LaborPress

HOUSTON, Tex. – Unions in the 11 U.S. cities selected last month to host matches in the 2026 World Cup welcomed the news — but are seeking a guarantee of minimum labor standards from the Federation of International Football Associations (FIFA), the global soccer organization that runs the Cup.

“The great news that Houston will host games in the upcoming World Cup competition is made only better by a strong plan asking FIFA to ensure labor and human-rights standards are met during the tournament,” Texas AFL-CIO President Rick Levy said in a statement. “Houston has done this right.”

Houston and New York-New Jersey are among the 16 cities that will host the first-ever three-nation World Cup. The others are Atlanta, Boston, Dallas, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Seattle — plus Toronto and Vancouver in Canada and Guadalajara, Mexico City, and Monterrey in Mexico.

In Houston, a coalition of local unions, immigrant-rights groups, and the national AFL-CIO got the city to include solid labor standards in its bid, Hany Khalil, executive director of the Texas Gulf Coast Area Labor Federation, told LaborPress. “We pushed our way in,” he says.

Those standards, he says, include a minimum wage of either $15 an hour or prevailing wage, not just in the building trades but in sectors such as hospitality; a “cooperative dispute resolution process” that opens the way to unionization; and bidding requirements that are open to union employers winning contracts for printing and audiovisual services.

Khalil says he’s not that worried about New York, Chicago, or Los Angeles, because they’re strong union towns, but Dallas had much less labor involvement in the bidding process. Dignity 2026, a coalition that includes the AFL-CIO, Human Rights Watch, Jobs with Justice, and the Independent Supporters Council fan group, said some of the cities chosen, such as Atlanta, had “inadequate human rights plans.”

“We’re proud to be hosts to one of the world’s greatest sporting events,” New York City Central Labor Council President Vincent Alvarez said in a statement after the selections were announced. “Now, we need to work together to ensure that these games are an economic boon for New York City residents, while guaranteeing workplace protections for New York City workers.”

Dignity 2026 wants FIFA to require fair living wages for workers at the Cup; strong workplace health and safety protections; local hiring and apprenticeships; “responsible contractor” bid requirements; agreements that give workers a voice and reduce labor conflict, and strong investigation and enforcement mechanisms. 

The coalition is approaching labor issues from two angles, says Ashwini Sukthankar of the AFL-CIO’s international-affairs team. One is winning guarantees of prevailing wage and union rights, and the other is preventing employers with histories of wage theft and slavery-like conditions from getting contracts.

No new stadiums will be built for the 2026 World Cup, as all the host cities have teams in either Major League Soccer or Liga MX, the Mexican Football League, but some will likely be upgraded or expanded. 

The Cup will also involve contracts for food service, both inside the stadiums and at the “fan fest” outside, as well as hotels and numerous other services. Another issue is the overall impact on the city. “Who’s going to be paying the hidden costs?” Sukthankar asks. Will development spur gentrification? Could the Cup be used to expand public transportation?

 “FIFA really has to use its proprietary interests when engaging with contractors and cities,” says Sukthankar. “They control a lot when it comes to these games. They’re making the contracts directly for a lot of this.”

That buying power is important, they say, because five host cities — Atlanta, Dallas, Houston, Kansas City, and Miami — are in states that pre-empt local governments from setting their own minimum wages or other labor standards such as scheduling and project-labor agreements.

“We want them to set minimum standards everywhere,” says Khalil.

Rather than having 11 different models for the U.S. host cities, Sukthankar says, FIFA could tell them, “here’s what you have to do, and here’s how you get there.”

She’s disappointed Baltimore wasn’t selected as a host, because it had both the strongest labor standards in its proposal, including specific living-wage commitments, and the most engagement with labor in developing it. The head of the state AFL-CIO was on the host committee, and it met with more than 15 unions, from postal workers to plumbers.

FIFA began meeting with Dignity 2026 in April. Sukthankar anticipates a “hard slog.”

“I wouldn’t say that we’re negotiating with FIFA yet, but we’re committed to keeping the dialogue open,” she says. Nothing definite has been accomplished, she adds, but “neither side is interested in walking away.”

A FIFA spokesperson told LaborPress “human rights were also included in the bidding process for the competition and form part of the requirements for the hosts,” and that the organization “is currently developing a common framework…to ensure human-rights protection, including labor-rights protection, in the context of the FIFA World Cup 2026.”

FIFA’s “Sustainable Sourcing Code” applies to all entities it works with, the spokesperson added. That code prohibits suppliers from using forced labor or child labor, discrimination, charging workers recruitment fees, or retaliating against workers trying to join unions.

If local laws restrict labor rights, it says, suppliers “shall enable the development of parallel means for independent and free association and bargaining.”

It says workers must be paid at least once a month, at wages that “equal or exceed the higher of the minimum wage or the industry wage.” They must be paid for overtime “at the rate legally required in the country,” and can’t work for more than 60 hours or six days a week.

The selection of Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, however, highlighted labor issues. The vast majority of workers there are temporary immigrants, wage theft is rife, and the “kafala” indentured-servitude system for migrant workers was not abolished until 2018. A 2021 study by the International Labor Organization estimated that in 2020, 50 migrant workers were killed on Cup-related jobs and more than 500 severely injured.

FIFA President Gianni Infantino told reporters in May that immigrant workers got “dignity and pride” from building stadiums for the Cup.

Qatar also was an odd choice on sporting grounds, as it has a minimal presence in world soccer, and had to build seven new stadiums. If FIFA’s goal was to hold the Cup in the Middle East or North Africa for the first time, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, and Iran all have established professional leagues and competed in the World Cup multiple times. Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia have also won the Africa Cup of Nations continental championship. 

The three North American countries have different labor issues. Wages are significantly lower in Mexico — the minimum is $8.45 a day outside a narrow zone along the U.S. border — and company unions with “protection contracts” are also a problem, says Sukthankar. In the U.S., problems include intimidation of workers trying to organize unions.

“FIFA does not have a good track record,” Khalil says, but it “can ensure there’s a positive legacy for these games” by helping set solid labor standards. 

“It’s now up to us in the labor movement,” he adds. “It’s got to get incorporated into contracts.”

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