Home>Congress>Sires subcommittee seeks to push Peru to pay $57 million owed to NJ labor unions

Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York). (Photo: Kevin Sanders for New Jersey Globe)

Sires subcommittee seeks to push Peru to pay $57 million owed to NJ labor unions

Sweeney, House members seek sanctions against Peruvian government

By David Wildstein, October 22 2019 12:21 pm

The Peruvian government owes several New Jersey labor unions as much as $57 million as part of unpaid Agrarian Reform Bonds owned by union pension funds.

A House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Albio Sires (D-West New York) has scheduled a hearing on Wednesday that will address Peru’s refusal to pay off the bonds, an issue that affects over 200 pension plans in 27 states.

Five New Jersey unions are invested in the Peru land bond deal, including the United Food and Commercial Workers ($17 million), the Carpenters Fund ($17 million), the Operating Engineers Fund ($15 million), the Teamsters ($6 million), and the Bricklayers Pension Fund ($1 million).

According to the New Jersey AFL-CIO, Peru’s failure to pay off the ponds affects the retirement of about 72,000 New Jersey union members.

“Peru’s response to date has resulted in little more than ‘lip service,’” said Charles Wowkanech, the New Jersey AFL-CIO president, in a letter to lawmakers.

Wowkanech says that Peru’s refusal to uphold the bond deal puts them in violation of a 2006 Free Trade Agreement.

Sires wrote a letter signed by eight other New Jersey House members – Jeff Van Drew (D-Dennis), Andy Kim (D-Marlton), Frank Pallone (D-Long Branch), Donald Norcross  (D-Camden), Christopher Smith (R-Hamilton), Tom Malinowski (D-Rocky Hill), Josh Gottheimer (D-Wyckoff) and Mikie Sherrill (D-Montclair) — to U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo last May asking for help in resolving the issue.

Wowkanech wants the United States to reexamine its trade agreement with Peru, and question Peru’s admission into the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. (OECD)

Senate President Steve Sweeney also weighed in on the issue in a letter to U.S. Senator Bob Menendez.

“Those impacted are hardworking men and women belonging to construction trades unions,” said Sweeney, the vice president of the International Association of Ironworkers.  “The lack of transparency from Peru on the national stage has been as reckless as (their) failure to pay their debt. “

Sires’ Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, Civilian Security and Trade is expected to address the issue in a hearing on the Trump administration’s Latin America and the Caribbean policy and budget.

Three State Department officials, including Acting Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs Michael Kozak, are on the witness list.

Menendez’s staff has been engaged with the Department of State and with the embassy in Peru to advance this issue, according to spokesman Steve Sandberg.

This story was updated at 4:02 PM.

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