Mexican factory again draws controversy after US complaints
The Canadian PressBusiness Operations Manufacturing
MEXICO CITY (AP) – A Mexican border assembly plant that drew an unusual two U.S. labour complaints was back at the centre of controversy Monday, after a judge outlawed a planned strike there.
The dispute centres on the VU Manufacturing auto parts plant in the border city of Piedras Negras, Coahuila, across the border from Eagle Pass, Texas.
It is the only place where the United States has filed two labour complaints under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, asking Mexico to ensure that its laws guaranteeing freedom to organize are being enforced.
The Rio Grande district labor tribunal ruled Friday against a plan by a new union at the factory to hold a strike in coming weeks, arguing some workers had said they didn’t want to go on strike.
A lawyer for the union, which had won negotiating rights after the first U.S. complaint in July, said he would file an appeal, and Mexico’s federal government slammed the district judge’s ruling.
“Under the labour law reform, this (ruling) has no legal justification,” said Pablo Franco, a labour lawyer who represents the new union. “It is more of a political decision by the state government, which controls the judge, because they don’t want authentic negotiations.”
“It is an industrial policy based on offering cheap labour,” Franco said.
The federal Labour Department said in a statement that the ruling violated labour law reforms enacted in 2017.
“In this ruling the local labour court violated the democratic principles contained in the labour reform, and sets a bad precedent regarding the right to strike and collective bargaining,” the department wrote.
The U.S.-owned VU facility is largely staffed by women who often work 12-hour shifts assembling visors, armrests and dashboard parts for cars. Their base wage is about $15 per day.
Piedras Negras is a relatively small, isolated border city where there is so little tradition of unions that the old-guard CTM union dominated the plant but had never bothered to ask the owners for a labour contract.
After the U.S. filed a first labor complaint in July, the company was forced to allow a vote, which was won by the independent Mexican Workers Union League. But the plant’s managers also let the CTM union inside to try to cow workers into rejecting the new union.
There have been a number of social media videos in which workers at the plant were allowed to leave the factory – in their company uniforms – and hold a press conference attacking the new union for asking too much in terms of wage increases: $32 per day.
Meanwhile, the company allegedly severely limited the new union’s access to hold a gathering in the plant, and refused to hand over information as part of the negotiations. Because of that, the new union set a strike date for coming weeks. It was that strike call that the judge struck down.
VU Manufacturing has not responded to requests by phone and email for comment.
The situation drew an unprecedented second U.S. complaint on Jan. 30, using rapid dispute resolution methods contained in the U.S.-Mexico Canada free trade agreement.
“Despite this facility taking positive actions in 2022, some of the failures we identified previously appear to be recurring.” U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said at the time.
Mexico’s Labor Department said in a statement at the time that “VU Manufacturing is obligated to negotiate in good faith” with the new union and “must allow its representatives and advisors to enter the facility, participate in negotiations and inform the workers.”
The administration of President Joe Biden has brought six such complaints at several plants, challenging Mexico’s anti-democratic, old-guard unions that have kept wages painfully low for decades.
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