Biden administration urges US companies in Ireland to ‘embrace’ unions

US special representative for international labour affairs says the right to unionise is an enabling right for other labour rights

The Biden administration would urge US companies in Ireland to “embrace the benefits” of a unionised workforce, its special representative on international labour affairs has said.

On a visit to Dublin, Kelly Fay Rodríguez said the administration would encourage US companies operating in Ireland to engage in collective bargaining with their employees in the same way as it urges them to do so in the United States.

She told The Irish Times that she had been appointed to promote and advance the president’s labour policies internationally.

Mr Biden describes himself regularly as the most pro-union president in US history. Last year he launched a memorandum that directed US federal agencies and departments to promote workers’ rights and freedom of association.


“We believe the right to unionise is an enabling right for other labour rights,” Ms Fay Rodríguez said.

She added the US had learned, “some would say the hard way, that when worker issues are not included in our trade policymaking, there are gaps that really weaken our ability to strengthen our economy”.

“What we’ve also learned is that when workers’ rights abroad are precarious, are undermined, violated systemically, that has an impact on what is possible for American workers. Because we know in this global economy, we need to be raising standards globally across supply chains, if we want to raise standards and possibilities for workers in the United States.”

Asked what message the Biden administration would give to US multinationals employing workers in Ireland, she said it would say that “companies benefit from an organised workforce and that industrial relations contributes to their bottom line but also to the resilience of their business.

“These are values that we certainly hold dear in the US. But it’s not just the US. We are seeing [it] in Canada, Australia, the European Union, certainly in Brazil. Countries around the world see the value of worker organisations, workplace democracy, and how it can contribute to economic growth and to the lives of the community, the consumers, like all of the stakeholders involved.

“And so we would certainly encourage companies, at a minimum, to abide by the law. But beyond that, look for opportunities to embrace an organised workforce and see the value there.”

She said she planned to meet US companies operating in Ireland as well as their representatives and discuss the opportunities and challenges that they face.

“We have seen within the US a variety of companies, some that are sceptical of unions, some that are cautious, some that just simply don’t understand, some that are hostile. But we have also seen even some of those that are hostile shift and turn and transform their approach. We saw that with Starbucks. They had a quite contentious campaign, from union activists in the US for several years, and then, over time and through dialogue, are now working on an agreement.. together with the Service Employees International Union to protect the rights of workers.”

“Hopefully we will be having good conversations with companies in Ireland about ways that we might be able to support their interests in really protecting and defending the rights of their workers and engaging in constructive dialogue.”

Martin Wall

Martin Wall

Martin Wall is the former Washington Correspondent of The Irish Times. He was previously industry correspondent