WASHINGTON – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today announced that the United States has, for the first time ever, requested a Rapid Response Labor Mechanism (RRM) panel under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). The panel pertains to a labor dispute at the San Martin mine in the Mexican state of Zacatecas. The San Martin mine is a lead, zinc, and copper mine, owned and operated by the Grupo Mexico conglomerate.
Today’s announcement follows a request the United States sent to Mexico on June 16, 2023, asking Mexico to review whether workers at the San Martin mine were being denied the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
The United States and Mexico have worked cooperatively to address labor rights violations at numerous Mexican facilities under other RRM matters, but have been unable to reach agreement in this matter. As such, the United States has determined that it is appropriate to request a panel to verify the facility’s compliance with Mexican labor laws and determine whether a denial of rights has occurred.
“This announcement upholds the Biden-Harris Administration’s commitment to creating a more level playing field for workers to feel empowered and using every enforcement tool at our disposal to safeguard workers’ rights,” said Ambassador Katherine Tai. “The RRM has proved to be a critical instrument for defending the free exercise of freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. While we are always open to collaborating with Mexico to find a resolution, our priority is delivering meaningful outcomes for workers.”
“Today’s action reflects our commitment to seek remedies for workers using all the tools the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement provides,” said Deputy Undersecretary for International Labor Affairs Thea Lee. “We look forward to working closely with the Mexican government to resolve this complex matter and to reinforce our shared interest in protecting workers’ rights, such as freedom of association and the right to strike.”
The United States Trade Representative and the Secretary of Labor co-chair the Interagency Labor Committee for Monitoring and Enforcement (ILC). On May 15, 2023, the ILC received an RRM petition from the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), the United Steel Workers (USW), and the Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores Mineros, Metalúrgicos, Siderúgicos y Similares de la República Mexicana (Los Mineros), a Mexican union. The petition alleged that Grupo Mexico has resumed operations at the San Martin mine despite an ongoing strike and engaged in collective bargaining with a coalition of workers despite the fact that Los Mineros holds the right to represent workers for purposes of collective bargaining. The ILC reviews RRM petitions that it receives, and the accompanying information, within 30 days.
The ILC, in response to the petition, determined that there was sufficient, credible evidence of a denial of rights enabling the good faith invocation of enforcement mechanisms. As a result, the United States Trade Representative submitted a request to Mexico that Mexico review whether workers at the San Martin mine facility were being denied the right to freedom of association and collective bargaining. Mexico had ten days to agree to conduct a review and, after agreeing to do so, 45 days to complete the review.
At the conclusion of its 45-day review period, Mexico disagreed with the United States and found no denial of rights to exist. The United States disagrees with this determination and is therefore requesting establishment of an RRM panel to review the situation.
In connection with the U.S. request, Ambassador Tai directed the Secretary of the Treasury to suspend the final settlement of customs accounts related to entries of goods from the San Martin facility. That suspension remains in place.
A copy of the panel request can be found here.