Mexico Flags U.S. Food-Plant Labor Concerns in Trade Tit-for-Tat

Mexico flagged labor conditions in the U.S. agriculture and food-processing industries just after Washington raised worker-rights issues at a Mexican auto plant as the neighbors call each other out on enforcing rules of their new trade pact.

While U.S. federal law protects workers regardless of immigration status, factors such as ignorance, fear and employer abuse prevent migrant laborers from exercising their rights, Mexico’s ambassador to the U.S., Esteban Moctezuma Barragan, said in a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Marty Walsh published on the Foreign Ministry website Wednesday. Mexico made the allegations without identifying any specific sites.

Mexico’s government proposed cooperation through the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement to address the issues.

The move came hours after U.S. trade chief Katherine Tai asked Mexico to review whether employees at a General Motors Co. facility in Silao, Guanajuato, are being denied the right of free association and collective bargaining. It’s the first time Washington has initiated rapid-response labor mechanisms under the new trade pact.

“It’s reciprocal -- just as they can present complaints about the situation in which employees work in our country, we too can present complaints if there are violations of rights of workers in the United States,” Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador said Thursday.

Mexican authorities have committed to reviewing developments at the Silao plant, the economy and labor ministries said in a statement Wednesday.

In April, the Labor Ministry said it shut down a union-led vote at the facility after discovering unused ballots had been destroyed. When it asked the union to deliver for inspection the votes that had already been cast -- about half of the 6,494 unionized workers had voted -- the syndicate refused, according to a preliminary ministry report.

The Labor Ministry on Wednesday said it will reinstate the process to legitimize the collective-bargaining agreement at the plant, and reiterated its commitment to restoring union and collective-bargaining rights.

“We responded that the election process needs to be redone and we accept the recommendation that the U.S. government made -- they’re right,” the president said.

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