US seeks labor rights probe at Goodyear Tire in Mexico

A sign stands over a Goodyear Tire facility in Somerville

By Daina Beth Solomon and David Lawder

WASHINGTON/MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - U.S. labor officials on Monday said they have asked Mexico to investigate alleged worker rights abuses at a Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co plant in Mexico in the latest "rapid response" probe under North American trade rules.

The complaint from the U.S. Trade Representative's office (USTR) comes after independent Mexican union La Liga petitioned the U.S. government to open a case, arguing Goodyear employees in the central state of San Luis Potosi were offered fewer benefits than available to other workers in the rubber sector in Mexico.

Since the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement on trade, known as the USMCA, took effect in 2020, USTR has launched a number of labor rights complaints against automotive facilities in Mexico, including cases that have paved the way for new unions to secure better pay and benefits.

Goodyear workers in San Luis Potosi voted this month to reject their union contract, dealing a blow to the Confederation of Mexican Workers (CTM), one of Mexico's biggest labor organizations.

The union had faced accusations from Mexican labor authorities of having initially attempted to meddle in the process by stealing ballots.

Gonzalo Soto, 25, who has worked five years making Goodyear tires, said newly formed union La Liga will now seek to take over labor representation, aiming to ensure workers can access the full benefits promised by law to workers in Mexico's rubber industry.

Soto said he hoped the U.S. scrutiny would ensure fair treatment by his employer and rival unions, at a time when workers could be vulnerable to intimidation and threats.

"More than anything, it makes the workers' voices heard," he said. "We're on guard for any situation."

Thea Lee, deputy undersecretary for international affairs at the U.S. Labor Department, in a statement called on Goodyear to treat workers fairly.

Goodyear said the plant's employee attrition is low and wages are competitive. The tiremaker added it will work with U.S. and Mexican authorities to ensure workers can freely choose their union.

Mexican authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

(Reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Daina Beth Solomon in Mexico City; Additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Mark Porter, Chris Reese and Marguerita Choy)