After Democrats in the U.S. threatened to hold up a renegotiated NAFTA, Mexico’s ruling party beefed up a labor bill to meet requirements laid out in the trade deal and plans to vote it through this month.
The bill now satisfies "diverse obligations" required by the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or USMCA, as the new NAFTA deal is known, said Mario Delgado, the majority leader for Mexico’s lower house. The lower house could vote on it in a week’s time, he told reporters Thursday.
Mexico is racing to amend laws to comply with new USMCA rules that explicitly require that workers vote for their unions and labor contracts, both of which rarely happen in Mexico, where employees often lack basic representation. The original draft of the bill by leftist President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s party didn’t go far enough, according to U.S. labor leaders and Democrats in Congress.
"It’s a reform for labor justice and will democratize unions," Delgado said. "One of its main objectives is to transform the labor justice system."
The new draft comes the same day Lopez Obrador demanded the bill comply with the USMCA and get passed quickly, in order to eliminate any "pretext" to reopen trade negotiations. It also follows comments by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that there are outstanding USMCA issues including treatment of workers in Mexico. Democrats hold a majority in the House of Representatives and have raised issues with the trade deal the Trump administration clinched last year with Mexico and Canada.
The latest draft of the labor bill, which is expected to be discussed in committee and voted in the full plenum as soon as Thursday, requires secret votes for workers to choose unions and their delegates and to approve their labor contracts, Delgado said. It also creates new labor courts to resolve disputes.
While requiring votes to choose unions and delegates, the original draft didn’t do enough to ensure they’d vote on the contracts themselves, or that they’d even see copies of the contracts, said Ben Davis, director of international affairs at United Steelworkers, an AFL-CIO affiliate. The AFL-CIO is America’s biggest federation of labor unions.
The new labor bill might require a review of that position, a representative of the group said.
“The lengthy text needs full review but a first read indicates key improvements,” Gladys Cisneros, director of AFL CIO’s labor advocacy group in Mexico, the Solidarity Center, said in a statement. “It’s on the right track to correcting egregious violations, but workers will also need to see aggressive, systematic enforcement to guarantee true freedom of association.”
Democrats circulated a letter saying Mexico’s labor bill was deficient in several critical areas, Bloomberg Law reported. The letter was based on the original draft presented in February and was to be sent to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.
It wasn’t immediately clear if Mexico’s new draft would satisfy all of the Democrats’ demands and USMCA requirements as set out in its labor annex. Even if it does, Pelosi may seek changes to the USMCA on trilateral issues to ensure enforcement. "I think we are only chatting unless we are enforcing," Pelosi said Thursday. "I want to see stronger enforcement language."
By Nacha Cattan