Workers at an auto parts plant in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, have voted in favor of being represented by an independent union, ousting a company-affiliated union they accused of not supporting their fight for higher wages.
The Labor Ministry said in a statement Monday that 1,126 Tridomex workers voted in favor of the independent SNITIS union, while the SITPME union, part of the powerful Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), was supported by just 176 employees.
It was the second victory over an entrenched, undemocratic union that has suppressed wages after workers at the General Motors (GM) plant in Silao, Guanajuato, voted last month to replace another CTM-affiliated union with an independent one.
The votes at both factories came after the United States government asked Mexico to review whether workers’ rights were being violated at both GM and Tridomex, a subsidiary of the U.S. company Cardone.
The first request came last May and was related to alleged abuses at GM, including the apparent destruction of some ballots in a worker vote, while the second followed a month later and was related to an alleged denial of the rights of free association and collective bargaining at Tridomex. Hundreds of workers were dismissed in 2020, allegedly for expressing support for SNITIS.
Both requests were lodged under the North American free trade agreement, the USMCA, which stipulates that workers must be allowed to freely choose their union representation.
SNITIS, which won the opportunity to represent the Tridomex workers, was founded by Susana Prieto, a lawyer and federal deputy with the ruling Morena party. She said Tuesday that the vote represented the start of a new era for unions in Mexico.
“This is a new era in free democratic unions, in which they won’t steal from you, they won’t cheat you, where they are accountable for how they spend your union dues, and decisions are made with openness,” she said.
Prieto predicted that more old-guard unions will be ousted at factories along Mexico’s northern border.
The leader of SITPME, Jesús Mendoza, claimed that Monday’s vote was plagued by irregularities and pledged to lodge an appeal.
United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai and Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, who together requested the Tridomex review, released statements on the vote on Tuesday.
“Workplace democracy is a cornerstone of the USMCA’s labor provisions. People on both sides of the border win when workers can choose their union representation in a free and fair manner – and without delay,” Tai said.
“We applaud our colleagues in the government of Mexico for assuring a fair and safe election, one where the voices of the workers could be heard. Yesterday’s vote demonstrates the strength of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s labor provisions,” Walsh said.
Many Mexican workers earn just 10% to 15% of what people make for similar jobs in the United States, the Associated Press reported.
“For decades, corrupt Mexican union federations like the CTM signed low-wage ‘protection contracts’ behind workers’ backs, often before plants were even opened,” the news agency said. “Union votes were held by show of hands, or not at all.”