A union accusation of abuses and massive layoffs could be the first big test of the free trade agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada. On Monday, the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFI-CIO) filed the first complaint under a rapid response mechanism of the T-MEC, a trade agreement based on the previous NAFTA and renegotiated during the It was from President Donald Trump. The mechanism is singular and unique in the world, so the complaint could set an important precedent in conflicts and labor abuses. The treaty has been the Mexican government’s biggest bet for economic recovery in the face of the pandemic crisis.
The complaint is against Tridonex, a US auto parts factory located in the border city of Matamoros. The AFL-CIO claims that workers are being denied their right to organize to negotiate better wages and working conditions. “For two years, Tridonex workers have been harassed and fired for trying to organize with SNITIS, an independent Mexican union of their choice, to replace a corrupt union,” the organization said in a statement. The complaint was made in conjunction with the International Union of Service Employees (SEIU), the National Independent Union of Industrial and Service Workers Movement 20/32 (SNITIS) and the non-governmental organization Public Citizen.
The imprisonment, harassment and dispossession of the lawyer and SNITS leader, Susana Prieto, is an important key in the case, according to the statement itself. Prieto was behind bars for 24 days before she was released on the condition that she leave the state of Tamaulipas. “The T-MEC requires Mexico to end the reign of the protection unions and their corrupt deals with employers,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. “The continuous harassment of Susana Prieto and the members of SNITIS is a textbook violation of labor laws that Mexico has promised to respect.”
“The flagrant violations of the T-MEC and of Mexico’s new labor law became evident when we worked with allies in Mexico and Texas to free Susana Prieto after she was imprisoned for protecting workers’ rights; and we learned more about the mass layoffs, the false union abuses against the workers it represents at Tridonex and how the state government was completely ignoring the obligations of the new NAFTA, “said Daniel Rangel, attorney for Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch in the statement . Mexico recently approved a labor reform, which, among other measures, prohibits subcontracting.
The complaint is not a surprise, assures Juan Carlos Baker, who was part of the negotiating team of the T-MEC for Mexico as an official of the Ministry of Economy, and it was even expected that as soon as the treaty came into effect on 1 July, there would be “hundreds of cases against Mexico and that did not happen.” The complaint by itself is not equivalent to a case in arbitration tribunals, explains Baker, who believes that we will have to wait to see if the US Government agrees that this complaint deserves the opening of a case. “It will certainly be a test for the disciplines of the T-MEC, how they work and who will be the judges. It will be the first labor case ”.
“The case is interesting because Susana Prieto had already been the focus of interest in the press,” says Baker. “She was detained and in the times when the T-MEC was still in the process of discussion and approval, this was one of the issues that came up: how was it possible that a free trade agreement was being discussed with a government that had a trade unionist? remarkable in jail? ”he wonders.
There will be a lot of vigilance and a lot of tension regarding who are the remaining judges in the proceedings, predicts the specialist, since there is no equal mechanism in other commercial treaties in the world. “I am very curious to see how the Government of Mexico is going to defend it, because there is no doubt that the current regime feels close to the union and labor movement.”
The accusations come at an uneasy moment in US-Mexico relations.Since he came to power this year, President Joe Biden has faced criticism for not reversing the restrictive refugee and asylum policy for traveling Central American and Mexican migrants. in caravans to the border fleeing organized crime and poverty. Mexico is where those seeking asylum await the decision of the US government. Cases of abuse and mistreatment by Mexican authorities have been reported.
In addition, the Mexican president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, seeks by legal means and by exerting pressure on regulators, to limit the participation of companies, many of them foreign, in the country. This has generated criticism and requests from different interest groups in the US to the Biden Government. On Friday, just a few minutes before starting a meeting with Vice President Kamala Harris, López Obrador accused the US government of being behind the financing of civil organizations that he considers part of the opposition and announced that the Foreign Ministry has already presented a diplomatic complaint to the embassy in Mexico City.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.