First USMCA labor complaint filed against auto supplier in Mexico

Riley Beggin
The Detroit News

Washington — Labor groups submitted the first complaint of a labor violation under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on Monday, against an auto parts supplier in Mexico, posing an early test of the new trade deal's labor provisions. 

The complaint was filed by the AFL-CIO, the Service Employees International Union, Mexican autoworkers union SNITIS and left-leaning consumer advocacy organization Public Citizen against Tridonex, an auto parts factory based in Matamoros, Mexico, near the southern tip of Texas. 

It's the first such complaint under the USMCA, which went into effect last summer and replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement, which both former President Donald Trump and progressives like Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont argued pushed manufacturing jobs out of Michigan and other Rust Belt states and into Mexico. 

Tridonex workers have been attempting to form a SNITIS union for two years but more than 600 have been "harassed and fired" for their efforts, the unions said in a press release. The SNITIS union would replace a company-controlled union that isn't elected by workers. 

“USMCA requires Mexico to end the reign of protection unions and their corrupt deals with employers,” said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka in the joint statement, which also included Susana Prieto, a Mexican labor lawyer who was arrested during union organizing last year. “The ongoing harassment of Susana Prieto and SNITIS members is a textbook violation of the labor laws Mexico has pledged to uphold."

Richard Trumka

Mexico implemented new labor laws as a part of the USMCA, which was negotiated under the Trump administration but was partially brokered in Congress by both Republicans and Democrats, who pushed for stronger labor provisions including the "rapid response mechanism" the unions are using to file the complaint. Policymakers hoped to stop companies from moving factories to Mexico in part by raising wages and working conditions for Mexican workers. 

The rapid response provision allows for labor complaints against individual factories. If the company is found to have violated workers' rights, the U.S. can ask Mexico to review the allegations. Eventually, the facility could face penalties or the company's products could be barred from entering the U.S. 

Tridonex is a subsidiary of Cardone Industries Inc. based in Philadelphia and supplies auto parts to companies in the U.S. and elsewhere. Cardone did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Detroit News. 

“Tridonex’s suppression of workers’ rights has cost our members in Philadelphia hundreds of good manufacturing jobs, and now they’re doing the same to workers in Matamoros,” SEIU International President Mary Kay Henry said in the statement.

“USMCA requires Mexico to enforce its labor laws and the Rapid Response Mechanism was designed to ensure facility-specific enforcement opportunities to help workers here at home and in Mexico who want to join together in unions, have safe workplaces, and raise their families with dignity.” 

Mary Kay Henry, International President of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) speaks before the second of two Democratic presidential primary debates hosted by CNN, July 31, 2019, in the Fox Theatre in Detroit.

The complaint will be a test of the labor provisions in the new agreement, and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai has said enforcement will be a priority and that there are concerns with Mexico's adherence to the agreement.

“The USMCA included strong new labor commitments and enforcement tools, including the rapid response mechanism, to address critical and long-standing labor issues in Mexico. We will carefully review RRM complaints filed for any denial of rights at a covered facility," an administration official told The News via email, speaking on condition of anonymity in order to speak for multiple federal agencies.

The Interagency Labor Committee, co-chaired by Tai and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, will have 30 days to review the complaint. If the panel determines workers' rights have been denied, they will ask Mexico to perform a review, which it will have 45 days to do if it agrees. There are multiple options to resolve the issue from there.

Rep. Andy Levin, D-Bloomfield Township, is a former AFL-CIO organizer. He released a statement Monday praising the complaint and urging the Biden administration to enforce the trade agreement's labor provisions. 

"Until and unless workers in Mexico can organize their workplaces and bargain collectively, without fear of reprisal or harassment, Mexican workers will continue to be exploited and the outsourcing of U.S. auto jobs across the border will not stop," Levin said. "One of the key indicators to measure if Mexico is fulfilling its obligation under USMCA is the extent to which workers are given a meaningful choice in deciding which union to join."

In a joint statement Monday, House Ways and Means Committee Chair Rep. Richard Neal, D-Mass., and trade subcommittee Chair Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., also said they "vigorously support" the complaint. 

"Today marks a decisive step toward fulfilling the promise of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and ensuring that workers’ rights are meaningfully upheld across North America," they said. "We expect and call on the Biden Administration to use all available resources to take aggressive enforcement action in this case ... We expect that this complaint will be the first of many, and look forward to working with Ambassador Tai to deliver results for U.S. workers.”

Twitter: @rbeggin