State Department Says Unionizing Its Foreign National Workers Would Threaten Security

Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to U.S. Embassy in Cairo staff and their families in March. Secretary of State John Kerry spoke to U.S. Embassy in Cairo staff and their families in March. State Department

The State Department has rejected an attempt to unionize foreign nationals working for the agency, according to a letter department officials sent a union.

The International Federation of Professional and Technical Engineers -- a union housed within the AFL-CIO -- reached out to the State Department about the possibility of unionizing more than 40,000 “locally employed” staff in foreign countries. State responded that it does not have the legal grounds to seek a collective bargaining arrangement with the employees.

Additionally, the State Department said it simply had no interest in seeking to unionize the employees.

“Such unionization at diplomatic and consular missions is fundamentally incompatible with the basic functions and operations of such missions,” Steven Polson, State’s chief labor-management negotiator, wrote in the letter.

He added unionization “could, frankly put our foreign relations and national security at risk.”  

Polson said collective bargaining with foreign nationals would pose a logistical nightmare, as State currently has 176 different local compensation plans for the workers. Additionally, labor laws in certain countries prohibit their citizens from maintaining union representation.

Instead, Polson encouraged foreign national employees to join “[locally employed] staff associations,” which could “meet regularly with post management to discuss concerns and resolve issues.”

For now, State will consider this a closed case.

“The department has no interest in pursuing this discussion further,” Polson wrote. 

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