Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai at the National Legislative-Political Conference of the Communications Workers of America

As Delivered on June 25, 2024 

Hello, everyone!  Thank you, Carl, so much for that really warm introduction.  I am truly honored to be invited here to speak to all of you today. I want to start by saying what dedicated leaders you all have here at the CWA.  They are fighters and real difference makers.  Thank you, Carl, and your entire team, for your leadership and friendship.
I also want to recognize other CWA leaders and members here today, gathered from all around the country.  You are the reason why America has the strongest economy in the world today. 
You are the reason why we are the most competitive, innovative, and resilient economy in the world.
Thank you for all you are and all you do.
President Biden often says, with pride, and completely unapologetically that he is the most pro-labor, pro-union, president in our nation’s history. 
And I have to tell you how I’m proud to serve as his U.S. Trade Representative.
From day one, President Biden has been clear that trade must benefit workers.
The President and I know how important union workers are to our economic vitality because he also says [we know that the middle class-built America, and unions built the middle class.]
The President has been very, very clear: American workers are the backbone of our economy.  Your success is our success.  And we are fighting for you and with you. 
To make sure our trade policies empower you, and don't ignore you or hurt you.  To make sure our trade policies create good-paying union jobs right here at home, and not ship them overseas.
This is because we know our economy isn't just a data set of numbers.  Our economy is made up of people, workers, and the communities.  So, our economic policies and our trade policies must work for you.  To empower you.  To equip you to succeed.  Not just today, but also for tomorrow and our future generations.
Empowering you is at the heart of everything we’re doing as an Administration, and at USTR.
We’re building our economy from the middle out and the bottom up and ensuring that our trade policies empower workers everywhere. 
It can be too easy to talk about worker empowerment in a vacuum.  But we know that this has a real impact on working people.
Because you are the engine of our economy. 
You make our flights run smoothly.  You keep our country connected; you power our factories, care for our sick, and you provide the news.
And we are putting you at the center of what we do so that we can use our policies and trade as a force for the common good.
A trade policy that is crafted with workers and for workers.  To build an economy where, as President Biden says, “everyone is cut in on the deal.”
Last November, the President issued a Memorandum on Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labor Standards Globally. 
This is our way of saying that we, the United States, see and hear workers, both at home and around the world. 
That we understand, in an interconnected economy, the rights of workers around the world impact workers in the United States too.  That we stand with workers.  And that we are fighting for them and with them.
It was truly an honor for me to attend the AFL-CIO Human Rights Award Ceremony last December. 
Claude was there, along with AFL-CIO President Liz Shuler and other labor leaders.
That evening, we were honoring the Filipino labor movement, which is arguably the oldest one in Asia, dating back to the 1850s.  Even through persecution, workers and organizers in the Philippines banded together to forge a better path, a better future.
We lifted up and celebrated the Filipino labor movement that night, for their dedication and courage to organize and fight for the rights of workers across their country.
I went to Manila last April and got to meet with some of the Filipino labor leaders.  It was so deeply moving and inspiring to hear directly from them, on how worker-centered trade policies can empower workers in the Philippines and the region more broadly.
And I want to know how tragic and truly unacceptable it is that the Philippines labor movement has endured so much loss since my visit last spring.
In particular, I know that the murder of Alex Dolorosa means a lot to many of you.
Alex was an LGBTQI+ activist and call center worker who became a paralegal and union leader with BPO Industry Employees Network Philippines, or BIEN.
BIEN is an organization that helps call center workers exercise their rights and organize to improve working conditions.   
We know the chilling effect that violence has on the labor movement.  And the United States, at all levels, has deep concerns about extra-judicial killings of labor organizers.  Across our administration, we are asking for a formal government-to-government channel to discuss labor concerns with the Government of Philippines.  
At USTR, we launched a Labor Working Group as part of the U.S.-Philippines Trade and Investment Framework Agreement, so that we can address issues like this directly with the Philippine Government.
We will never forget Alex and the countless others we’ve lost.  Their resolve and devotion live on today through all of you, and our Administration is committed to being your partner in this fight for equality and justice.
An important part of that commitment is to enforce our existing trade agreements.  That is the only way to start regaining your trust on trade, because we know our trade policies have not always worked for your interests.
And so in the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement, what we call the USMCA, we have a good example. 
I want to highlight something that many of you may very well be familiar with, and it’s what we call the Rapid Response Mechanism, or the RRM.
We have used this labor enforcement mechanism under the USMCA to bring real change to workers and their families in Mexico. 
Tens of thousands of workers have voted for the first time for independent unions and approved new, real collective bargaining agreements.  Hundreds of workers who were wrongfully dismissed for lawful union activities have been reinstated with backpay.  And thousands received significant pay increases and improvements to their working conditions. 
I want to emphasize that we are using the RRM in different sectors—including the automotive supply chain, garments and garment making, mining, and also in services. 
I know for many of you that the Atento Servicios case is extremely important.  That was our first case focused on a denial of rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining at a call center.
We initiated the case earlier this year, and asked the Government of Mexico to look at whether the call center facility is denying workers their rights by interfering in workers’ union activities, including through the dismissal of workers. 
We are also concerned by allegations that management at this facility is coercing workers into selecting a specific union for representation.
And while the case is still ongoing, it does shows how we’re using the RRM to benefit more workers across more sectors and holding more corporations accountable.  Not only that, thanks to partners like the Solidarity Center, I’m hearing that news of the RRM and its potential benefits for workers is spreading throughout Mexico by word-of-mouth—workers talking to other workers about what it is and what it can do.
Truly a grassroots effort that can make an enormous difference in working peoples’ lives.  This is how we are using trade to end that race-to-the-bottom, where exploitation is rewarded in the name of efficiency. 
Because we are committed to driving a race to the top—using of all things a trade agreement—so that workers and their communities get their fair share.
And I want to emphasize that this not only helps workers in Mexico, but it also empowers our workers here at home.  Because are leveling the playing field so that our workers—across many different sectors—can compete fairly for once.  By doing so, we’re reducing the incentive to ship jobs overseas. 
And I want to note that we are doing our work in the Biden Administration, with an unprecedented level of partnership and collaboration across the administration, including and especially with the Department of Labor.
We take the pillars of the Biden economic agenda seriously. Working across the administration to invest in America, to empower our workers, and to create more economic opportunity for a growing middle class.
I cannot say enough about the exemplary leadership, courage, and brilliance of Julie Su at the top of the Labor Department, or Thea Lee, the Deputy Undersecretary for International Labor Affairs, and Wendy Chun-Hoon, the head of the Women's Bureau.

