The Recorder – Guest Column: This Labor Day, a Smith College graduate reflects on his work for the US Department of Labor


Published: 04/09/2022 19:46:12

Modified: 04/09/2022 19:42:24

The unofficial end of summer, Labor Day is a holiday when some families attend parades or community celebrations, or hit the beach or do some back-to-school shopping.

For others, however, it’s just one more day at work, raising hopes that overtime or overtime pay could help make ends meet for another month.

Through my work with the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs, I feel a deep connection and responsibility to all workers. At the department, we are committed to empowering all workers morning, noon and night.

Generally, we enjoy labor protections in the United States that are not always shared around the world. But we know that our ability to have good, secure jobs for living wages depends on being part of a global economy that values ​​and protects workers’ rights. In many countries, workers face long working hours for low or uncertain pay; dangerous workplaces; sexual harassment and gender-based violence; racial, religious or ethnic discrimination; and forced or child labor. In many countries, workers can face illegal dismissal, retaliation or even violence if they join with colleagues to organize a union and bargain collectively.

Since joining the department in May 2021, I have worked with the Office of International Labor Affairs to help change that equation. We work with governments, civil society, unions and businesses to strengthen global labor standards and enforce labor commitments between trading partners. We also promote racial and gender equity and fight international child labor, forced labor and human trafficking.

Over the past year, our accomplishments have included:

■ Work closely with the Mexican Department of Labor and other U.S. government agencies to resolve four labor rights cases under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, ensuring workers can freely exercise their labor rights. join an independent and democratic trade union in Mexico.

■ Address child labor in cobalt mines by working with the Democratic Republic of Congo and building government labor inspection capacity.

■ Work with union activists and responsible companies in the Honduran maquiladora sector to strengthen workplace safety.

■ Partnered with the US Department of State and the US Agency for International Development to launch the Multilateral Partnership for Organizing, Empowering and Rights of Workers, also known as “M-POWER”.

■ Develop, with the Department of Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Protection Agency, an ambitious and effective enforcement strategy to implement the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Law and ensure that U.S. consumers do not unwittingly purchase goods tainted with forced labour.

And it’s just an agency of the Department of Labor.

Other sister agencies enable workers to organize and bargain collectively with their employers here at home. The department plays a leading role in the federal government’s efforts to protect and advance the rights of American workers. Secretary Walsh serves alongside Vice President Kamala Harris as co-chair of the White House Task Force on Organizing and Empowering Workers. The Workers’ Organizing Resource Center is a one-stop-shop for information and resources on unions and collective bargaining for workers, unions, policymakers and advocates.

Throughout the department, we remain motivated, because we know that our work is important. It touches lives. It affects families. It improves communities.

So this Labor Day, whether you’re working or enjoying the day off, you can rest assured that every day Department of Labor employees are committed to making the American dream possible for workers in cities and towns. of the country, including the one I call “home”.

Thea Lee is Deputy Assistant Secretary for International Affairs at the US Department of Labor. Lee’s hometown is Newton, Massachusetts. Lee holds a master’s degree in economics from the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor and a bachelor’s degree in economics with honors from Smith College in Northampton.


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