Today, U.S. labor leaders applauded Mexican workers for getting rid of an allegedly corrupt union at a General Motors (GM) plant in Silao, in Guanajuato state, yesterday. They were able to do that thanks to something that U.S. unions have tried to suppress in the states: secret ballot elections in workplaces.
GM Workers at a pickup-truck plant in central Mexico voted Wednesday to scrap their existing collective bargaining agreement by a margin of about 55 to 45 percent. The vote was significant because it was a test case of provisions under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), the trade deal that President Trump negotiated to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement. The provisions were intended to force out Mexico’s supposedly protectionist unions. U.S. unions have long argued that Mexican unions were corrupt tools of management.
And what specifically was it that allowed the Mexican GM workers to kick out the existing union? “As part of the USMCA, President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador’s administration pushed through a law in 2019 that requires unions to hold votes by secret ballot to validate their labor contracts,” Bloomberg reported.
“We are using the tools negotiated in the #USMCA to protect workers’ fundamental right to bargain collectively free of interference or intimidation,” tweeted Thea Lee, the Department of Labor’s deputy undersecretary for international labor affairs and a former AFL-CIO official.
Ironically, during the Obama administration, U.S. unions fought to end having workplace organizing bids settled via secret ballot. Unions like the United Auto Workers advocated for the Employee Free Choice Act, also known as the “card check” bill. The legislation, which did not pass, stipulated that when a union presented to management enough cards signed by workers to claim majority support, then the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) would automatically certify the union as the workers’ exclusive representative.
That would have eliminated the National Labor Relations Act’s provision that stipulates that if management contests the union’s claim, then the NLRB would hold a federally monitored secret ballot vote. The election allows the workers to speak for themselves on who they want to represent them. If the union really did have the workers’ support, then then election is a formality.
Under card check, however, workers could be pressured into signing cards or have their signatures forged. Once the union gets enough cards signed, it wins and no election would be held. That invites fraud. In a 2013 case in Chattanooga, Tennessee, auto workers complained to the NLRB that UAW organizers used “misrepresentations, coercion, threats, and promises” in an attempt to get them to sign cards.
At the time, unions scorned the idea that workers needed a chance to vote in private. Yet, that was precisely what the Mexican workers needed to and ensure their rights were protected.
The United Auto Workers hailed the Mexican GM vote, stating:
The GM Silao vote proves that when given the opportunity to vote in an environment free from intimidation and deceit workers will reject pro-employer collective bargaining agreements and pro-employer protection unions, and instead chose to have a voice on the job and fight for better wages, benefits, and working conditions.
The UAW is correct, but it would be nice if it acknowledged the wrongheaded nature of its own past efforts to undermine the ability of U.S. workers to have secret ballot elections .