By on February 3, 2022

When the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) was being floated as a possible replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), one of the biggest selling points was the inclusion of new labor protections for Mexican workers. The Trump administration wanted to ensure serious labor reform took place south of the border to ensure union business was conducted responsibly and wages would increase. As a byproduct, USMCA is supposed to encourage North American synergies while gradually discouraging U.S. businesses from blindly sending jobs to Mexico to capitalize on poverty tier wages.

That theory will now be tested in earnest after General Motors employees from the Silao full-size truck plant voted overwhelmingly to dump the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM) for the Independent Syndicate of National Workers (SINTTIA).

CTM has long been accused of having a stranglehold on Mexican laborers and leveraging ties to the government, specifically the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional or PRI) that enjoyed dominance throughout the 20th century. Claims of union corruption have likewise swirled for decades (often with supportive evidence), though that’s not exactly something that’s exclusive to Mexican labor organizations. Unions based in the United States have enjoyed a similarly complicated history and have largely aligned themselves with left-leaning politicians. The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) frequently backed CTM up until the early 1990s, despite the Mexican union having been so overtly intertwined with the catch-all (arguably center-right) PRI.

The big change came after the introduction of NAFTA and widespread talk about how Mexico’s low wages and minimal worker protections would entice U.S. companies to relocate. Though arguments have been made that the AFL-CIO only ever bothered to ally itself with CTM because it was the dominant union entity. There are even instances of the CIA getting involved to nudge the foreign government and its favored labor organizations in highly specific directions. It’s a deeply complicated issue stretching back to the early 1900s and those seeking additional background information might want to read through this comparative analysis of Mexican and U.S. labor produced by the University of Minnesota Law School way back in 1996.

The point is that CTM has been losing allies after having enjoy near total dominance in Mexico and GM employees embracing SINTTIA is signaling that major changes have begun taking place. In June, the AFL-CIO criticized the Confederation of Mexican Workers for refusing to comply with updated government rules after USCMA forced the scheduling of a legitimation vote on the collective bargaining agreement at the GM plant in Silao, Guanajuato. Workers opted to dissolve their contract with CTM roughly a month later, setting the facility up for new representation in 2022.

On Thursday, Reuters reported that workers formed a new union at the plant called SINTTIA and that the decision could set the tone for GM’s other Mexican plants and throughout Mexico’s automotive industry. But the vote was still mired in controversy after numerous reports suggested the facility’s over 6,000 employees had been subjected to bribery and threats on behalf of CTM.

While I don’t want to underestimate the pervasiveness of organized corruption, the brunt of those accusations are coming from allies of the rival SINTTIA. The union’s secretary general, Alejandra Morales, said that several people visited her home over the weekend to issue threats. She claimed she was advised by two men and a woman that refused to identify themselves not to show up to vote this week or else the safety of SINTTIA’s committee would be at risk.

Morales, who works in the factory’s paint shop, stated that she did not know who was behind the threats. But most English-speaking media outlets have already presumed CTM is behind it. Even Canada’s Unifor, which has a presence in Mexico to support SINTTIA, said it believed CTM was trying to pay workers for providing proof that they voted in their favor. The going rate for these ballots was allegedly 500 pesos, which works out to be roughly $25 USD a vote.

Though it’s difficult to get a handle on everything that’s been going on and there’s plenty of politicking taking place behind the scenes from all sides. CTM has reemerged with a friendlier face now that it’s been weakened and foreign union interests appear to be turning against it. Unifor, AFL-CIO, and Washington-based Solidarity Center are all elated to see that SINTTIA has won in Silao. But it’s unclear if that’s because they think the new organization will be easier to work with, and more politically aligned with their goals, or simply due to the alleged corruption taking place within the Confederation of Mexican Workers.

Whatever the case, General Motors has been keeping its head down by saying it’ll respect whatever decisions the workers make.

According to SINTTIA’s allies in the U.S. and Canada, the next move is to demand pay increases that now have additional legal support under USMCA.

“Workers will advocate for higher wages and improved health and safety standards … helping to set new standards in the automobile industry,” AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler stated. “This vote represents a rejection of the past and a new era for Mexican workers’ right to associate freely.”

Mexico’s federal labor center said SINTTIA won with 4,192 votes out of a total of 5,389 valid ballots (a nearly 90-percent turnout). Workers said that they were interested to see if the group could succeed where CTM failed for so many years by getting them better pay and benefits. As part of USMCA, Mexico will be spending the rest of the year setting up independent labor courts and monitors (both domestic and foreign) to recertify hundreds of thousands of collective bargaining agreements. Considering all votes need to be tallied by May of 2023, it will be quite the challenge.


[Image: Chess Ocampo/Shutterstock]

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20 Comments on “Setting the Stage? Mexican Auto Employees Elect Independent Union...”

  • avatar

    There’s a lot to unpack;

    1. “The Trump administration wanted to ensure serious labor reform took place south of the border”
    Canadian negotiators, organized labour along with Democrats were heavy on the side of labour reform in Mexico. If anything, it was a bipartisan push.