I know that all of these leaders are well known to you. I just want to connect the dots, that they are good friends, they are sisters in arms for me, and that we are all a part of the same community working towards the same objectives.
Your interests are also top of mind for us in all our trade negotiations, including our negotiations with Kenya and with Taiwan.
We are aiming to negotiate the highest labor standard trade agreement texts ever developed, and not settling for watered down results that prioritize more trade over worker-centered trade.
We also know, because we have heard you loud and clear, that workers like CWA members are not just interested in the labor rules in our trade agreements.

Your rights and interests are deeply implicated also in the enforcement mechanisms, like the Rapid Response Mechanism, and also the rules that address the way the digital and digitized economy will work.

CWA was one of our first partners to raise concerns about the potential for services jobs to be shipped overseas through our trade agreements and made the connection to concerns around rules that relate to data and digital—whether it's “bossware,” generative AI, privacy rights, protecting your children, or democracy itself.

We know that CWA cares about all the aspects of our trade policies, including our data, and digital trade policies and their impacts on your workers and your future.
I just wanted to share with you a story [from the spring of 2021]. Someone who is very well meaning came to give me some advice. And the advice was, “You know, digital trade negotiations are something that you can do a lot of. They're easy, because labor doesn't care about digital trade.” Well, I want you to know that, even three years ago, I knew because of you that that wasn't the case. And today, in 2024, everybody knows it.
So, thank you CWA.
You have my commitment to continue working with you to make sure that the rules that the world makes in these areas reflect your concerns and your interests and your voices.
You may also know that my office, just like everybody these days, is very focused on supply chains. 

And this is a critical part of our worker-centered trade policy.  Because not only is this important to be more resilient in the face of supply shocks, it is foundational in how worker centered trade can create sustainable economic growth.
For USTR, supply chain resilience is more than just about the movement of goods—it is about redesigning trade to further our core values, like strong labor standards and environmental protection.
Over the last few months, we have invited public comments and held hearings to develop trade tools that will help build more resilient supply chains.
And I wanted to let you know, we've started by highlighting about a dozen specific strategic sectors for focus.
One of the sectors that we specifically asked for public comments on was call centers and related services, because we know how important this is to you. 
My office is carefully reviewing all the input we’re receiving and working how to move forward, so please stay tuned these next weeks and months for developments there.
I want to leave you with this.
When I met with the Filipino labor leaders last spring in Manila, and when I meet with union leaders from other countries and with my foreign government counterparts during my travels, I've discovered that it turns out we all want the same thing—to build our middle classes, and to create good jobs. 
To build a world where our working communities can thrive, to offer our children more and better opportunities.
In all of these meetings that I do—and let me tell you, I do a lot of these meetings—I say to these leaders, we have to stop pitting our workers against one another. 
And you are our partner in this work.  CWA is one of the largest and most diverse unions, and your work over the years, including on trade policy, has been instrumental to us and developing our vision.
We have come a very long way, but we know that there is a lot more to do. We're going to do this together with you.
Thank you very much for inviting me.