Union Leaders Visit China

Teamsters, other unions end boycott of China and visit Communist nation to support organized labor.

SHANGHAI, China (AP) - American union chiefs - including Teamsters leader James Hoffa - will visit China this week, ending U.S. labor's boycott of China's sole Communist Party-controlled union federation.

Hoffa's first stop Friday will be Shanghai, China's financial and manufacturing powerhouse. He is traveling as part of the Change to Win coalition of U.S. unions, which seeks to protect American jobs in the face of rising globalization.

China's growing export power requires closer bonds between U.S. and Chinese workers - and better understanding of Chinese labor practices, the coalition said in a statement calling for ''a new generation of solidarity'' to lift global labor standards.

Hoffa's delegation plans to meet with leaders of the All-China Federation of Trade Unions - the only group the government allows to organize workers - along with business executives, human rights activists, and leaders of non-governmental organizations, the Teamsters said in a news release.

''The delegation will see first hand the role of key U.S. employers that operate in China, the labor rights and working conditions of Chinese workers and the work of Chinese trade unions,'' it said.

Hoffa will visit Shanghai's deep-water port and facilities owned by transport and logistics firm YRC Worldwide Inc., formerly known as Yellow Roadway, and overnight delivery firm UPS, the two largest employers of Teamster union members, the union said.

American unions have tended to shun contacts with the ACFTU. Critics say the Chinese union is structured to impose government policies and head-off potential disputes rather than to represent worker interests.

However, some U.S. unions have begun to drop an aversion to communist labor groups and see such relationships as a way of advancing workers interests overall, such as better representation of workers in the work place and in bargaining for better contracts, said Anita Chan, a research fellow on Chinese labor and law at Australian National University.

Confronted with the steady loss of U.S. jobs to overseas factories, often in China, American unions have blasted China for its working conditions.

One of the largest unions, the AFL-CIO, has called for trade sanctions against China for violations of international labor standards. The union claims rock-bottom wages, forced overtime and a lack of benefits have cost more than 1 million U.S. jobs as companies move plants to China to take advantage of lower labor costs.

In contrast, Change to Win's members have been among the most enthusiastic about establishing overseas contacts, especially the Service Employees International Union, America's largest.

The Teamsters, who separated from the AFL-CIO two years ago, have built a reputation for pragmatism under Hoffa's leadership. His China visit appears to reflect that more independent approach.

The Teamsters traditionally represented workers in the transport industry, but has merged in recent years with printers and railway workers unions. Change to Win also includes the United Farm Workers.

China does not allow independent unions and jails and harasses unauthorized labor activists.

But the ACFTU recently has taken on a higher profile. Among other moves, it succeeded in getting McDonald's restaurants and notoriously anti-union Wal-Mart Stores Inc. to permit union branches in their China operations.

China's leaders are believed to support such moves, as long as their absolute authority is not challenged, in part because a need for more resources to deal with rising labor disputes.

Chan said the Change to Win coalition's visit to further embolden the ACFTU, which has long craved after international legitimacy.

''This means it will have more clout,'' she said.

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