FAT wins wage increase after filing first rapid response complaint in garment sector

Photo: Press conference to announce the filing of the RRM complaint (FAT).

The Authentic Labour Front (FAT) has negotiated improved wages and other benefits in the existing collective bargaining agreement (CBA) at the Industrias del Interior 2000 (INISA) garment factory in Aguascalientes, Mexico. The US-owned company produces denim jeans for Walmart, Amazon and others. On July 25, 2023, the signed agreement was ratified by the union members at the plant, with 463 voting in favour and only 19 against.

The workers’ union, Sindicato de Industrias del Interior, was formerly affiliated with the Revolutionary Confederation of Mexican Workers (CRT in Spanish), but because of the CRT’s failure to defend the workers’ interests, the union’s newly-elected leadership changed their affiliation to the FAT. 

The agreement was achieved after the FAT filed a complaint under the rapid response mechanism (RRM) of the trinational trade agreement, known as USMCA in the US and CUSMA in Canada, accusing the employer with violating the workers’ right to freedom of association and to bargain collectively. 

The complaint marked the 10th time that the RRM had been invoked by the U.S. government, and the first case in Mexico’s garment sector. It was accepted by the US government on July 12, after its preliminary investigation found evidence of employer interference in the internal affairs of the union, coercion against its new leadership and pressure on workers to bypass their union and accept the employer’s wage proposal.  The Mexico government has yet to report on its investigation, which was due 45 days later. 

While the workers are waiting for the Mexican and US governments to agree on a remediation plan as part of the complaint process, they hope that the success of the CBA negotiations will be the beginning of a change in attitude by the company in recognizing and working with the new independent union.

Under the RRM, workers, unions and other interested parties can file complaints of freedom of association violations by employers in traded industries that can result in government investigations. If violations are verified, the two governments need to agree on a remediation plan to address them. Failure to remediate violations can result in trade sanctions. 

According to Benedicto Martinez of the FAT, “The rapid response mechanism has been a very useful tool for workers, but it would be preferable for employers to recognize that workers have the right to control their union and to exercise their right to freedom of association and collective bargaining, without having to force employers to respect those rights.”