The U.S. asked Mexico to review alleged denial of workers’ rights at a General Motors truck plant in central Mexico, the first time Washington is self-initiating a labor dispute under the new trade pact between the countries.
United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai has asked Mexico to review whether employees at the facility in Silao, Guanajuato, are being denied the right of free association and collective bargaining, the USTR said in a statement released early Wednesday.
“Using USMCA to help protect freedom of association and collective-bargaining rights in Mexico helps workers both at home and in Mexico, by stopping a race to the bottom,” Tai said. “It also supports Mexico’s efforts to implement its recent labor-law reforms. I commend the Mexican government for stepping in to suspend the vote when it became aware of voting irregularities.”
Mexico said Wednesday that it would begin a review of labor practices at the GM plant in central Mexico, responding to the formal complaint from the office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
Mexico's economy and labor ministries said in a statement they had received the USTR's request for the Mexican government to "conduct a review of the alleged denial of rights to workers at the General Motors plant in Silao, Guanajuato."
Mexico's labor ministry on Tuesday said it found "serious irregularities" in a union-led vote at the General Motors' plant in the city of Silao, and ordered the automaker's union to re-hold a vote within 30 days.
The Mexican ministry's move followed pressure earlier in the day by U.S. lawmakers on GM to ensure worker rights at the Silao plant, adding to concerns from global labor advocacy groups.
Under the USMCA’s rapid-response labor mechanism, the first step is for the U.S. to submit a request that Mexico review whether there is a denial of rights and attempt to address any issues it finds, the USTR said. If the countries are unable to agree that the issue has been resolved, the U.S. may request the establishment of a so-called rapid-response labor panel to determine whether there has been a denial of collective-bargaining rights.
Tai has directed the Treasury Department to suspend the final settlement of customs accounts related to entries of goods from GM’s Silao facility.
Mexican officials had previously said that some ballots were destroyed during the vote in April, which was intended for workers to ratify their collective contract.
The ratification is required under a Mexican labor reform to ensure workers are not bound to so-called protection contracts, which are signed behind workers' backs and prioritize company interests.
Such votes are part of the broader effort underpinning promises in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement free trade pact to uphold worker rights.
The ministry said in Tuesday's statement that the GM vote had "violated principles of safety and certainty that should govern every democratic process."
Three U.S. lawmakers on Tuesday wrote to GM CEO Mary Barra, asking her for details on the company’s role in what happened and whether the company will commit to ensuring future votes are independently verified.
GM has denied wrongdoing and said it condemned labor rights violations. The automaker said it had retained a third-party firm to conduct an independent review.
"GM condemns violations of labor rights and actions to restrict collective bargaining. We do not believe there was any GM involvement in the alleged violations or that any government-approved inspectors were denied access to the facility, and have retained a third-party firm to conduct an independent and thorough review," the automaker said in a statement. "The company will cooperate with the U.S. government and the Mexican Labor Ministry and other stakeholders to protect the integrity of the process."
The U.S. action follows information they received through a confidential hotline and is meant to complement Mexico’s efforts on the matter, not implicate the Mexican government in any wrongdoing, a USTR official told reporters. Mexico will have 10 days to respond.
The Biden administration has reached out to GM on the issue, another USTR official said, without providing details.
Bloomberg and Reuters contributed to this report.