U.S. Support of Foreign Unions Criticized

By Allen Smith May 3, 2013

The top Republicans on the Senate Finance and Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committees (HELP) criticized the Obama administration on April 25, 2013, for spending U.S. taxpayer dollars to support foreign unions.

GAO, Labor Questioned

Finance Ranking Member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and HELP Ranking Member Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., wrote two separate letters to Government Accountability Office Comptroller General Gene Dodaro and U.S. Labor Department acting Secretary Seth Harris, calling for them to review financial support that Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs provides to foreign unions.

“At a time when our federal budget is deteriorating rapidly, sequestration impacting essential services, and the reality of vastly reduced federal budgets with corresponding cuts in public service delivery here at home, it is troubling to us that the department appears to be spending millions of dollars of taxpayer funds to establish labor unions and promote collective bargaining in foreign countries,” the senators wrote to Harris.

They singled out a 2011 award for $1.5 million to a company that helped labor unions in Vietnam engage in collective bargaining.

They also highlighted the bureau’s Dec. 27, 2012, award of $1.5 million to help Columbian workers improve their collective bargaining rights. Moreover, the lawmakers noted there was an award on the same day of $2.2 million to the Solidarity Center, an AFL-CIO organization, to strengthen unions in Haiti and Peru.

Purpose of Labor Initiatives

The bureau has established a formal dialogue with Vietnam to discuss labor issues, because of the absence of labor provisions in the U.S.-Vietnam Bilateral Trade Agreement, Labor explained in a 2011 press release. Talks are continuing about the subsequent labor law reform and labor inspections in the country.

The Labor Department also has touted the $1.5 million award as a project that will “increase public awareness of labor rights and improve workers’ ability to protect and claim their rights. In support of this national effort, the Escuela Nacional Sindical will develop centers for educating and advising workers on their rights and responsibilities under the country’s labor laws.”

In announcing the award to Haitian and Peruvian worker organizations, Labor noted that “the projects will improve the capacity of worker organizations in both countries to better protect the rights of vulnerable workers and to engage in effective advocacy and dialogue. In Haiti, the Solidarity Center will work with the apparel export sector, focusing particularly on issues related to freedom of association, sexual harassment and forced overtime. In Peru, the project will focus on responding to the needs of temporary and fixed-term contract workers.”

Since 1995, the bureau’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs has funded projects to improve worker rights and labor law compliance in more than 72 countries.

Allen Smith, J.D., is the manager of workplace law content for SHRM. Follow him on Twitter @SHRMlegaleditor.


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