Labor leaders to Obama: Push Columbia harder to stem violence

President Barack Obama (Pic by The White House, via Flickr)

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, and Leo W. Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers, have called on President Obama to not certify the Colombia Free Trade Agreement during the sixth Summit of the Americas that will take place this weekend in Cartagena, Colombia.

Gerard writes: ”The slaying of one Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin, roiled anger and outrage in this country among citizens who believe the killing was unjust and unwarranted. Similarly, the torture and killing of one labor activist in Bangladesh last week provoked an outcry there and a half-page story in the New York Times.”

“Americans don’t countenance murder, particularly when it’s racially or politically motivated. Americans are justice-seeking and fair-play-believing. And that is why we, as a country, cannot certify that Colombia has fulfilled its obligations under the Labor Action Plan,” Gerard adds.

Gerard is also a member of the AFL-CIO executive and public policy committees; President Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations.

According to Gerard, Reps. George Miller, D-Calif.; Michael Michaud, D-Maine; Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn.; James McGovern, D-Mass.; and Hank Johnson, D-Ga., “wrote the Colombian labor minister to ask specific questions about the progress the country has made in meeting its obligations under the Labor Action Plan.”

The letter asks about two cases in Colombia in which more than 1,000 workers were fired for their involvement in union activities.

The New York Times reported Thursday that Trumka sent Obama “a toughly worded letter saying that he should not officially certify that Colombia has done enough to stop a decades-long series of killings of union leaders and supporters there.”

Trumka “wrote that it would be wrong to grant such certification because Colombia had done far too little to stop the killings. Mr. Trumka also maintained that Colombia had not fulfilled many of the promises it made as part of a ‘labor action plan’ that it embraced last April to help persuade Congress to ratify a free-trade accord,” the Times added.

The murder of four Colombian union leaders in January prompted Trumka to urge Obama to indefinitely postpone the implementation of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

The Service Employees International Union, known as SEIU, sent Obama a letter Wednesday urging him “to not implement the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement until the goals of the Labor Action Plan are met and labor rights are respected in Colombia.”

According to Trumka, “the powers behind the crimes remain almost completely free from punishment. None of the 29 labor activists killed in 2011 had their cases resolved by a successful prosecution.”

Over 2,900 union members have been murdered in Colombia over the last 25 years, a number that makes the South American nation the most dangerous in the world for union members.

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