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Labor group sends academics to Mexico for historic GM union vote

Mexican labor authorities had also asked executives of the International Labor Organization to observe, but the invitation was turned down due to time constraints.

SILAO, Mexico (CN) — Two U.S. labor experts will be among the nearly 60 independent observers of a landmark labor referendum underway at a General Motors plant in Silao, Guanajuato. 

Scott Nova, executive director of the Worker Rights Consortium, and Kendy Rivera, an analyst at the Labor Center for the University of California, Los Angeles, applied for and were approved to act as independent observers of the vote, according to a press release by the Federal Center for Conciliation and Labor Registration.

The federal institute also approved two other U.S. labor leaders — Daniel DiMaggio, of the news website Labor Notes, and UCLA professor Gaspar Rivera-Salgado — but they had to decline after contracting Covid-19, according to union sources close to the matter. 

In a press release from Wednesday, the center indicated it had invited Guy Ryder, director general of the International Labor Organization, and Pedro Américo, head of that organization’s office for Mexico and Cuba, but both declined to attend. 

An ILO spokesperson told Courthouse News that neither Ryder nor Américo had applied to be an observer and that they declined due to not having sufficient advance notice. 

“Our participation in these exercises always occurs at the request and with the consent of all parties,” the spokesperson said. 

“In this case, we didn’t have enough time … to allocate the necessary resources or optimally prepare the observation mission.”

The other approved observers are 41 representatives from Mexico’s National Electoral Institute, four from the National Human Rights Commission, nine support staff, and one from the Secretary of Public Education. 

Members of international unions told Courthouse News that they had also applied, but their requests were denied without any official reasons provided. 

Observers “will be in a condition to observe the vote” and “produce a report of activities upon conclusion of their work in the democratic union procedures,” according to a press release from Friday.

They must also refrain from interfering with the proceedings, as well as carrying out “propaganda of any kind,” or supporting or undermining any one side in the vote. 

While not explicitly stated in Friday’s press release, the observers’ presence in the GM facilities will be meant to deter or report on any intimidation or other acts aimed at influencing employees’ votes by members of the company or the competing unions. 

The weeks leading up to the vote were mostly tranquil, with no complaints of intimidation sent to the Federal Center for Conciliation and Labor Registration. That calm was shattered on Sunday, however, when two unidentified men knocked on the front door of Alejandra Morales, secretary general of SINTTIA, an independent union vying to represent the workers.

Morales wasn’t home when they visited, but she suspects the men came on behalf of one of the other three unions on the ballot.  

"Don’t show up," was the vague but threatening message they left with the union leader’s mother for Morales and others on SINTTIA’s executive committee. “For their own safety,” the message continued.

“They didn’t give specifics — no matter how much my mother asked — except to say that those who sent them hadn’t said anything further,” said Morales, who was in a union meeting at the time. 

Morales was visibly shaken in a Facebook Live video recorded Sunday as she recounted what her mother had told her.

“Today I want to issue this denunciation: anything that happens to me or any other member of the executive committee reflects directly on the other three unions that are fighting for the collective contract, as well as the company,” said Morales. 

“I believe this is a direct threat against all of us workers, for which I ask the corresponding authorities to protect us. It is not just. We are only demanding a right granted us by law," she added.

In a statement to Courthouse News, GM did not comment directly on the incident, but said it “has been absolutely committed to working with the Mexican authorities, the work force, vote observers and all partners including the Administration [of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador] and U.S. Congress to provide the environment for a free and fair election by the workers of Silao. This includes reporting for investigation any allegations of harassment or intimidation.”

The vote at the GM plant, where two daily 12-hour shifts keep production running 24/7, will begin at 5 a.m. Tuesday morning and end at 10 p.m. Wednesday night. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story erroneously stated that the approved observers were officials at the U.S. State Department.

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