Building & Wood Workers Win Meany-Kirkland Award

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre (right) presents BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson with the Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award. Credit: Bill Burke

AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre (right) presents BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson with the Meany-Kirkland Human Rights Award. Credit: Bill Burke

The Building and Wood Workers’ International (BWI) and its affiliates received the 2014 AFL-CIO George Meany-Lane Kirkland Human Rights Award in a ceremony last night in Washington, D.C., where they were honored for their work in bringing justice to construction workers worldwide, specifically for the migrant workers whose labor makes global sporting events possible.

“Your leadership has been tireless, and your campaign has shed light on the dangerous and exploitive working conditions of migrant workers,” said AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Tefere Gebre as he presented the award to BWI General Secretary Ambet Yuson. “Together with your affiliates, including unions here in the United States, and with the International Trade Union Confederation, you have pressured governments, international sports governing bodies and the brands that profit from these events to change conditions on the ground.”

In announcing selection of BWI for the annual award last spring, the AFL-CIO Executive Council said in a statement that “BWI’s affiliates organize campaigns and establish agreements between unions in origin and destination countries, and ensure equal pay for equal work, regardless of workers’ country of origin.”

All countries given the honor of hosting a world premier sporting event such as the Olympics and the World Cup, the council said, “must be held to the highest standards when it comes to supporting international labor rights.”

In accepting the award, Yuson said, “There is a resurgence of vitality in the labor movement. This is credited to immigrant and migrant workers who are building a more dynanmic and strong labor movement.”

Joining Yuson on stage to accept the award were BWI President Per-Olof Sjoo; Gelson Santana, general secretary of STICC POA, a construction worker union in Porto Alegre, Brazil; Johan Linkholm, president of the Swedish building trades union, Byggnads; Christer Wälivarra, strategic director of the Swedish trade union, 6F; and Jin Sook, BWI campaign director.

Abdeslam Ouaddou, the former captain of Morocco’s national soccer team, spoke about the need for migrant worker rights, telling the audience, that “a country without trade unions is a very bad place to work.”

Ouaddou is now forming an organization to assist migrant workers and urge sports teams to take a stand against inhumane treatment of workers. “We cannot play in stadiums where workers are exploited and blood has been spilled.”

BWI is a network of 326 trade unions representing more than 12 million members in 130 countries. Headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland, BWI regional and project offices are in Brazil, Burkina Faso, Chile, Curaçao, India, Kenya, Malaysia, Panama, Peru, Russia, South Africa and Thailand.

The annual Meany-Kirkland award, created in 1980 and named for the first two presidents of the AFL-CIO, recognizes outstanding examples of the international struggle for human rights through trade unions.

The award went to the International Domestic Workers Federation in 2013 and, in 2012, to the Tunisian General Union of Labor (UGTT) and the General Federation of Bahrain Trade Unions (GBFTU)—two unions whose struggles were emblematic of labor’s role in the uprisings that year.