Workers at the General Motors plant at the center of a U.S.-Mexico trade controversy say they’re fighting to replace their union because of safety issues, including what they characterize as lax enforcement of COVID-19 protocols.
The facility, located near the central Mexican city of Silao, has emerged as an important test case for new labor provisions under a revamped North America trade agreement. And as one of three GM plants that produce highly profitable pickup trucks, it’s critical to the company’s balance sheet. Five employees at the plant spoke to Bloomberg News. They asked that their names not be published due to fear of reprisal.
One said her work area isn’t socially distanced -- even after two employees on her team died from COVID-19. Another said her husband, a co-worker, caught the virus, but was told to return immediately to work without getting a test. A third said she hasn’t been given a proper uniform that prevents her from getting burns on her legs, and that she’s developed back problems because she hasn’t been provided with the right footwear.
In an emailed statement, General Motors’ Mexico office said safety is its priority. The company said it has implemented “strict health security protocols” following recommendations from Mexican authorities and the World Health Organization. The plant has had five inspections by state and federal agencies related to pandemic measures that found it to be fully compliant with protocols, the automaker said. It added that it provides its workers with protective equipment and carries out regular training sessions to reinforce safety.
The five workers who were interviewed are part of a group that is seeking to replace the current union. They say 18 of their colleagues were fired in 2019 for organizing workers to choose an alternative.
General Motors said it “respects and supports the rights of our employees to make a personal, free, secret and direct response in regards to its union representation.” The company said it will follow the law to ensure the integrity of the voting process at the plant.
The allegations underscore the difficulties at the plant, which has more than 6,000 unionized workers and is located about 215 miles northwest of Mexico City. Mexican authorities shut down a union-led vote there earlier this year, citing irregularities. U.S. trade chief Katherine Tai later asked the nation to review whether employees were being denied the right of free association and collective bargaining -- opening a thorny bilateral issue.
The complaints also show that some Mexican workers are eager to challenge the status quo under the new regime after decades of a system they view as ineffectual.