Biden administration ‘unfairly’ intervenes in Mexican labor dispute to push political agenda

The Biden administration has stuck its nose into a central Mexican labor dispute at a major mine that produces a significant amount of Mexico’s supplies of zinc, lead, and copper.

“Powerful labor unions” are backing the White House’s move, according to Fox News Digital (FND).

FND reports:

The United States Trade Representative (USTR), which is housed in the White House, is pursuing the case by leveraging a little-used tool in the 2020 United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

The Rapid Response Labor Mechanism (RRM), is a provision that allows the government to take enforcement action against factories if they fail to comply with domestic freedom of association and collective bargaining laws. As part of its effort, the USTR successfully convened the first-ever RRM tribunal to review concerns brought by labor officials in the U.S. and Mexico.

According to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, her office’s initial motion to convene the tribunal is a testament to “the Biden-Harris administration’s commitment” to protecting workers’ rights.

“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,” she said.

“However, the process has faced considerable pushback from the Mexican government, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the owner of the mine, Grupo Mexico, which has argued the U.S. government doesn’t have jurisdiction in the dispute,” FND reports. “Critics have also warned the process, which is expected to conclude with a ruling as early as Friday, has lacked transparency.”

FND provides historical context:

The case dates back more than a decade and a half when, in 2007, the powerful Mexican miners’ union Los Mineros went on strike at Grupo Mexico’s San Martin mine in Sombrerete, Zacatecas, which produces a high quantity of Mexico’s lead, zinc and copper supplies. The strike was related, in part, to safety conditions at the site.

According to legal filings reviewed by Fox News Digital, the San Martin mine reopened 11 years later, in 2018, when the mine’s operator struck a deal with Los Trabajadores Coaligados, a coalition of workers that voted to return to work and end the strike. In June 2023, the Mexican Conciliation and Arbitration Board, a government panel, confirmed in a ruling that the strike was over and San Martin could operate as normal.

Still, that same month, USTR invoked the USMCA’s RRM and requested the Mexican government review whether workers at the mine were being denied their rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining. The request was in response to a petition filed by Los Mineros alongside the AFL-CIO and the United Steel Workers (USW).

On Aug. 22, 2023, despite Mexico’s assertion that the case was outside the scope of the USMCA, USTR formally requested the first-ever RRM tribunal.

“Once again, Joe Biden is failing to promote fair trade or prioritize U.S. trade interests,” Rep. Carol Miller, (R-W. Va.), a member of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade told Fox News Digital in a written statement.

Miller has previously warned Tai against abusing the provision

“The Biden administration’s choice to use RRM to reopen already settled labor disputes that have no impact on American industry,” Miller told FND, “demonstrates a lack of seriousness in their trade agenda.”

Or does it?

The White House’s interest in the case may go back much further than 2007.

In a 2014 paper titled, “National Labor Movements and Transnational Connections: Global Labor’s Evolving Architecture Under Neoliberalism,” Peter Evans suggests that U.S. “interests” and Los Mineros General-Secretary Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, who, according to FND stands to benefit from the White House’s intervention, may have converged as far back as 1989 at a strike at Mexico’s Cananea copper mine.

Gomez Urrutia, FND notes, “is facing criminal charges and was ordered by a Mexican court to pay $54 million in an alleged embezzlement scheme.”

Evans wrote in 2014:

Faced with government repression in the iconic 1989 strike at the Cananea copper mine, Mexico’s Mineros were still not ready to make alliances with U.S. unions part of their strategy. By 2005, a series of virulent attacks from the Mexican state had changed their minds. They signed a strategic alliance with the USW [United Steelworkers], affiliated with both the IMF (International Metalworkers Federation) and the ICEM [International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers’ Unions], and held a one-day solidarity strike to support of a USW strike at the U.S. subsidiary of Grupo Mexico (Davis, 2012: 506).

By the following year, government prosecutions had forced Mineros President Napoleon Gomez Urrutia into exile in Canada where he relied on support by the USW.

In 2010, USW President Leo Gerard and Gomez Urrutia announced a commission to explore the formation of a single North American Union. The single North American union has not materialized, but if it were to become reality it would add roughly 200,000 Mineros to the roughly 800,000 USW members in the U.S. and Canada to create one of the largest unions in the hemisphere.

If the USW-Mineros alliance further illustrates the potential benefits of the new U.S. transnationalism for unions in the South, the support that USW received as a result of its membership in the Gerdau Workers World Council (GWWC) is one of the best examples of how U.S. unions can become the beneficiaries of reverse whipsawing.


“USTR should have never brought this RRLM case because it is jurisdictionally defective, and there has been no denial of rights at the mine,” said Jonathan Stoel, according to FND.

A partner at the law firm Hogan Lovells, which represents the San Martin mine, Stoel argues, “The RRLM process since the June 2023 petition has been conducted unfairly by the U.S. government and has been rife with procedural violations. The U.S. government’s own documents that were made public as a result of our FOIA request revealed that USTR rejected a similar petition containing the same facts in 2020 and confirmed that this petition is more about politics than alleged labor violations.”

And, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, “The U.S. government’s pursuit of this case violates a central principle upon which the U.S. legal system was built. The principle is that laws do not have retroactive effect unless the lawmakers expressly specify otherwise.”

“The facts upon which the U.S. government relies to support its case involving the San Martín mine occurred before the USMCA was negotiated, prior to the USMCA’s passage by the U.S. Congress, and prior to its entry into force,” the chamber said in a November brief.

“Overall, the case, which may ultimately lead to the forcible closure of the San Martin mine, could have a major impact on the local economy in Sombrerete and Mexico’s economy at large,” FND reports. “The mine employs about 1,000 workers and, last year, the mine produced more than 1.4 million tons of lead, zinc, copper and silver, key minerals for a wide variety of technologies and products, according to financial filings.”

“And it could further benefit Los Mineros General-Secretary Napoleon Gomez Urrutia, who is facing criminal charges and was ordered by a Mexican court to pay $54 million in an alleged embezzlement scheme, Mexico Business News previously reported,” the outlet adds. “One of Los Mineros’ demands to end the San Martin strike was for the Mexican federal government to drop its charges against Urrutia.”

Melissa Fine


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