Mexico extends deadline to repeat disputed GM contract vote

Authorities warned the plant’s collective contract would be terminated if the extended deadline is missed.

An April vote to determine if workers should keep their current contact was scrapped on allegations of 'serious irregularities' [File: Henry Romero/Reuters]

Mexican authorities on Monday extended the deadline for the union at a General Motors Co plant in Silao, Mexico, to redo a disputed contract vote that has drawn US scrutiny, warning the plant’s collective contract would be terminated if the date is missed.

The union at the plant in the central city of Silao must hold the vote before August 20, the labour ministry said in a statement. The plant employs about 6,000 people.

The original union-led vote in April, in which workers voted on whether to keep their current contract, was scrapped halfway through after Mexican officials detected “serious irregularities”, including destroyed ballots.

Concerns over potential meddling in the vote prompted the US Trade Representative (USTR) to make the first-ever request for a review of potential labour violations under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The trade pact that replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement was designed to uphold the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, and was bolstered by Mexico’s 2019 labour reform.

The law requires contract ratification votes nationwide to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs between companies and unions.

Many traditional unions in Mexico are accused by activists of putting business interests over worker rights.

‘Support the process’

Mexico’s labour ministry on May 11 had ordered the GM union to hold a new vote within 30 days.

After the deadline passed, the AFL-CIO US labour federation said it was “deeply concerned” over the delays, and US lawmakers urged GM to ensure it would comply with USMCA requirements.

GM said in a statement it would “do everything we can to support the process”, including cooperating with the Mexican government and allowing authorised independent observers to monitor the vote. The company reiterated that it condemns labour rights violations.

The deadline was pushed back at the union’s request to ensure there would be no logistical “impediments” for the majority of workers to participate, the ministry said.

GM workers in Silao are represented by the Miguel Trujillo Lopez union, which is affiliated with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), one of Mexico’s largest and oldest labour organisations.

Tereso Medina, head of the Miguel Trujillo Lopez union, said the request to push back the date stemmed from “an issue of responsibility” to ensure all workers can vote, as General Motors grapples with a global semiconductor chips shortage that has forced some pauses in production.

He added his union would not miss the August 20 deadline.

The office of the USTR did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Enforce labour standards

However, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai told members of the UAW union during a visit to Flint in the US state of Michigan, that the Biden administration would work to implement trade policies that lifted wages and expanded opportunity for workers everywhere.

“At USTR we want to encourage a race to the top with higher standards and real, rapid enforcement of our trade agreements,” she said. “We don’t want to create incentives for companies to move jobs overseas to maximise profits.”

Tai told the autoworkers the US government’s decision to initiate a case against the GM facility reflected the Biden administration’s determination to fully enforce labour standards negotiated under the USMCA trade agreement.

“We know that protection unions in Mexico don’t actually represent the workers. When workers are denied independent union representation, it is easier to suppress wages,” she said.

The case, the first brought under the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism in USMCA, could lead to tariffs on some of GM’s most profitable vehicles under the trade deal.

Source: Reuters