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National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka: The AFL-CIO Strongly Opposes The Proposed Columbian Trade Agreement/The United Steelworkers Joins Colombian Unions in Opposition to Proposed FTA

The Communications Workers Of America Also Chimes In On The Proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement: CWA Says It Needs Further Discussion And Revision

Published Sunday, April 10, 2011 1:00 pm
by National AFL-CIO News & WNYLaborToday Staff

Statement by National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka on the Proposed Colombia Trade Agreement:

“We’re deeply disappointed the Obama Administration has signaled that it will move forward to submit the proposed U.S.-Colombia Trade Agreement to Congress for a vote in the near future.  In our view, the situation in Colombia remains unacceptably violent for Trade Unionists, as well as for Human Rights Defenders and other vulnerable populations.  In addition, Colombian Workers face enormous and indefensible legal and practical hurdles in exercising their rights to organize Unions and bargain collectively.  We appreciate the efforts of the Obama Administration to negotiate a separate Action Plan with the Colombian government to address some of the concerns we have raised over many years with respect to Human and Labor Rights for Workers, murders of Trade Unionists and impunity for the perpetrators of violence.  We understand that the proposed Action Plan lays out some important benchmarks in terms of increasing the level of protection for Workers, addressing some flaws in the Labor Code and improving enforcement of Labor Laws.  However, the Action Plan does not go nearly far enough in laying out concrete benchmarks for progress in the areas of violence and impunity, nor does it address many of the ways in which Colombian Labor Law falls short of International Standards. There’s no guarantee that the terms of it will in fact lead to a reduction in violence and no backup plan to delay implementation if the violence and impunity continue.  Furthermore, the Action Plan is a stand-alone agreement, not connected to the benefits conferred in the Trade Agreement.  Once the Trade Agreement is ratified by Congress and implemented, the U.S. Government will have no leverage whatsoever to enforce its terms in the event that the terms are not implemented as agreed.  The Colombian Government has failed in enforcing the rule of law and protecting the safety of its citizens as they exercise their internationally recognized Human Rights to form Unions and bargain collectively.  These problems are deeply ingrained and longstanding, and they cannot be solved by commitments on a piece of paper.  Concrete progress on the ground with respect to violence, impunity, and Labor Law Reform needs to be demonstrated over a sustained period of time.  Colombia remains the most deadly nation in the world in which to be a Trade Unionist.  In the past 25 years, more than 2,850 Trade Unionists have been murdered in Colombia.  Last year alone, 51 Trade Unionists were murdered - an increase over 2009.  Six Trade Unionists have been murdered so far this year, including two in the past week.  The conviction rate for Union Murders and other violence is in the single digits, and even where prosecutions have occurred, many perpetrators have been charged in absentia and are still on the loose.  Union Density in Colombia is below five-percent and even fewer Workers can exercise their right to bargain collectively.  We have no doubt that if fifty-one CEOs had been murdered in Colombia last year, this deal would be on a very slow track indeed.  We’re consulting closely with our Union counterparts in Colombia and will continue to consult with the Obama Administration about the terms of the Action Plan and its implementation.  But, on the basis of the information provided to us at this time, we remain strongly opposed to the Colombia trade agreement.”


The United Steelworkers Joins Colombian Unions in Opposition to Proposed FTA

(PITTSBURGH) - The United Steelworkers (USW) are both disappointed and outraged to learn that the Obama Administration has apparently reached an agreement with Colombia over a Free Trade Agreement (FTA), Union Officials said.  The USW has opposed the FTA with Colombia ever since President Bush signed it with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe back in 2007. 

The reality on the ground in Colombia has not changed since the agreement was first signed.  A record 52 Unionists were killed in Colombia last year.  Since 1986, only 5% of more than 2,800 Union killings have been prosecuted, making impunity the standard for justice in the killings.

This year alone, six Unionists have been killed in Colombia, including two in the past week, even as the U.S. and Colombia were finalizing their new accord over the FTA.  These two most recent victims, Hector Orozco and Gildardo Garcia of the Agricultural Union known as the Association of Peasant Workers of Tolima, were killed in a heavily militarized zone and were in fact threatened by the official Colombian army just before their killing. 

USW President Leo Gerard decries the proposed Colombia FTA as a shameful reflection on America’s values: “These most recent killings put into grave doubt whether the Colombian Government and its military are truly prepared to reform as the Administration presumes. The fact is, despite the newly negotiated ‘Action Plan,’ the situation in Colombia has not changed, and therefore, should not be rewarded with a Free Trade Agreement.”

The USW vows to continue its years-long fight to help improve conditions for Workers in Colombia.  “We do so in solidarity with our brothers and sisters in the Colombian Labor Movement who are taking to the streets today to show their continued opposition to the FTA,” Gerard said.

The Confederation of Workers (CUT), Colombia’s largest Labor Federation, is protesting the U.S.-Colombia FTA deal, focusing on the continued killing of Unionists with impunity.   The Human Rights leader of the CUT, Luis Venegas, said:  "We do not understand how you can talk about a plan to approve the FTA with the United States when these conditions persist.”

Added USW President Gerard: “The Unionists in Colombia are the best judge of what make their lives better, allows them to share in the fruits of their labor and pursue their internationally-recognized rights without fear.  We plan to continue working with them to ensure that outcome.”

According to the USW, the rate of Unionized Workers in Colombia is 3.55 and Collective Bargaining benefits just 70,000 people out of a workforce of 20 million – one of the lowest rates in the world.


The Communications Workers Of America (CWA) On The Proposed Colombia Free Trade Agreement: It Needs Further Discussion And Revision

In Colombia, just 100,000 workers out of 20 million have Bargaining Rights.  Eighty-five-percent of working Colombians are misclassified as contractors and "cooperativos."  These millions of workers don't have Bargaining Rights and also are denied Health Care Benefits and Retirement Security because they don't have "employee status."  The proposed Free Trade Agreement calls for both the United States and Colombia to adopt the five fundamental rights outlined by the International Labor Organization, which include the right to form and join a Union and the Right to Collective Bargaining.  The U.S. Congress has not adopted these conventions and is unlikely to do so now.  And even if the Colombian Government approved these fundamental rights, the proposed agreement has no real enforcement provisions.  Public Workers in Colombia have no Bargaining Rights.  As in the U.S. today, where the Bargaining Rights of Public Sector Workers have come under attack in Wisconsin, Ohio, New Jersey and other States, Public Workers in Colombia are being silenced.  This policy is wrong, for Colombia and for the U.S.  CWA will continue its work with Telephone Workers, Public Workers, Journalists and others who are fighting for employee status and a voice in their workplaces.  CWA also supports the work of a key group of House members, led by U.S. Representative George Miller (Democrat-California), which outlined measures the Colombian Government must take to reduce violence against Trade Unionists and improve Human Rights Conditions in Colombia before the Free Trade Agreement can be presented to Congress.  "One of the most important ways we can safeguard the ability of American Families to make a living and keep their jobs is by guaranteeing they are not in competition with workers in other countries whose wages are kept low not simply because their countries are poor, but because they lack the essential democratic rights that American Workers have to improve their standards of living — the right to speak out, to protest, to organize Unions, to bargain collectively and directly with their employers, and to freely support political efforts to improve their economic condition. Colombia, sadly, stands out as a country where wages are kept low and workers are repressed through widespread violence against employees trying to better their lot," they wrote to the Obama Administration.


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