By Daina Beth Solomon

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – U.S. labor officials on Wednesday asked Mexico to probe whether workers at a Panasonic auto parts factory were denied labor rights, marking the third U.S. labor complaint under a new trade deal that aims to improve workplace conditions in Mexico.

The request from the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) comes after a Mexican union last month petitioned the U.S. government to probe Panasonic’s plant in the northern border city of Reynosa, alleging violations of the 2020 United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said in a letter to Mexico’s Economy Minister Tatiana Clouthier that the agency was concerned workers were being denied rights to free association and collective bargaining at Panasonic Automotive Systems de Mexico.

Panasonic Corp of North America said in a statement it “respects and supports the rights of freedom of association and collective bargaining for our employees” and that it did not believe it denied these rights.

The unit of the Japanese industrial conglomerate said it would “continue to comply with all legal requirements … and cooperate with authorities as requested by the Mexican Government in its review.”

Tai noted that two previous labor complaints, also filed under the USMCA’s “Rapid Response Mechanism” that aims to swiftly resolve disputes, led to benefits for workers.

“When concerns arise, we will work swiftly to stand up for workers on both sides of the border,” Tai said in a statement.

Mexico’s economy and labor ministries did not immediately respond to requests for comment. The Mexican government has 10 days to agree whether to conduct a review.

The Mexican union that requested the inquiry, SNITIS, accused Panasonic of signing a union contract behind workers’ backs and of firing several dozen employees who protested.

(Reporting by Daina Beth Solomon; additional reporting by David Shepardson in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese and David Gregorio)