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MEXICO CITY (AP) — A new independent union at a Mexican auto plant that won a historic unionization vote last year has negotiated an 8.5% wage increase for unionized workers.

Authorities said on Friday that workers at GM’s transmission and pickup plants in the northern Mexican town of Silao voted overwhelmingly to approve the new contract, which also increases benefits by 2.5 %.

The Federal Labor Commission said that in voting Wednesday and Thursday, 87% of the plant’s 6,331 unionized workers voted in favor of the new contract.

Factory workers had previously been unable to vote openly, by secret ballot, on contracts or who would represent them. The Independent Auto Workers Union, known by its Spanish initials as Sinttia, won a union organizing vote in February after ousting a former guard union last year.

The Sinttia union said the contract actually increased benefits by 5.3%. Mexico’s inflation rate was nearly 7.7% in April, meaning that all salaries and benefits combined were above inflation.

The new contract “represents a significant improvement over the working conditions we had, and an improvement in wages and benefits,” the union said in a statement.

The events at the Silao factories are seen as a major test of whether a measure of freedom has arrived in Mexico, where pro-company unions have kept wages low for decades and drained manufacturing jobs from the United States. United.

The union representation vote came only last year after the US government filed a lawsuit under the US-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Pact. Under changes to Mexican labor law required by the USMCA, workers can now in theory vote against pro-company former union bosses. But in practice, the former union bosses resisted.

One such CTM union was in power at GM’s Silao plant, and when workers voted to oust it in April, Interior Ministry inspectors “found that in offices where the union itself even had the ballot boxes, ballots that were part of the vote had been destroyed, making it impossible to continue the vote.

The violations were so egregious that the US government filed the labor complaint; the vote was postponed to August and upheld the former union’s ousting.

For nearly a century, Mexico’s unions have been largely a sham, with sold-out leaders guaranteeing low wages that have drained manufacturing jobs out of the United States. Mexican autoworkers earn between one-eighth and one-tenth the wages of their American counterparts, which has led to a massive relocation of auto factories to Mexico.

Old-fashioned union bosses were ruthless in threatening or allowing companies to fire dissident workers and often decided union votes with thugs, show of hands or shootings.

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