The Biden Administration continues to name union figures to top positions in the federal government. On May 10, the U.S. Labor Department announced the appointment of Thea Lee to head its International Labor Affairs Bureau. Lee has long been a fierce critic of the NAFTA-style trade deals that make it easier for U.S. companies to offshore jobs. Now she’ll be the deputy undersecretary overseeing enforcement of the labor provisions of U.S. trade agreements, including the labor rights commitments Mexico made in the 2020 trade agreement the Trump administration negotiated. The same day Lee’s appointment was announced, the AFL-CIO and SEIU filed the first test case under that agreement, charging that Mexico isn’t living up the labor rights commitments it made. An international trade economist, Lee spent 20 years at the national AFL-CIO as a trade policy expert and deputy chief of staff. Since 2017 she had led the Economic Policy Institute, a pro-labor think tank.
Meanwhile, Lee’s former employee at the AFL-CIO, Celeste Drake, will be the first-ever “Made in America” director at the White House Office of Management and Budget. President Joe Biden created that position in a late January executive order. Her job will be to crack down on waivers that federal agencies ask for whenever they want to get out of “Buy American” requirements in purchasing steel and other goods. Drake was trade policy specialist for eight years at the AFL-CIO, and left in 2019 to serve as head of government relations for the Directors Guild of America, the union representing TV and film directors. –DM