US requests labor rights investigation at mining company Grupo México in Zacatecas

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On Friday, June 16th, United States labor officials requested a labor rights review at a Grupo México-owned mine in the community of San Martín, located in the municipality of Sombrerete, Zacatecas. 

The U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) requested that the Mexican government investigate allegations that Grupo México violated workers’ rights at the mine, which extracts lead, zinc, and copper. 

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai made the complaint in a letter to Mexico’s Economy Minister Raquel Buenrostro under the “rapid response” labor mechanism of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).  

“This mechanism complements Mexico’s labor reforms as our governments work together to create real and tangible change. We are grateful to our stakeholder partners for promptly raising these issues and look forward to working with the Government of Mexico in the weeks ahead,” the DOL said in a statement

Under the USMCA’s rapid-response regulations, the U.S. can request a review of a foreign company that exports to the United States. The mine also has a U.S. connection: Industrial Minera México, which runs the mine, is a subsidiary of Americas Mining Corporation, a holding company that also owns an 89% share in Southern Copper Corporation, based in Phoenix, Arizona. 

The request for a review follows a joint complaint made in May by the Los Mineros union and two U.S. labor organizations — the AFL-CIO and United Steelworkers. 

signing of USMCA agreement in 2018
The USMCA free trade agreement, signed in 2018, commits Mexico to improving labor conditions and respecting bargaining rights for workers. (Ron Przysucha/U.S. Department of State)

The groups claim that Grupo México continued operations in the San Martín mine during a strike, thereby violating the right to collective bargaining and freedom of association. Workers also said the company negotiated with employees who did not have the right to represent the mine’s workforce 

The strike at the San Martin mine — which began in 2007 over safety conditions — has lasted between 12 and 16 years, depending on which side you talk to. The union says that the mine reopened illegally in May 2019 because the collective bargaining contract that ended the strike was not valid. 

“Respect for a union’s status as the exclusive collective bargaining representative and its right to strike are critical components of Mexico’s labor reform,” said U.S. Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs Thea Lee. 

“We value our partnership with the Mexican government and look forward to resolving this matter in a manner that preserves the rights of workers.” 

Approximately 1,000 people are employed at the mine. 

Mexico now has 10 days to agree to carry out the review, which must be completed within 45 days. Penalties for denying workers’ rights include the suspension of preferential tariffs or denial of entry into the U.S. of goods manufactured at that facility. 

This is the 11th labor complaint launched by the U.S. under the rapid response mechanism and the sixth this year. Nine have corresponded to the automotive sector, one to the clothing sector, and one to the mining sector. 

This Monday, the U.S. government also filed a complaint against the Mexican garment manufacturing company Industrias del Interior, accusing it of failing to bargain in good faith with the union over alleged human rights abuses at a factory in the state of Aguascalientes.

Source: El Economista

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