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In Mexico autos town, labor rights falter despite U.S. trade deal

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By Daina Beth Solomon

MATAMOROS, Mexico (Reuters) – After successfully staging a wildcat strike for higher wages in 2019, many workers at the Tridonex auto-parts plant in the Mexican city of Matamoros, across the border from Texas, set their sights higher: replacing the union that they say failed to fight for them.

Six workers at the factory, which refits second-hand car parts for sale in the United States and Canada, told Reuters they felt let down that their union, SITPME, did not back their demands for better pay. About 400 Tridonex workers protested outside a Matamoros labor court last year to be allowed to switch unions.

When the first protests broke out in 2019, many of the plant’s roughly 4,000 workers earned just above the then-minimum wage of 176.72 pesos ($8.82) a day.

The Tridonex workers and thousands more at other Matamoros factories walked off the job demanding a 20% raise and 32,000-peso bonus, many without union backing. In nearly all cases, the companies conceded.

“This showed us what we were capable of,” said Edgar Salazar, then a Tridonex employee. “We know we have rights, but the union just wants to cash in. It doesn’t support us at all.”

Jesus Mendoza, SITPME’s long-time leader, said his union generated jobs and delivered perks to its members while maintaining harmonious relationships with employers.

However, Salazar and many of his Tridonex colleagues wanted to throw their support behind a new organization led by activist and attorney Susana Prieto.

But their efforts are failing, labor experts acknowledge.

Dismantling the power of Mexico’s entrenched unions is proving a tough challenge, some labor activists say, with few signs that reforms promised under a new North American trade deal are yet charting an easier course.

Amid resistance from SITPME, the Tridonex workers’ request to be represented by Prieto’s union has still not been put to a vote. Legal challenges by attorney Prieto to replace unions at 45 other factories in the area have also stalled.

When Prieto urged strikes in January to again demand higher pay, just a few hundred people protested across a handful of companies.

“They’re scared, because they don’t have anyone to defend them,” Prieto said. According to Prieto, about 600 of her supporters at Tridonex — including Salazar — were fired between April and October 2020. Reuters could not independently confirm this.

Cardone Industries, Tridonex’s Philadelphia-based parent, did not respond to a question about allegations of retaliation.

It says layoffs were made due to reduced demand following pandemic lockdowns but did not provide further details. Cardone is controlled by Canadian company Brookfield Asset Management.

SLOW PROGRESS

Leftist President Manuel Andres Lopez Obrador passed a law in 2019 guaranteeing workers the right to independent unions. Though strong on paper, it does not come fully into effect until 2023.

“The law in general is very good. But that doesn’t mean we’re going to get any change in Mexico anytime soon,” said Kimberly Nolan, a labor scholar at the Latin American Faculty of Social Sciences research institute.

Some of the Matamoros workers are now looking to the United States for backing.

A new free trade deal between Mexico, the United States and Canada (USMCA) implemented last year enshrined workers’ rights to choose which union administers their collective contract.

With Democrat Joe Biden now president, Mexico may come under close scrutiny to uphold the USMCA’s pro-worker provisions, which were partly designed to prevent low labor costs from leeching more U.S. jobs.

Under the treaty, companies failing to ensure freedom of association for workers in Mexico could be sanctioned with tariffs and other penalties.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which runs U.S. trade policy, did not respond to a question of how the Biden administration would treat violations of the trade pact’s labor measures.

But Katherine Tai, head of the agency, said last week she was “not afraid” to use the enforcement provisions of the USMCA, without specifying which issues could come under review.

The powerful U.S. union federation, the AFL-CIO, told Reuters in April it was drafting cases against companies in Mexico under USMCA, and would make details public in May.

Matamoros is one of a string of Mexican border cities which American firms were lured to by cheap labor in recent decades. Its factories supply parts for General Motors Co, Toyota Motor Corp, Stellantis and other automakers.

Booming trade with the United States has brought jobs to areas of northern Mexico but labor rights lag.

Companies in Mexico have commonly fired workers, among other tactics, rather than allow them to agitate for new unions, say activists, scholars and government officials.

“They fire them; they suppress them. They stop giving extra hours. They don’t give bonuses. They change them to night shift,” said Alfredo Dominguez, head of the Federal Center of Conciliation and Labor Registration, created under the labor reform to ensure collective contracts are legitimate.

One of the labor ministry’s priorities is to eliminate so-called “protection contracts,” signed between unions and employers without workers’ prior consultation or knowledge, which Dominguez said make up at least 80% of all collective contracts in Mexico.

The labor reform, once implemented, will also do away with local panels blamed by labor activists for long delays in the process of establishing new unions like Prieto’s. The boards will be replaced with tribunals reporting to the judicial branch.

NEW TACTICS

Frustrated by delays in setting up a new union, hundreds of Tridonex workers early in 2020 opted for a new tactic: declaring they no longer wanted to pay dues to the established union, SITPME. After several tense protests, Tridonex consented.

Then firings began, four workers told Reuters.

In March 2020, Efren Ruiz, who cleaned and assembled brake parts for Tridonex and was a vocal advocate of Prieto’s union, was dismissed.

“This is reprisal,” Ruiz remembered telling a supervisor, before security guards escorted him out, he said.

Three other workers also said they believed their union activism led to their dismissals. A government record seen by Reuters, dated October 30, 2020, shows Tridonex dismissed 717 people from April to October last year.

Reuters was unable to determine if any have been hired back since. Mexico’s Social Security Institute, which tracks employment, said it could not comment on individual companies.

Prieto said the firings were retaliation by the company to protect SITPME and prevent more strikes for better pay.

SITPME leader Mendoza described complaints of retaliation as “lies.” Cardone said in a statement the staff reduction was due to a drop in demand and was “managed through transparent and constructive discussions with employees and relevant trade unions.”

