Mexico’s Labor Department has announced that 85% of the country’s 140,000 officially registered labor contracts risk being canceled for failing to meet Monday’s deadline. The contracts, which were supposed to be submitted to the workers for secret-ballot votes, are the fruits of labor reforms that helped gain the renewal of the United States-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement in 2019. The poor percentage of contracts meeting the deadline reflects the labor leaders’ long-standing practice of negotiating contracts with limited or no worker input to maintain low wages and keep Mexican factories running. Statistics from May 1, 2023, show that only about 20,000 of the contracts complied, and the rest are at risk of being nullified, except for a small percentage of unions who scheduled their votes between May 1 and the newly-extended deadline of July 31.
Despite the advantages of removing non-existing contracts from the list, there is a possibility of 4 million employees being left without contracts. Some experts say that larger companies and plants were more likely to submit their contracts, while evidence shows that a large proportion of the roughly 120,000 lapsed ones may belong to small shops or companies that no longer exist. The Labor Department has advised companies to remain neutral and give equal treatment to all unions with members within their ranks and not discriminate against employees while a contract is being finalized. In general, companies have always preferred unions that made sure there would be no strikes and few wage requests.
The Transformation Union at the Unique Fabricating de Mexico auto-parts facility in Queretaro State is an independent union that won a contract by vote. At the start of 2023, the union organizers filed a labor complaint accusing the USA-owned Michigan-based company of retaining their old contract, preventing members from the new union to enter the premises, and firing and harassing union supporters. The workers voted for the Transformation Union after the employer did not respond to an email request for comment.
Unions that did not conduct contract ballots will have to obtain the approval of workers in a secret ballot if they want to continue representing them at a particular plant. However, there have been incidents earlier, such as a pro-company union stealing a ballot box in a contract vote at a Goodyear tire facility in the northern state of San Luis Potosí, which highlighted the need for exceptional security measures during the voting process. The Labor Department promised to rerun the polls “without intervention by the union that holds the contract” with both local and international observers.