Washington, D.C. –Today, the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced the successful resolution of the case it initiated regarding violations of workers’ USMCA-protected labor rights at a Panasonic Automotive Systems de Mexico S.A. de C.V. plant in response to a petition filed on April 18 by Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y de Servicios Movimiento 20/32 (SNITIS) and Rethink Trade. In response to a deal negotiated between SNITIS and Panasonic and the U.S. government’s announcement on the RRM case, Rethink Trade issued the following statement.
“Just three months after we filed an RRM complaint, Panasonic had to recognize SNITIS as the workers’ legitimate representative, go to the negotiating table and agree to materially improve its employees’ wages, plus the company agreed to reinstate workers that were illegally fired in retaliation for standing up for their rights,” said Daniel Rangel, an attorney with Rethink Trade who petitioned for a case to be initiated. “This is a resounding victory. Rethink Trade commends USTR and the U.S. Department of Labor for their commitment to workers’ rights in the global economy and applauds SNITIS fierce struggle for union democracy in Mexico,”
“It is evident that Chapter 23 of the USMCA and its Rapid Response Mechanism are key tools for workers to demand respect for their rights of freedom of association and union democracy,” said Susana Prieto Terrazas, labor leader and member of the Mexican Congress. “Panasonic was not the first and will not be the last case of labor rights violations that we will denounce. There is no going back in our fight in favor of human and labor rights of Mexican people.”
Under the USMCA Rapid Response Mechanism (RRM), Mexico had 45 days to report findings of a review it was required to conduct on the matter in response to USTR’s action. During this timeframe, with the spotlight of the RRM case illuminating the conflict, SNITIS and Panasonic engaged in discussions that led to Panasonic recognizing SNITIS as the legitimate representative of its workforce, and a 13% raise for Panasonic employees and reinstatement and backpay to workers who were allegedly terminated for participating in union activity.
In October 2021, workers rejected an existing labor contract at Panasonic’s Reynosa facilities during the USMCA-required legitimization process. A dire labor conflict erupted as the firm began colluding with an employer-captured “protection” union, affiliated to the Confederación de Trabajadores de México (CTM), and local authorities to try force a new CBA on workers that they have not approved. That contract was negotiated by the CTM union that does not lawfully represent them.
After workers voted down the preexisting CBA last fall, SNITIS filed for a certificate to represent the Panasonic employees and negotiate a new contract. The CTM union, Sindicato Industrial Autónomo de Operarios en General de Maquiladoras de la República Mexicana (SIAMARM), also petitioned to do so. Since two unions were disputing the right to represent the workers, Mexican federal authorities called for a union election to be held on April 21 and 22, 2022.
The USMCA RRM petition that Mexico was filed on April 18, 2022 by independent union Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y de Servicios Movimiento 20/32 (SNITIS) and Rethink Trade. Tensions had escalated at Panasonic’s Reynosa plant leading to the April 21-22 union election. Panasonic fired workers who supported independent union SNITIS and tried to impose an unapproved collective bargaining agreement made with a contested “protection” union linked to the notorious CTM federation that is tied to a conservative political party.
Despite a threatening environment created by the CTM union and its reported attempts to influence the outcome of the election by bribing workers in exchange for votes, Panasonic’s workforce voted overwhelmingly in favor of independent union SNITIS. SNITIS received 1,200 votes while only 390 eligible workers casted their votes for CTM. Find links to video of CTM officials threatening the independent union and more about the recent vote, here.
After the vote, Panasonic announced that “it respected and supported its employees’ right to free association and looked forward to working with SNITIS once it is officially registered as the factory’s new union.” Yet Panasonic continued to interact with the protection union as if it had won the election even after SNITIS was recognized as the legitimate representative of the workers by the government.
On May 18, 2022, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai announced that the United States had asked Mexico to review whether workers at the Panasonic Automotive Systems de Mexico facility in Reynosa, State of Tamaulipas, were being denied the rights of free association and collective bargaining. The Government of Mexico accepted the complaint on June 1, 2022. The rapid response of both the U.S. and Mexican governments prompted Panasonic to the negotiating table.
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