MEXICO CITY (AP) — Supporters of an independent union in northern Mexico said Tuesday they have been harassed while trying to hand out leaflets by beefy representatives of an old-guard union.
The mainly women handing out the leaflets said that state police stood by and may have helped prevent them distributing literature outside the Tridonex auto parts assembly plant starting in late July.
The export facility in the border city of Matamoros, across from Brownsville, Texas, was the subject of a complaint filed by labor unions in May under the U.S.-Mexico Canada free trade agreement.
The complaint argues that new unions have been harassed while fighting corrupt old unions that have kept wages low in Mexico for decades.
Video showed the independent union supporters handing literature to workers leaving the plant in their cars, when several stocky men in white shirts came out of the plant and tried to move them away.
The outside organizer of that union, lawyer Susana Prieto, said that “for four days now there have been state police patrols stationed outside to prevent the union from handing out literature.”
For decades, corrupt Mexican unions signed low-wage “protection contracts” behind workers’ backs, often before plants were even opened. Union votes were held by show of hands, or not at all. Workers at many factories in Mexico were unaware they even had a union until they saw dues deducted from their paychecks.
Mexican workers make about 15% of wages for similar jobs in the United States.
As part of efforts to get the USMCA, which replaced the old North American Free Trade Agreement, Mexico passed labor law reforms stating all union votes would be by secret ballot, and workers at all factories in Mexico could vote on whether to keep their current union.
But implementing those reforms has met resistance from old-guard unions affiliated with the Confederation of Mexican Workers, or CTM, which once effectively served as an arm of the government to keep labor peace and wage rates low.
Jesús Mendoza, the leader of the CTM-affiliated union that currently controls the plant, depicted the independent union supporters as troublemakers.
“Let people work in peace, we want labor stability and recovery in Matamoros, they just cause trouble and scare off investment,” Mendoza told local media.
Prieto has been jailed, harassed and prohibited from traveling to Tamaulipas, the state where Matamoros is located. She says about 600 workers at the Tridonex plant have been laid off in retaliation for supporting the new union.
Cardone, the U.S. company that operate the Tridonex plant, said in a statement earlier this year that “we do not believe that the allegations in the complaint are accurate and welcome a full inquiry so that the facts can be disclosed.”
The U.S. government filed its first labor complaint with Mexico under the USMCA in May after another old-guard union was caught allegedly destroying ballots at a General Motors plant in northern Mexico.
The USMCA allows a panel to determine whether Mexico is enforcing labor laws that allow workers to choose their union and vote on contracts and union leadership. If Mexico is found not to be enforcing its laws, sanctions could be invoked, including prohibiting some products from entering the United States.
The vote at the GM plant has been scheduled to be held again, with observers, around Aug. 17-18.