
“We will carefully review the rapid response complaints submitted regarding any denial of rights,” he said.
Neither the Mexican Ministry of Labor nor the government of the state of Tamaulipas, where Matamoros is located, responded to requests for comment. A spokeswoman for the Mexican Economy Ministry said she would respond when she received the official notification.
“Most of this can be fixed fairly quickly if there is political will,” said Benjamin Davis, International Affairs Director for United Steel Workers, part of the AFL-CIO.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, who implemented a labor reform in 2019, has promised to cancel Mexican protection contracts that, according to critics, put the interests of companies ahead of workers’ rights, which are also a priority for TMEC.
However, the new law is gradually being implemented throughout Mexico and the changes will not begin to arrive in the state of Tamaulipas, where Matamoros is located, until 2022.
The petition was also endorsed by the Service Personnel International Union (SEIU), which represents Cardon’s employees in the United States, along with the World Trade Watch organization of the Citizen General’s Association, a US nonprofit, and the Brito Union, called SNITIS.
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