Panasonic auto components plant caught in latest union vs. union dispute in Mexico

MEXICO CITY — A Mexican union said on Monday it will ask the U.S. government to investigate a Panasonic automotive components plant for alleged worker rights abuses, the latest in a series of disputes seeking to leverage a new trade deal to improve workplace conditions in Mexico.

In a petition to U.S. labor officials, to be filed on Monday and shared with Reuters, Mexican union SNITIS said a Panasonic plant in the border city of Reynosa violated the 2020 United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement by signing a contract with a rival union behind workers’ backs and firing several dozen employees who protested.

“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.

Panasonic’s Reynosa plant employs nearly 1,900 people and makes car audio and display systems, mostly for U.S. and Canada export.

Asked about the alleged abuses, Panasonic Corp. 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 Mexicn 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 U.S. 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.

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