Mexico union was losing scrapped GM worker vote

Factory employees are seen working in the plant of General Motors in the city of Silao, in the state of Guanajuato, Mexico in this file photo. REUTERS/Henry Romero/Files

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – General Motors Co workers in Mexico were on track to defeat one of the country’s biggest unions in a contract vote last month that has prompted U.S. action under the countries’ trade deal, a Mexican government report shows.

The Biden administration on Wednesday called for a probe into allegations that worker rights were denied at GM’s Silao pickup truck plant during the vote to ratify workers’ collective contract with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM).

The CTM, which is aligned with the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI) that ruled Mexico for decades, is one of several traditional unions accused by workers and activists of putting business interests over workers’ rights.

Mexico’s labor ministry said on Tuesday it had found “serious irregularities” in April’s union-led vote by the plant’s 6,000 union workers and ordered a new vote within 30 days. Officials have said some ballots were destroyed.

A ministry report into the vote, reviewed by Reuters, shows that 1,784 workers had cast ballots against keeping the CTM contract, while 1,628 workers had voted to maintain it.

Allegations of interference – including the ministry’s findings that some blank ballots in union possession were cut in half – have raised suspicions among some activists and experts that the CTM could have been in store for a deeper defeat.

A follow-up vote to be held within a month could yield a wider margin against keeping the current contract, especially if more workers who were apathetic or scared of voting turned out the second time, said labor scholar Alfonso Bouzas at Mexico’s National Autonomous University.

“This whole new opportunity is going to awaken conscience and interest,” Bouzas said.

The ministry document showed that just over half of the 6,494 people eligible to vote did so in the first of two voting days, before labor inspectors found the destroyed ballots and halted the process.

Many collective contracts in Mexico consist of deals between unions and companies without worker approval, one factor that has kept Mexican hourly wages at a fraction of those in the United States.

Ratification votes are now required under Mexico’s 2019 labor reform, which underpins a renegotiated free trade pact with the United States and Canada, to ensure workers are not bound to contracts that were signed behind their backs.

GM did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but has said it respects the rights of its employees to make decisions over collective bargaining, and that it was not involved in any alleged labor violations.

Workers at other plants have also protested against the 85-year-old CTM, which represents 4.5 million workers, including in the border city of Matamoros and at Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.

The CTM’s Miguel Trujillo Lopez union at GM is run by PRI politician Tereso Medina.

Medina and other CTM representatives did not reply to requests for comment. Medina told newspaper La Jornada last month that the organization was following rules to ensure a fair process.

If GM workers scrap their contract, either the CTM or a new union could negotiate new collective terms.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Christian Plumb and Richard Pullin for REUTERS)