“It’s important to keep the U.S. government informed that worker rights are being violated,” said Rosario Moreno, head of SNITIS, an independent union that grew out of worker dissatisfaction with traditional labor groups in the northern state of Tamaulipas.
“They were given a contract they didn’t even know about,” Moreno said of the Panasonic deal with rival union SIAMARM.
Asked about the alleged abuses, Panasonic Corporation of North America said it was committed to complying with Mexico’s labor laws and collective bargaining process, and had “the strongest of interest” in ensuring the dispute does not impact employees’ freedom to collectively bargain.
It also said the dispute was between SNITIS and SIAMARM and “does not directly involve Panasonic.”
Both Panasonic and the Tamaulipas labor board, where the contract that SNITIS says was signed without worker consent was registered, said the deal was legal.
The U.S. Department of Labor did not immediately respond when asked about Panasonic.
The USMCA, which replaced the 1994 NAFTA, ushered in tougher labor rules designed to empower Mexican workers to demand better salaries after years of pay stagnation and help prevent low labor costs from leeching more U.S. jobs.
Under the deal, which was contingent on Mexico upholding a major labor reform aimed at breaking the grip of dominant unions accused of being cozy with employers, workplaces that fail to ensure worker rights can be sanctioned with tariffs and other penalties.
The United States launched the first USMCA probes into labor violations in Mexico last year, demanding better worker protections amid union disputes at automaker General Motors and Tridonex, a U.S.-owned car parts plant.
The Rethink Trade program at the American Economic Liberties Project, a U.S. non-profit that pushes for corporate accountability, co-signed the petition with SNITIS.
The dispute at Panasonic, whose Reynosa plant employs nearly 1,900 people and makes car audio and display systems, mostly for U.S. and Canada export, grew out of a vote last year in which workers rejected their union contract.
Such votes are required by the labor reform to end the once widespread practice of unions and companies signing so-called “protection contracts” without worker knowledge.
Labor authorities then scheduled a vote April 21-22 for workers to choose between two other unions vying to take over the contract – SNITIS and SIAMARM.
However, SNITIS says Panasonic signed a contract with SIAMARM ahead of the April election and began to withhold union dues from worker paychecks.
SIAMARM, part of one of Mexico’s biggest labor groups, the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), could not be reached for comment. The group’s Facebook page says it fights for the well-being of its members.
Under the contract, which was seen by Reuters, salaries begin at 261.49 pesos ($13.10) a day – barely above Mexico’s daily minimum wage of 260.34 pesos. The highest position earns 315 pesos ($15.81) a day.
($1 = 19.9250 Mexican pesos)
(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; Editing by Stephen Eisenhammer, Lisa Shumaker and Aurora Ellis)