Congressman Bill Pascrell

Representing the 9th District of NEW JERSEY

Pascrell Leads Labor Rights Letter Raising Colombian Trade Concerns

Jul 19, 2017
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, ten members of the Congressional Monitoring Group on Labor Rights in Colombia sent a letter to United States Trade Representative’s office and the Department of Labor urging the Trump Administration to ensure that Colombia lives up to the obligations in its trade agreement with the United States. Signers include Reps. Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-NJ), Jim McGovern (D-MA), Bobby Scott (D-VA), Sandy Levin (D-MI), John Lewis (D-GA), Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Keith Ellison (D-MN), Mark DeSaulnier (D-CA), and Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

The Members expressed “significant concerns regarding the continued failure of the Colombian government to implement and effectively enforce the provisions in the U.S.-Colombia [Trade Promotion Agreement] and the [Labor] Action Plan” and “growing concerns about the murders of union leaders and other social activists in Colombia.”

The full text of the letter is below.

July 19, 2017

The Honorable Robert Lighthizer
Ambassador
United States Trade Representative
600 17th Street NW
Washington, D.C. 20006

The Honorable Alexander Acosta
Secretary
Department of Labor
200 Constitution Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20210

Dear Ambassador Lighthizer and Secretary Acosta:

As Members of the Colombia Monitoring Group, we have been closely following the implementation and enforcement of the labor provisions in the U.S.-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement (TPA), including the Colombian Action Plan related to Labor Rights (Action Plan). We write today to express our significant concerns regarding the continued failure of the Colombian government to implement and effectively enforce the provisions in the U.S.-Colombia TPA and the Action Plan and to highlight recent disturbing events in Colombia.

The failure of the Colombian government to live up to its labor commitments was highlighted in a petition filed by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) and several Colombian labor unions in May 2016. The petition alleged that Colombia has not been in compliance with its labor obligations since the TPA went into force and that Colombia is currently in violation of the obligations, among others, to:

  • maintain statutes, regulations, and practices regarding freedom of association;
  • maintain statutes, regulations, and practices regarding collective bargaining; effectively enforce its labor laws;
  • ensure that court proceedings comply with due process of law; and
  • make judicial decisions available without undue delay.

In a January 2017 Department of Labor (DOL) report, DOL’s Office of Trade and Labor Affairs asserted that it had “significant concerns” regarding many of the issues highlighted above and committed itself to assess any progress made by the Colombian government within nine months. Does your Administration agree with the findings in the report and does it intend to comply with the timeline established in the report? Further, what are your specific plans and strategies to ensure that the Colombian government lives up to its labor commitments?

In this regard, we are also concerned about the lack of leadership at two key positions within the Department of Labor that have led U.S. government efforts related to Colombian labor issues. The Administration has yet to appoint a Deputy Undersecretary for International Affairs and has not filled the Labor Attaché position within the U.S. Embassy in Colombia. In the past, the staff in these positions have played crucial roles in monitoring the implementation of labor provisions by the Colombian government. We urge Secretary Acosta to fill these positions with competent and experienced professionals as soon as possible.

Lastly, we write to express our growing concerns about the murders of union leaders and other social activists in Colombia. Just in this calendar year, the Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS) has documented the murder of ten Colombian union leaders. While we make no assumptions about the circumstances in each particular case, the Colombian government must carry out a full and transparent investigation into these murders, bring the perpetrators to justice, and implement adequate measures to protect unionists.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. We look forward to working with you on this issue.

Sincerely,