- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 10, 2015

Uncle Sam wants you! To be protected by a union, that is, if you work overseas.

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) this summer posted a little-noticed grant inviting all eligible organizations worldwide to apply for a program to promote labor unions around the world.

USAID will provide $37.5 million to help the grant recipient “promote workers’ representation in policy processes; improve access to justice; advance the effective worldwide application of core international labor standards; and improve the welfare and livelihood opportunities of workers and their families and communities.”

The Global Labor Program, according to the grant description, would demonstrate “medium-term results” with “long-term impact.”

But the agency said it estimates the government will provide a total of roughly $70 million for the program. “This will include the stated estimated ceiling of $37.5 million for a Leader award, and additional ceiling of $32.5 million to cover any future buy-ins or associate awards,” according to a question-and-answer sheet attached to the grant notice.

Sen. James Lankford, Oklahoma Republican, labeled the grant as wasteful in his “Federal Fumbles” report. The U.S. government should not be using tax dollars to push a labor agenda overseas, he argues.

“Every individual is free to promote the ideas and values in which he or she believes, but it is far from the federal government’s responsibility to spend millions of dollars to build the capacity of labor unions in other countries,” Mr. Lankford wrote. “This is a job better left to international labor organizations.”

Other spending watchdogs echoed Mr. Lankford’s concerns, saying it demonstrates how the Obama administration has derailed even the most benign of agencies.

“The use of taxpayer dollars as a slush fund for Obama’s political buddies demonstrates how pervasive the corruption of our federal government has become and brings into question whether the civil service system itself has been permanently radicalized,” said Richard Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.

For tapping American taxpayers’ wallet to help Big Labor overseas, USAID wins this week’s Golden Hammer, a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting examples of unnecessary federal spending.

In an email to The Times, USAID spokesman Ben Edwards defended the agency’s grant and its work with labor organizations. 

USAID’s support for local labor organizations dates back 50 years.  From Latin America, to Eastern Europe to the most recent demonstrations in Ukraine, labor unions have been at the forefront in advocating for political freedom and defending human rights, including efforts to end human slavery — an issue that has bipartisan support,” Mr. Edwards said.

“USAID’s work has strong congressional support in the form of the Democracy Fund, created by Congress, which funds State Department and USAID assistance for elections, labor, human rights and internet freedom,” he added.

USAID estimates selecting a grantee by Feb. 1, according to a question-and-answer sheet attached to the grant notice.

The agency intends to make a single award, and nonprofits and trade associations are eligible for the program.

The spending on overseas organized labor is planned as unions become increasingly unpopular across the U.S.

According to a Pew Research Center study, the share of wage and salary workers who belong to labor unions has fallen by about half over the past three decades.

Americans hold mixed views on the decline in union membership, with 45 percent seeing it as negative and 43 percent saying it is mostly positive.

According to the poll, 48 percent of Americans hold favorable views of unions, and 39 percent say they have unfavorable views.

Some economic analysts have called labor unions “labor cartels” because they seek to raise wages for their members by raising prices and reducing job opportunities for nonunion workers.

Increasingly, states are enacting right-to-work laws, which prevent unions from forcing workers to join and pay dues as a condition for keeping their jobs. So far, 25 states have enacted such laws.

“Labor unions have become increasingly unpopular in America because they undermine individual freedom and are out of step with the modern economy. So the Obama administration should not be promoting policies abroad through USAID that most Americans are against here at home,” said Chris Edwards, a budget analyst at the Cato Institute.

Mr. Edwards said that by promoting labor unions abroad, USAID is undermining its own mission to promote global growth and development.

The U.S. already provides financial aid to global labor organizations that seek to promote labor rights, such as the right to a clean and safe working environment.

U.S. funds also help combat child labor and forced labor, among other international labor rights violations.

In fact, the U.S. is the largest development partner of the International Labor Organization, the U.N. agency that oversees international labor standards.

The U.S. contributed $621.4 million to the organization’s budget from 2006 to 2013, according to a 2014 report.

The U.S. also makes heavy extrabudgetary contributions to the International Labor Organization. In 2013, the U.S. awarded it more than $34 million, including over $32 million from the Labor Department, nearly $1.5 million from the State Department and over $300,000 from USAID.

Critics say the federal government is already providing ample financial support to enforce fair labor practices around the world and should leave promotion of unions to private labor organizations.

“If labor unions wish to use their own funds to promote themselves internationally, they are more than free to do so. But American taxpayers have no business getting involved in this kind of expenditure,” said Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for the nonpartisan Citizens Against Government Waste.

• Kellan Howell can be reached at khowell@washingtontimes.com.

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