Mexican GM workers vote down company union’s contract
Photo of the GM plant in Silao, Mexico, where workers voted down the pro company contract offered by their yellow dog company union, opening the way for a real union to represent them. Mario Armas | AP

SILAO, Mexico (PAI)—In a win for workers in both Mexico and the U.S., workers at the giant General Motors truck plant in Silao, Mexico, rejected the “contract” bargained by their pro-company, yellow-dog style “protection” union—thus effectively tossing the union as well.

The 2,623-3,214 rejection at the plant, in the state of Guanajuato, opens the way for independent unions, a rarity south of the border, to organize the workers at the factory. Workers there make Chevy Silverados and other trucks for export to the U.S. In the meantime, the Mexican workers retain unspecified present worker protections, several sources said.

It also represents a win for U.S. workers, as U.S. unions, including the Auto Workers, pushed U.S. trade officials to insert real powers—a rapid response mechanism to both handle worker repression complaints and issue quick enforceable rulings—into the U.S.-Mexico-Canada (USMCA). The USMCA succeeded NAFTA, which had no enforcement clout.

Liberating Mexican workers from such “protection” unions and their contracts is one way of aiding both groups, UAW and other U.S. unions successfully argued to both U.S. trade negotiators and Congress.

UAW President Ray Curry and GM Department Vice President Terry Dittes lauded the Biden administration for bringing the case under the rapid response USMCA section, calling it “an enormous victory for the workers in Silao.” Voting results were announced August 20.

“For UAW members this will lead to a fairer playing field by lifting wages and benefits in countries like Mexico,” the two added.

“But it is only the start. Workers still need to organize an independent union and fight for their first contract. By building an independent union movement in Mexico, workers on both sides of our border win by leveling the economic tensions created through low-wage pro-employer contracts,” they warned.

“The GM Silao vote proves that when given the opportunity to vote in an environment free from intimidation and deceit workers will reject pro-employer collective bargaining agreements and pro-employer protection unions, and instead chose to have a voice on the job and fight for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. The Mexican government must ensure all collective bargaining agreement votes in the future are afforded these same protections.”

That’s a lot of Collective Bargaining Agreements (CBAs). The USMCA bargaining reveals Mexico’s labor enforcement office will have to review and manage elections covering hundreds of thousands of CBAs, mostly imposed by similar company unions, by May 2023.

News services reported, however, that of 1,504 contracts Mexican workers have voted on so far, the Silao result was only the sixth rejection.

The rejection came after the incumbent union, the Miguel Trujillo Lopez local of the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), flagrantly violated worker rights, according to four lawmakers who wrote to GM CEO Mary Parra. Biden administration U.S. Trade Rep Katherine Tai initiated the process which led to the new vote.

The violations in that April vote included giving the plant’s 6,000 workers only 15 hours to vote, refusing to give workers copies of the contract or post it online, stuffing ballot boxes with “yes” ballots while destroying “no” votes, bullying workers to vote yes and ejecting independent vote monitors from the plant.

All this prompted a formal protest under the USMCA, invocation of the rapid response mechanism to open an investigation, and the Mexican Labor Ministry’s decision to throw out the first vote and call the rerun. It also is considering criminal charges against CTM officials.

The rerun vote was held over 36 hours and there was no interference or repression, Rejection was the result.

The workers “now have the opportunity for democratic and transparent representation under a new contract,” Generando Movimiento, a group of 975 present and former GM workers which fought CTM, told a press conference after the vote.

“We are going through our registry, we want all this to go forward. I think we can achieve it, if we have already fought a battle, I think we can win the war,” said Generando’s Carlos Ignacio Martínez.

Leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of the Automotive, Aeronautical, Aerospace and Tire Industry pledged to support Generando Movimiento’s campaign to represent the workers and register with the Labor Ministry as their union, Milenio reported.

“This is a watershed moment for other companies to see what can really be done if we are united, if we are organized, and if we fight,” said Sergio Contreras Ortega, Generando members. “The most important point is that people have the ability and the right to seek their own benefits, to decide what’s best for them.”

“Thanks to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement labor protections,” the Silao workers “are able to exercise their voice in determining the future of their collective bargaining agreement,” said Thea Lee, now head of DOL’s International Labor Affairs Department.

As the AFL-CIO’s top trade rep and then deputy chief of staff, Lee played a large part in writing the rapid response enforcement mechanism into the USMCA.

“This is an example of successful collaboration between the department, the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, and the government of Mexico. The U.S. government remains committed to working with the Mexican government to make sure our trade policies work for workers,” she added.


Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.