August 31, 2023

Mexican cargo airline accused of labor violations under USMCA


A U.S. panel tasked with enforcing labor provisions of the United States-Mexico-Canada free trade agreement has asked the government of Mexico to investigate whether cargo airline Mas has denied the right of pilots to organize for bargaining purposes.

The Department of Labor said Wednesday an interagency committee received a complaint last month from Mexico’s Associated Union of Aviation Pilots (ASPA) that Mas, which rebranded last year from MasAir, engaged in intimidation, interference and reprisals, including the dismissal of eight pilots who tried to affiliate with the union. ASPA also alleged that Mas officials tried to influence the outcome of a vote to ratify a collective bargaining agreement in favor of the Aviation Workers Union, which currently represents employees.

The USMCA, which entered into force in 2020, included the most far-reaching protections of workers’ rights and enforcement mechanisms of any trade agreement. Under a new labor reform law enacted by Mexico to implement the trade deal, employers must allow workers to organize, form and join the union of their choice. USMCA also added a rapid response mechanism to provide for an independent panel investigation of labor violations at businesses, instead of a government inspection.

The U.S. Interagency Labor Committee, chaired by Labor and the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, found evidence that Mas violated freedom of association and collective bargaining rights, the Labor Department said in a news release. It has the power to impose sanctions, including tariffs, but will involve the Mexican government before taking any action.

The request to Mexico is the first use of the rapid response mechanism in the services sector. The U.S. has previously sought reviews of potential labor violations at manufacturing and mining companies. On Aug. 23, the U.S. made the first-ever request to go all the way to forming a dispute panel in a case against Grupo Mexico’s San Martin Mine in Zacatecas.

“Workers’ ability to affiliate with the union of their choice is a key tenet of the freedom of association and collective bargaining rights the RRLM [Rapid Response Labor Mechanism] is designed to protect,” said U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai. “Today’s action highlights that the United States is committed to safeguarding the labor rights enshrined in the USMCA across industries and sectors, including in services. We look forward to working closely with the Government of Mexico to address the issues present in this matter.”

Mexico has 10 days to decide whether to conduct a review and 45 days to investigate the claims and present its findings.

“We take this matter with the utmost seriousness and are committed to working closely with the  relevant government agencies in the U.S. and Mexico to thoroughly address the concerns raised in the complaint,” Mas said in a statement provided to FreightWaves. “We are committed to adhering to fair labor standards and providing a safe working environment for all our employees. Our operations adhere to applicable national and international laws and regulations, including those related to labor rights, as mandated by the USMCA.”

The statement continued: “We believe strongly in fostering positive relationships with our employees and the community, valuing diversity, and inclusion, and promoting responsible business practices throughout our supply chain. Our dedication to upholding these principles is unwavering, and we will take corrective action if deficiencies are found. … It is important that our customers, employees, and business partners be assured that this process does not affect our operations in any way and that we will continue to provide our services as normal.”

Mexico City-based Mas employs about 340 workers, including 100 pilots, and operates six medium freighters: two Airbus A330-200 and two A330-300 converted cargo jets, plus two 767-300s. It retired its only 767-200 in July, according to Cargo Facts. An Airbus affiliate will convert two more A330-300s and deliver them in late 2023 and early 2024. 

Mas began operating from Felipe Angeles International Airport outside the capital on Aug. 9, after the government banned cargo jets from Mexico City International Airport to reduce congestion.

Click here for more FreightWaves stories by Eric Kulisch.


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