Mexico City. The union reported that the AFL-CIO, the largest trade union in the United States, will deliver to Washington on Monday a US government request to file its first labor complaint against Mexico under the New North American Trade Agreement, according to the union.
The AFL-CIO petition, shared with Reuters, states that workers at the Tridonex auto parts plant in Matamoros, a Mexican city on the border with Texas, were denied independent union representation in violation of the treaty, which replaced NAFTA last year. .
Since the North American Free Trade Agreement came into effect 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 organization 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.
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. Businesses 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.
“Most of this can be fixed fairly quickly if there is political will,” said Benjamin Davis, international affairs director for the United Steel Workers’ Federation, which is 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.