Mexican Workers at Tridonex Factory Vote for Independent Union

Published May 24, 2022
by Elizabeth Torres

Mexican workers at the Tridonex auto parts factory in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, voted to join an independent union on February 28.

Tridonex, a subsidiary of Pennsylvania-based Cardone Industries, refits second-hand car parts for sale in the United States and Canada.

Workers cast 1,126 votes for the Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y Servicios “Movimiento 20/32”  or National Independent Union of Industry and Service workers 20/32 Movement (SNITIS), while 176 voted for the incumbent Industrial Union of Workers in Maquiladora and Assembly Plants (SITPME in Spanish). There were 1,632 workers eligible to cast ballots.

The incumbent SITPME union is affiliated with the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), which is Mexico’s largest labor federation and closely tied to Mexico’s former ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI).

The maquiladora had a “protection contract” with the CTM -affiliated union, which protects the company not the workers, with a company-controlled union.

The workers wanted a union that they control, independent from the company.

When workers began organizing the union, the company responded by firing hundreds of union supporters, in violation of labor law.

The state government of Tamaulipas aided the company’s efforts by ignoring requests to schedule a democratic vote by Tridonex workers.

The state government then filed trumped-up criminal charges against the workers’ attorney, Susana Prieto Terrazas, and imprisoned her at the state penitentiary.

Since released on account of world-wide protest, she is now barred from entering the state of Tamaulipas.

Prieto said in a Facebook video that the CTM-union was offering 500 pesos to workers if they snapped photos of their ballot as evidence to show that they voted for the CTM-affiliated SITPME.

The free trade agreement, the United States-Mexico-Canada-Agreement (USMCA), includes provisions for the right to free association and collective bargaining obligations and the implementation of Mexico’s new labor law.

The new Mexican labor law is supposed to eliminate “protection unions” and their bogus collective bargaining agreements with companies that lock in low wages and working standards without workers’ consent.

The election at Tridonex comes three years after more than 35,000 workers in Matamoros went out in wildcat strikes as part of the “20/32 movement” that won a 20 percent wage hike and 32,000 pesos ($1,600) bonuses.

The labor law reform also creates new labor courts in Mexico, under the judicial branch, to replace the tripartite conciliation and arbitration boards that served to uphold the protection contract system.

Back in 2019, workers at Tridonex organizing the new independent union SNITIS filed a petition with the local labor board to take over the collective bargaining agreement, which should have triggered an election. Instead, the labor board refused to acknowledge the petition.

A group of 400 workers rallied outside the Matamoros labor board to demand that it hold a vote for their independent union at the plant. This led to the governor and state authorities charging, arresting and jailing their lawyer, Prieto. Tridonex fired more than 600 supporters of the independent union between April and October of 2020.

“Tridonex workers are suffering from the abuses of a corrupt and criminal union leader, who is protected by the company so that it can continue providing precarious wages and working conditions,” Prieto said at the time.

The USMCA created a new “Rapid Response” enforcement mechanism that provides for targeted penalties, including blocking goods at the border after repeated violations, against companies that continue to deny workers’ freedom of association.

SNITIS, and the AFL-CIO, Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and Public Citizen in the United States, filed a complaint on May 10, 2021 that Tridonex denied workers their rights which triggered the “Rapid Response” mechanism.

This case provided a critical test of whether the USMCA and Mexico’s new labor law could deliver on the promise to protect Mexican workers’ right to organize and empower them to bargain for better wages and working conditions.

Three months later, the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) and Tridonex announced an agreement to address allegations filed on behalf of employees at Tridonex, following the request for review under the Rapid Response Labor Mechanism that the United States sent to Mexico on June 9, 2021.

The company agreed to provide severance and nine months back pay to 154 workers, totaling $600,000, or the equivalent of $4,000 per worker.

It made a commitment to remain neutral in union elections and the federal labor board oversaw the election.

Prieto said in a Facebook video that the CTM-union was offering 500 pesos to workers if they snapped photos of their ballot as evidence to show that they voted for the CTM-affiliated SITPME.

U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Ron Wyden (D-OR) issued the following statements, “For two years, workers at Tridonex have been harassed and fired for trying to organize with the independent Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y Servicios “Movimiento 20/32” (SNITIS) union, an independent Mexican union of their choice, to replace a corrupt “protection” union (2022).”

 “Tridonex auto-parts plant in Matamoros voted overwhelmingly in favor of the independent union Sindicato Nacional Independiente de Trabajadores de Industrias y Servicios “Movimiento 20/32.”  SNITIS, an independent Mexican union, will replace the incumbent “protection” union.”

Action Steps

  1. Sign this petition to support VU workers in Piedras Negras, Coahuila.
  2. Support VU Workers in Piedras Negras, Coahuila.

Additional Materials
  1. Read about how Panasonic workers in Mexico have won a battle for labor rights.