Kaptur urges Trump Administration to stand up for workers across the continent

April 19, 2018
Press Release
94 House Democrats push U.S. Trade Ambassador to fight anti-worker legislation in Mexico that would hurt workers

Washington, D.C. – Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-09,) in a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, urged the Trump Administration to actively oppose anti-worker legislation currently moving through the Mexican Senate.

“We are alarmed and concerned about proposed amendments to Mexican labor law introduced in the Mexican Senate on March 22nd, 2018. The bill would maintain the corrupt labor oversight system that has prevented Mexican workers from exercising their rights to organize and bargain for higher wages for decades,” wrote the Members. “This directly undermines the ongoing effort to create a fair playing field for U.S. workers and U.S. businesses through NAFTA renegotiation and will ensure Mexico remains out of compliance with labor standards in the current agreement. We urge you to engage with your counterparts in Mexico, and make it clear that approving this law will have serious ramifications and negatively impact the effort to renegotiate NAFTA.”

This letter was led by U.S. Reps. Rosa DeLauro (CT-03), Bill Pascrell, Jr. (NJ-09), Sander M. Levin (MI-09), Barbara Lee (CA-13), and Mark Pocan (WI-02) and cosigned by 94 House Democrats

The full text of the letter as drafted can be found below:

Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer
Office of the United States Trade Representative
600 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20006

Dear Ambassador Lighthizer:

In a previous letter, sent January 23rd, 2018 we urged you to address the issue of Mexico’s poor labor standards in a newly renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), with the understanding that Mexico’s government needed to implement reforms internally for such changes to take place. We appreciate your response and commitment to working with us on this issue. In continuing that effort, we write with urgency today regarding legislation before the Mexican Senate that would maintain the corrupt system that prevents Mexican workers from exercising their freedom to organize and bargain for higher wages.

We are alarmed and concerned about proposed amendments to Mexican labor law introduced in the Mexican Senate on March 22nd, 2018. The bill would maintain the corrupt labor oversight system that has prevented Mexican workers from exercising their rights to organize and bargain for higher wages for decades. This directly undermines the ongoing effort to create a fair playing field for U.S. workers and U.S. businesses through NAFTA renegotiation and will ensure Mexico remains out of compliance with labor standards in the current agreement. We urge you to engage with your counterparts in Mexico, and make it clear that approving this law will have serious ramifications and negatively impact the effort to renegotiate NAFTA.

For far too long, Mexican workers have been prevented from forming and joining independent unions and bargaining for better wages and working conditions. The system of protection contracts, which allows employers and employer-dominated unions (“protection unions”) to sign labor agreements without the approval or often even the knowledge of workers, deliberately prevents workers from negotiating higher wages,[1] keeping many in dire poverty.[2] It is no coincidence that the wage disparity between the United States and Mexico is unchanged in the 24 years NAFTA has been in effect.[3]

In February 2017, the government of Mexico initiated constitutional amendments to address protection contracts and dismantle the corrupt Conciliation and Arbitration Boards (CABs) which give employers and protection unions control over labor courts, legitimizing protection contracts and preventing workers from accessing justice. The constitutional changes would replace the CABs with independent Labor Tribunals and require that collective bargaining agreements be explicitly approved by workers. These are urgent and vital changes that must happen if Mexico is to have a functional labor relations system. However, to complete the reform process the Mexican legislature must approve implementing legislation.

This is the second attempt to introduce implementing legislation that would gut the 2017 reform process. Both bills were introduced by two members of the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) who also lead the two largest protection unions in the country.[4] The bill, introduced in December 2017, prompted unions in the United States and Mexico to file a complaint under the labor side agreement of the original NAFTA.[5]  The bill introduced on March 22 is largely unchanged.[6]

The current proposal would dismantle the tentative progress made over the last year and allow the corrupt network of protection unions to maintain their grip on industrial relations in Mexico. As detailed in the NAALC complaint, the proposal undermines the Constitutional requirement that workers approve collective agreements by a secret ballot vote, weakens transparency provisions established to ensure workers can access information about organizations claiming to represent them, and imposes onerous requirements for independent unions to gain recognition. It would ensure that protection unions and corrupt officials maintain control over the labor justice system, with the power to approve and oversee union registrations, collective agreements, and labor conflicts.

We urge you to work with your Mexican counterparts to address this harmful legislation and end the long-standing suppression of wages in Mexico. The current corrupt system of labor relations is harmful not only to workers in Mexico, but to workers and businesses in the United States and Canada. If this legislation is passed and becomes law, it will be a potentially devastating obstacle to the success of the NAFTA renegotiation. Mexico’s Senate must reverse course and stop this regressive bill from becoming law. We urge you to work with Mexico’s government and trade negotiators to ensure Mexico’s 2017 Constitutional amendments become meaningfully implemented, and that a new NAFTA agreement must protect working people and ensure a level playing field.

We look forward to continuing to work with you for an agreement that prioritizes working people, their jobs and their wages as NAFTA renegotiations progress.              


[1] See, e.g. David Welch and Nacha Cattan, How Mexico’s Unions Sell Out Autoworkers, Bloomberg (May 5, 2017) https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-05-05/how-mexico-s-unions-sell-out-autoworkers

[2] See, e.g. Christopher Woody, Mexico's wages are so paltry that human-rights and legal groups are sounding the alarm, Business Insider (March 1, 2017) http://www.businessinsider.com/mexico-wages-incomes-poverty-2017-2

[3] The Conference Board, International Comparisons of Hourly Compensation Costs in Manufacturing, 2015 - Summary Tables, https://www.conference-board.org/ilcprogram/index.cfm?id=38269

[4] The Confederación de Trabajadores de Mexico (CTM) and the Confederación Revolucionaria de Obreros y Campesinos (CROC). See Maquila Solidarity Network, Will Mexico Make Good on Promise of Labour Justice Reform, (March 21, 2018)http://www.maquilasolidarity.org/en/will-mexico-make-good-on-promise-of-labour-justice-reform

[5] Public Communication to the U.S. National Administrative Office under the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC) Concerning the Introduction of Reforms to the Federal Labor Law of Mexico That Would Weaken Fundamental Labor Rights, including the Right to Freely Associate, to Organize and to Bargain Collectively, Submitted by AFL-CIO and the Unión Nacional de Trabajadores
(January 22, 2018) https://aflcio.org/sites/default/files/2018-01/NAALC%20submission%20JAN%2025%202018%20with%20UNT.pdf

[6] Isabelle Hoagland, Labor sources: Mexican Senate bill could undermine new NAFTA standards, Inside Trade (March 27, 2018)

                                                                                                   

###