Mexican Workers Gain Right to Unionize, Negotiate Pay

On May 1, known around the world as May Day and International Workers’ Day, workers in Mexico finally gained the right to organize unions and negotiate their pay. Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador signed a labor reform bill which grants workers the legal right to collective bargaining without fear of retaliation or harassment, Vox reported. Under the new labor law, contracts will require secret ballot union votes and workers’ consent.

“This is a huge advancement for Mexico’s workers,” López Obrador said during a press conference on April 30. “Before this reform, workers couldn’t vote freely, by secret ballot, to elect their union representatives. Now workers can choose.” The new law allows workers to freely and legally participate in labor unions. It also dictates that workers cannot be forced to be part of labor unions. At least 20 workers within a company are needed to form a union, the new law states.

The bill was enacted under the new US-Mexico-Canada (USMCA) trade agreement that would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. According to the Associated Press (AP), legislators in the US and Canada demanded Mexico change labor laws that allow wages as low as $1 to $2 per hour at manufacturing plants.

Lawmakers hoped that including labor laws in the new trade deal would improve working conditions in Mexico and discourage US manufacturers from moving their factories across the border. The USMCA has not yet been approved by lawmakers in the three countries.

Mexico was the only nation in Latin America that did not grant workers the legal right to organize freely. The new bill was passed by Mexico’s lower house early in April, while the Senate voted unanimously in favor of the bill on Monday. The country’s labor force was long overdue for change, as pro-government unions signed contracts that enforced low pay and organizing plants without informing workers. Mexico’s minimum wage of roughly $4.15 for a day’s work has enticed US manufacturers to move their factories south of the border.

Prior to the new law, companies were able to sign contracts with pro-government union representatives before they even opened a plant, the AP reported. Workers were either unaware they had unions at their plants, or faced retaliation when they attempted to create their own labor union. They were also forced to vote publicly in front of union enforcers or not allowed to vote on issues at all.

Now, Mexico will establish a government agency to enforce workers’ legal right to unionize and bargain collectively. It will also establish independent courts to replace a labor board in order to resolve disputes and register contracts, said Lower House Majority Leader Mario Delgado, according to Bloomberg.

Although the new law is endorsed by all of Mexico’s main political parties, it does not enjoy the same support from Mexican business leaders, Vox reported. Gustavo de Hoyos, president of Coparmex, told El Universal that companies and workers should not celebrate the new law because it was dictated by the US instead of national lawmakers.

“It won’t bring growth and doesn’t incentivize investment,” de Hoyos told the newspaper. López Obrador said it is now up to the US government to ratify USMCA. “Mexico made a commitment, and we followed through with it,” the Mexican president said Tuesday. “Now it’s up to members of Congress in the US to finish it.”

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.