MEXICO CITY -- Mexico's lower house of Congress has approved a labor law reform aimed at ensuring workers can freely vote for their union representation and contracts.
The changes are needed to win approval of the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which was negotiated to replace the old NAFTA accord.
Mexico's labor movement has long been stymied, and wages kept low, by pro-government unions that sign contracts and organize plants behind workers' backs.
The bill approved late Thursday now goes to the Senate. It requires secret-ballot union votes and proof of workers' consent for contracts.
For decades, unions — many of whose leaders were members of the old ruling party — were so secretive that employees often didn't know that a union even existed at their workplace.
Labor Secretary Luisa Maria Alcalde said that with the new law, "we want to change the outmoded model we have had in this country."
Since President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador took office on Dec. 1, there have been dozens of strikes in the northern border city of Matamoros, sparked in part by Lopez Obrador's decision to double the minimum wage in border areas.
"The labor model has regained a place at center stage that it never should have lost," said Alcalde.
Business groups did not get some of the safeguards they wanted in the law, like a 'right-to work' clause that would allow workers not to belong to any union.
"There are still issues that should be corrected by the Senate," wrote the head of the Mexican employers' federation, Gustavo de Hoyos.