The Democratic Congressman in General Motors’ hometown of Flint, Michigan wants GM Chairman Mary Barra to explain complaints about reports of “gross” violations at the company’s light-truck assembly plant in Silao, Mexico.
GM already has a bit of a history with workers at the Silao plant, firing five employees for protesting what they described as a speed up at GM’s Silao assembly plant that was designed to try and undercut the UAW’s strike in the U.S. during contract negotiations in 2019.
The workers also took issue with their union’s failure to file a protest about the speed up. GM, however, denied any Mexican workers had been fired because of strike-related protests.
Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Michigan), who is also chief deputy whip for the House Democratic Caucus and a member of the Ways and Means Committee, along with Bill Pascrell (D-New Jersey) and Earl Blumenauer (D-Oregon), chairman of the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, signed the letter to Barra and issued a press release, challenging GM’s conduct of labor relations in Mexico.
Violation of new trade agreement
At the insistence of House Democrats and their allies in organized labor, the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which is the replacement for NAFTA, includes a provision requiring respect for worker rights and for workers to have the right to vote on which union represents them.
“As the CEO of one of America’s most iconic companies, it is imperative that you are an active participant in respecting labor rights,” the letter reads.
“GM has a responsibility to speak out against violations of labor and human rights abuses at the Silao GM plant and has an overarching responsibility to ensure that workers at its facilities throughout Mexico who exercise their rights in the workplace do so free from threats or retaliation.”
The passage of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement “locked in long-overdue changes to Mexico’s labor laws that help to ensure that workers can choose their own independent unions and to support independent bargaining powers,” the letter noted, provides new labor enforcement tools to ensure the agreement is effective.
GM workers rights thwarted
Kildee’s letter said it appears that workers at GM’s plant in Silao attempted to exercise their rights but representatives of the Confederation of Mexican Workers, or CTM, “one of the preeminent employer ‘protection unions,’” reportedly withheld the contract from workers.
Additionally, they reportedly limited voting, destroyed unfavorable ballots, threatened individual workers employment status to bully workers into line and refused to turn ballots over to Mexican authorities.
Press reports also indicated that GM officials and unidentified security guards removed independent inspectors from the premises as they were attempting to monitor the vote, Kildee’s letter said, adding that Mexican government officials recommended criminal charges be filed against the CTM.
He expects the U.S. government to conduct an investigation into the matter as some of the actions “violated” the USMCA. The Biden administration asked Mexico to investigate the issue using the USMCA’s Rapid Response Mechanism. It permits countries to investigate labor rights violations at plants.
Mexico’s labor ministry ordered a new vote be held within 30 days at GM’s Silao plant, which opened in 1996, employs 6,000 and builds Chevrolet and GMC pickup trucks.
GM ties to CTM examined
“GM has a responsibility to speak out against violations of labor and human rights abuses at the Silao GM plant and has an overarching responsibility to ensure that workers at its facilities throughout Mexico who exercise their rights in the workplace do so free from threats or retaliation,” Kildee said.
“We request that GM remain neutral in any future democratic efforts by workers at its facilities and ensure that workers who organized to replace CTM are not harassed or retaliated against in any way,” he said.
GM released a statement saying, “General Motors respects and supports the rights of our employees to make a personal choice about union representation and any collective bargaining on their behalf. GM condemns violations of labor rights and actions to restrict collective bargaining.”
Harley Shaiken, a labor professor at the University of California-Berkley, has said CTM is enormously influential in Mexico. Meanwhile, labor activists on both sides of the U.S.-Mexican border have said it has been instrumental in maintaining low wages across Mexico’s economy.
In turn the low wages have attracted huge investment in Mexico’s manufacturing sector. GM is one of the principal companies that has sought CTM’s help in maintaining labor peace in the Mexican plants and in the plants of nearby suppliers.
Auto supplier complaints too
Earlier this week, the AFL-CIO filed a complaint against a subsidiary of Cardone Industries of Philadelphia, Tridonex, which operates a Mexican auto plant in Matamoros, Mexico. The AFL-CIO is joined in the suit by the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), the Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y de Servicios Movimiento, or SNITIS, and Public Citizen.
The AFL-CIO, the first union to file a complaint under the new provisions of USMCA, claims Tridonex fired more than 600 workers after they sought to form an independent union.
The labor provisions were included in the USMCA because the Trump administration was eager to score a pre-election win by replacing NAFTA and agreed to the specific changes on key issues sought by organized labor in the U.S.The UAW also recently attacked GM for its plans to invest $1 billion in its plant in Ramos Arizpe, Mexico at the same time it is seeking federal tax breaks.