SITPME – which extols membership perks such as medical and legal aid – said it lured back at least 3,000 people from different companies who had supported Prieto’s breakaway group. Reuters could not independently confirm this.

Mendoza noted that he strives for dialogue with companies, not strikes: “What we do well is guarantee labor peace and efficiency in the workforce.”

 

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; additional reporting by Ben Klayman in Detroit and David Lawder in Washington; Editing by Christian Plumb, Daniel Flynn and Alistair Bell)

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Basketball trailblazer denied Canadian permanent residency, must return to U.S. – CBC.ca

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Bilquis Abdul-Qaadir, the trailblazing basketball player who set up an academy for girls and coached multiple sports at an Islamic school in London, Ont., has been denied permanent residency in Canada and will have to go back to the United States. 

“We’ve been here for two years, my son is Canadian, and we would love to be part of this country, but we finally got the message from immigration that we were denied permanent residency. It’s very unexpected,” said Abdul Qaadir from her London home. “I’m at a loss for words. I’ve single-handedly brought sports to an underserviced community. It’s heartbreaking.”

Abdul-Qaadir and her husband, A.W. Massey, moved to London from Tennessee three years ago.

She said she hasn’t been able to work in Canada since August, when her work permit expired and wasn’t renewed by a Canadian border official. 

“We’re still trying to figure out what we’re going to do. We aren’t sure. We’re angry and we’re tired. We put our heart and soul into this application. We felt like we checked all the boxes.” 

Bilqis Abdul-Qaadir and her husband, A.W. Massey, moved to London, Ont. three years ago from Tennessee. (Submitted by A.W. Massey)

Abdul-Qaadir led a four-year battle against the International Basketball Federation, which banned religious head coverings on the court. She won, but sacrificed her basketball career to do so.

She had been the leading high school point scorer for both boys and girls in Massachusetts, and went on to play for the University of Memphis in Tennessee, where she was the first woman to play in a hijab in NCAA Division 1. 

Alongside her motivational speaking gigs, she teaches at the London Islamic School and has opened a basketball academy in London, but all that is now up in the air. 

On Thursday, Abdul-Qaadir got a letter from Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) that said she doesn’t “meet the requirements for immigration to Canada.” 

She applied for permanent residency as an athletic director at the London Muslim Mosque, but her duties — including developing, managing and supervising the school’s physical education and athletic programs, as well as being the head coach for the basketball, volleyball and cross-country teams — are “inconsistent with the actions” of an athletic director. 

“I am not satisfied that your stated duties is sufficient to indicate that your role involves plan, organize, direct, control and evaluate the operations of comprehensive fitness programs at this organization. I am also not satisfied that you performed a substantial number of the main duties for this [job classification],” IRCC wrote in her letter.   

Abdul-Qaadir said she doesn’t know if she and her husband will fight the refusal. 

Abdul-Qaadir set the state record for the highest all-time high school scorer for men and women in Massachusetts. ( Jamie Schwaberow/NCAA Photographer)

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

(CBC)

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Mastercard expands cryptocurrency services with wallets, loyalty rewards

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Mastercard Inc said on Monday it would allow partners on its network to enable their consumers to buy, sell and hold cryptocurrency using a digital wallet, as well as reward them with digital currencies under loyalty programs.

The credit card giant said it would offer these services in partnership with Bakkt Holdings Inc, the digital assets platform founded by NYSE-owner Intercontinental Exchange.

Founded in 2018, Bakkt went public earlier this year through a $2.1 billion merger with a blank-check company. Shares of the company were up 77% at $16.19 on Monday.

Mastercard said its partners can also allow customers earn and spend rewards in cryptocurrency instead of loyalty points.

The company had said in February https://www.reuters.com/article/us-crypto-currency-mastercard-idUSKBN2AA2WF it would begin offering support for some cryptocurrencies on its network this year.

Last year, rival Visa Inc had partnered https://www.reuters.com/article/us-blockfi-crypto-currency-visa-idUSKBN28B603 with cryptocurrency startup BlockFi to offer a credit card that lets users earn bitcoin on purchases.

Bitcoin, the world’s largest cryptocurrency, touched a record high of $67,016 last week after the debut of the first U.S. bitcoin futures-based exchange traded fund. It has more than doubled in value this year.

 

(Reporting by Niket Nishant in Bengaluru; Editing by Ramakrishnan M.)

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Huawei CFO Meng Wanzhou returns to work in Shenzhen, after extradition drama – Global Times

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Meng Wanzhou, CFO of Huawei Technologies, returned to work at the tech giant’s headquarters in Shenzhen on Monday after almost three years fighting extradition to the U.S. in Canada, state-backed Chinese newspaper Global Times reported.

Meng, the daughter of Huawei’s founder Ren Zhengfei, completed three weeks of quarantine last week after returning to the southern city of Shenzhen where a crowd of well-wishers chanting patriotic slogans awaited her at the airport.

“Over the last three years, although we have struggled, we have overcome obstacles and our team has fought with more and more courage,” she said in a speech at an internal company event that was circulated online.

The extradition drama had been a central source of discord between Beijing and Washington, with Chinese officials signalling that the case had to be dropped to help end a diplomatic stalemate.

Meng was detained in December 2018 in Vancouver after a New York court issued an arrest warrant, saying she tried to cover up attempts by Huawei-linked companies to sell equipment to Iran in breach of U.S. sanctions.

She was allowed to go home after reaching an agreement https://www.reuters.com/technology/huawei-cfo-meng-appear-court-expected-reach-agreement-with-us-source-2021-09-24 with U.S. prosecutors last month to end a bank fraud case against her.

 

(Reporting by David Kirton; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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