Labor chief: Mexico union growth would help U.S.

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

U.S. Secretary of Labor Thomas E. Perez told The Detroit News that labor unions in countries like Mexico would improve work conditions and stop a trend of U.S. manufacturers — including Detroit automakers — from moving jobs there.

“We need to address the concerns and the structural deficiencies that make it harder for people to organize,” he said Tuesday in an editorial board meeting with The News. “If you address those things... then you create a situation where you can raise the standard of living for Mexican workers...then the dynamic of manufacturing going over there because it’s cheaper will change.”

Global automakers have announced more than $25 billion in investments in new plants and expansions in Mexico, which is now the world’s fourth-largest auto exporter. Most of the vehicles, built by workers making as little as $9 an hour, are coming to the United States. About 70 percent of Mexican-built vehicles are exported.

Perez said labor provisions in countries like Mexico, Vietnam and others are part of long-running talks aimed at reaching a 12-nation Asia Pacific free trade deal.

“Our North Star is what do we do to best protect the American worker?” Perez said.

Perez said talks are ongoing in Washington over the Affordable Care Act’s so-called “Cadillac Tax,” which starting in 2018 imposes a 40 percent excise tax on the portion of group health insurance premiums that exceed $10,200 for single coverage and $27,500 for family coverage.

“We’re continuing that conversation,” Perez said.

Perez was in Detroit on Tuesday to continue his national “Shared Prosperity for a Stronger America” tour as he addresses advocates of a $15 minimum wage. Los Angeles voted in May to hike its minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2020 — joining San Francisco, Chicago, Seattle and other large cities.

Perez said he planned to meet for dinner with Mayor Mike Duggan on Tuesday to discuss how the government could help continue to match workers with jobs. One avenue to do that, he said, was increasing apprenticeship programs to skilled trades jobs.

“Apprenticeships are like the other college, without the debt,” Perez said. “We’re building career pathways.”