Image credits: Luisa Maria Alcalde, STPS
News Article

Unionization In the Automotive Sector Grabs the Spotlight

By Alejandro Enríquez | Tue, 08/17/2021 - 06:00

Companies in the automotive sector continue to adapt to the new labor standards set by the recent reforms to the Mexican labor law, particularly the one that protects union rights for workers. Union leaders, workers and companies are legitimizing their unions with the workers' vote, but it is not as easy as it sounds.

Lebardo Soto, leader of CMT’s automotive unions in Puebla, said that "there is a great problem because companies are making it difficult by providing judicial arguments not valid for us and preventing the freedom of the workers to organize in the unions they wish to have. Companies prefer the termination of our contracts rather than unions with certain organizations, that is a big truth," to El Economista CMT is Mexico's largest union conglomerate.

Volkswagen’s main plant in the country is located in Puebla. Local newspapers have reported that Volkswagen Union Leader, José Juan Hernández López, is leading negotiations with the German automaker under the guidelines of USMCA's labor chapter. The negotiations include a revision of salaries that will bring a non-negotiable 16 percent increase to workers' wages, according to local columnists. In 2020, Volkswagen’s union asked for a 12 percent increase but obtained only a 3.62 percent increase. Both parties have agreed that negotiations will remain in closed doors until a result is achieved.

USMCA's Chapter 23, and its Annex 23-A provide guidelines for labor standards. In the case of the Volkswagen, it is first necessary to legitimize its union and the deadline to do is May 2, 2023. Once the collective contract of the union is legitimized, it will be in better conditions to achieve its desired outcomes.

Legitimizing union contracts, however, it is easier said than done. Recently, the US Trade Representative (USTR) introduced two labor complaints against facilities in Mexico, as reported by MBN. The first against a GM plant in Silao, Guanajuato, and the second against auto part manufacturer Tridonex. Both complaints claim that workers were denied of their rights to freely associate with their preferred union.

Now, the Mexican Ministry of Labor (STPS) has to review the case. "If Mexico were to determine that there is a Denial of Rights to workers at the General Motors de México facility in Silao, Guanajuato, the US further requests, pursuant to USMCA Article 31-A.4.2, that Mexico attempt to remediate within 45 days of this request," reads USTR’s complaint. The incident at the GM plant concerned irregularities in the voting process that would have led to the validation of GM's union.  

Almost a month after the complaints, Mexican authorities ordered GM to repeat the vote before August 20. As the deadline approaches, unions have increased their campaigns to attract workers' votes, which will take place during August 16 and 17. Observers from the International Labor Organization (ILO), as well as union representatives from Canada and the US will oversee the process. Jerry Dias, one of the most active union leaders and part of Canadian union Unifor, reassured workers of their rights, backing up workers laid off by the company earlier this year. There are over 6,000 workers able to vote.

Local newspapers report that former workers of GM, alongside Jerry Dias, have accused CTM of intimidating workers to get their vote by telling them that they are at risk of losing their jobs.

Alejandro Enríquez Alejandro Enríquez Journalist and Industry Analyst