    2. “That theory will now be tested in earnest”

    How does a change in unions affect international trade law? If anything, the new union SINTTIA with the stated support of Canadian UNIFOR will be more likely to insure that improvements in wages and benefits for Mexican autoworkers.

    3. “Unions based in the United States have enjoyed a similarly complicated history and have largely aligned themselves with left-leaning politicians.’

    Ummmm Duhhh!

    Unions are left leaning by nature therefore they would naturally align with left leaning politicians. In the USA rightwing lawmakers and judges have gone out of their way to limit union power and worker rights.

    • 0 avatar
      Daniel J

      Limiting ‘rights’ by unions, especially auto unions, in some cases actually gives workers more rights.

      I’m all for employees joining or creating a new union that better suites their needs.

    • 0 avatar
      Matt Posky

      1. The Trump administration managed to get USMCA through despite immense pushback from the Canadian government and domestic opposition. It started as being anything but bipartisan. Those new protections for Mexican labor is at the tail end of Chapter 23 and existed since the first draft. I covered USMCA from proposal to passing.

      2. Assuming SINTTIA follows through, you literally just answered your own question.

      3. Tell that to the Canadian truckers.

      • 0 avatar

        1. The Trump administration managed to get USMCA through despite immense pushback from the Canadian government and domestic opposition.

        Canada did not concede anything beyond what was already agreed upon in the TPP. So um, immense pushback… not really. That’s how negotiations work.

        “Bipartisan” – I was talking about Mexican labour upgrades in USMCA.

        2. That doesn’t answer my question at all. “How does a change in unions affect international trade law?” USMCA isn’t going to rewrite it’s language because a different union is representing auto workers. A union sympathetic to workers with just help meet the goals of the trade agreement.

        3. What does unions traditionally aligning with left-leaning parties have anything to do with Canadian truckers?
        and what does the USA’s rightwing marginalization of unions have anything to do with Canadian truckers?

  • avatar

    theyre afraid if wages get too high, more people will become auto workers instead of other STEM type professions like doctors. mexican “professionals” dont get paid much

    • 0 avatar

      You’re right, Mexican doctors are paid less than their American counterparts, but it’s still 30-40 times what an auto worker gets. I doubt the union will get them pay raises that big.

  • avatar

    The Mexican unions want low wages to grab production from the US and Canada. Maybe they should worry about Vietnam/Thailand.

  • avatar

    “We’ll get there, Pop. We’ll get there…” – Michael Corleone

  • avatar

    Did a fair amount of business in Mexico. When a worker gets a good manufacturing job they work extremely hard to keep it. The line workers at a Japanese owned television plant in Tijuana were at their posts at 7AM sharp, got a 30 minute lunch, and got off at 6PM. 7AM to Noon Saturdays. No idea how much they made — but the only cars in the parking lot were management’s. Fat chance of a US plant competing with that or some Chinese outfit.

    When NAFTA was signed the owner of a big wood products plant in Chicago bought a couple thousand acres on the far side of the Rio Grande from Laredo, built a factory plus houses for himself and his two sons, and moved everything, except for their existing employees of course, down there. Had a couple of years of ramp up but have carved out a solid niche for themselves since.

    Amazing how the United States somehow managed to think exporting its manufacturing sector was a good idea. Been a race to the bottom ever since.

    • 0 avatar

      Offshoring kills jobs but the majority of job losses have come due to advanced automation. I’ve seen that first hand in the forest industry.

      • 0 avatar
        Arthur Dailey

        I am all for ending ‘free trade’ with 3rd world nations and dictatorships/autocracies. Would much prefer to see manufacturing jobs return to North America. However as Lou noted many of those jobs have been replaced by technology. But that is how technology has nearly always worked, to replace human labour with machinery. Most of our competitors no longer manufacture in Canada. Most are now manufacturing in Asia. Organizations in our industry that manufacture in Europe use about 1/3 of the labour that we use to perform the same duties/roles.

        As for unions and the ‘truckers’ involved in the protest the vast majority of truckers involved are ‘self employed’ and therefore non-union Unionization in the industry has fallen dramatically. Furthermore it is estimated that at least 1/4 of the commercial drivers in Canada are from South Asia/Indian Sub-continent and very few of these are present in the protest. Somebody has completed and posted an ad hoc count of the trucks by checking the names on the tractors and trailers and then searching them. As of this morning the total number of ‘commercial tractors’ in Ottawa is now counted in the dozens.

        • 0 avatar

          @Arthur Dailey – this weekend may turn out bad. Counter-protesters are reportedly planned along with an influx of support for the “truckers” from parts of Canada and the USA. Kenny in Alberta has told the blockaders at their border that they plan on pulling restrictions which doesn’t help. It emboldened them.

      • 0 avatar

        Automation usually brings jobs supporting the tech with it, and with increased productivity comes increased wages. Its when offshoring started happening that wages and productivity de-coupled. Add in unrestricted flows of cheap labor from open borders that erodes worker leverage.

  • avatar
    Jeff S

    I would never buy a vehicle made in Mexico. I take that back the Maverick is made there. Seriously, I would much rather support Mexico than China and the same with Canada both are part of North America and both are allies.

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