WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Wednesday asked Mexico to review whether labor violations had occurred at a General Motors facility in the country, a significant step using a new labor enforcement tool in the revised North American trade deal.
The Mexican government said later in the day that it would begin a review as requested.
The Biden administration sought the review under the novel “rapid response” mechanism in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which replaced the North American Free Trade Agreement and took effect last summer. Under the mechanism, penalties can be brought against a specific factory for violating workers’ rights of free association and collective bargaining.
The administration “received information appearing to indicate serious violations” of workers’ rights at the G.M. facility, in Silao in the central state of Guanajuato, in connection with a recent vote on their collective bargaining agreement, the Office of the United States Trade Representative said.
The vote was stopped last month amid allegations that the union at the facility had tampered with it, according to news reports. Mexico’s Labor Ministry said on Tuesday that it had found “serious irregularities” in the vote and ordered that it be held again within 30 days.
The updated North American trade agreement required Mexico to revamp its labor system, and the country overhauled its labor laws in 2019. Sham collective bargaining agreements known as protection contracts, which are reached with employer-dominated unions and lack worker input, have been widespread in the country. Under a new legitimization process, unions are holding votes for workers to affirm existing agreements.
In a statement, Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, said the request for a review “shows the Biden-Harris administration’s serious commitment to workers and a worker-centered trade policy.”
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“Using U.S.M.C.A. to help protect freedom of association and collective bargaining rights in Mexico helps workers both at home and in Mexico, by stopping a race to the bottom,” she said, using the initials for the trade deal. “It also supports Mexico’s efforts to implement its recent labor law reforms.”
President Andrés Manuel López Obrador of Mexico said on Wednesday, “If there is mistreatment of workers within a company that exports to the United States, if fair wages aren’t being paid, if there is no democracy, we have to intervene and establish a government-to-government dialogue.”
G.M. said in a statement that it believed it had no role in the alleged labor violations and that it had asked a third-party firm to review the matter. The company, which makes Chevrolet Silverado, Chevrolet Cheyenne and GMC Sierra pickup trucks at the Silao facility, said it would cooperate with Mexico’s Labor Ministry and the U.S. government.
“General Motors supports the labor provisions of the U.S.M.C.A., including the rapid response process,” the statement said. “As a company, we respect and support the rights of our employees to make a personal choice about union representation and any collective bargaining on their behalf. G.M. condemns violations of labor rights and actions to restrict collective bargaining.”
In announcing its request for a review by Mexico, the Biden administration avoided striking an adversarial tone with the Mexican government.
Ms. Tai praised the government “for stepping in to suspend the vote when it became aware of voting irregularities,” adding, “Today’s action will complement Mexico’s efforts to ensure that these workers can fully exercise their collective bargaining rights.”
On Monday, the A.F.L.-C.I.O. and other groups filed a complaint under the rapid response mechanism in which they alleged labor violations at the Tridonex auto parts plants in the Mexican city of Matamoros, across the border from Brownsville, Texas.
The Biden administration will review that complaint, an official in the trade representative’s office said. It could then ask Mexico to conduct a review of that matter akin to the one it sought for the G.M. facility.
Oscar Lopez contributed reporting from Mexico City.