In November, a NAGLO delegation visited the Republic of China, more commonly known as Taiwan. The island is about the size of Maryland and has a population of about 23 million. The visit allowed state and federal labor officials an opportunity to have meetings and learn about the official ministries of the government and understand more about Taiwan’s labor, economic, and social programs.
The delegation included NAGLO President Larry L. Roberts from Kentucky, First Vice President Ryan McKenna from Missouri, Federal Labor Relations Authority Member Ernie DuBester, Commissioner Hal Wirths from New Jersey, Commissioner Mark Costello from Oklahoma, Chairman Andres Alcantar from Texas, Commissioner Sherrie Hayashi from Utah, Commissioner Ray Davenport of Virginia and Deputy Commissioner Christie Hammond of Oregon.
The trip was jointly sponsored by Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor Affairs and its Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The delegation visited many of the offices within the Ministry of Labor, learning first-hand how Taiwan chooses to promote the dignity of work, the welfare of workers and the sustainable development of enterprises.
The delegates saw the National Palace Museum, one of the most popular museums in the world, with cultural artifacts going back through several Chinese dynasties. They travelled to Kinmen Island, famous for its Kaoliang liquor and Kinmen knives, which come from the remains of artillery shells fired in World War II and by mainland China between 1958 and 1978. They went to the top of Taipei 101, an engineering marvel that held the distinction of being the world’s tallest building until 2010. They visited the Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall, a shrine to the person most Taiwanese credit with Taiwan’s autonomy. On their final night, they had a special dinner at the Grand Hotel, one of Taiwan’s most visible landmarks.
Weathering the Storms
The typhoons can come in late summer and early fall, and one big storm system can sweep across the whole island of Taiwan, from the jagged, volcanic mountains in the east to the gently sloping plains in the west. It’s the world’s fourth largest island, but at about 14,000 square miles, the entire territory could fit within most states in the U.S.
The islanders who live there have weathered storms throughout their entire history, from various struggles of national ownership and official sovereignty to enduring the Chinese Civil War, to decades of Martial law and the “White Terror” of 1949 to 1987, when thousands of people were executed or thrown in prison on accusations of pro-Communist ties.
Disputes continue today. China claims Taiwan’s government is illegitimate, while Taiwan, officially called the Republic of China, views itself as independent nation — and elects its own president and maintains its own armed forces. The United Nations has rejected Taiwan’s admission 15 times, and the U.S. considers Taiwan’s status as “unsettled.” In all, the whole situation remains in a legal state of limbo, with the citizens caught in the middle.
Working with Dignity
Despite all the political complications, the people of Taiwan have persevered. Their economy ranks in the top 20 in the world in GDP and purchasing power parity. In addition to being a member of NAGLO, Taiwan is a member of the World Trade Organization and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation.
Taiwan’s Ministry of Labor gave the delegation a handout on its administrative principles, which delegate Ryan McKenna says focused on the people of Taiwan, especially their well-being and dignity.
“The emphasis that Taiwan put on the well-being of her citizens from birth until death really inspired me,” he says.
McKenna quoted the handbook, which included the following: “We hope to call for respect for workers to be at the heart of labor policy, ensuring the welfare of workers and the sustainable development of enterprises, sharing the benefit of increased salaries and economic growth…bringing prosperity to the economy and achieving social justice, letting people live their working lives with dignity.”
“I believe those goals are at the heart of a civilized and compassionate society,” says McKenna. “We should all strive to achieve the worthy goal of people living their lives with dignity.”
The People are the Key
“Without exception, everyone we met was gracious, warm and friendly,” says Christie Hammond, Oregon Labor and Industries Deputy Commissioner. “The hospitality and generosity of the Taiwanese was like none I have ever seen before, including in our own country. Although I learned much about the Taiwan government and its functions, most memorable to me will always be the warmth of the people.”
Ryan McKenna echoed the sentiments, saying he was impressed with the incredible hospitality and graciousness from the people of Taiwan, especially the guide of the delegation, Vincent Huang. “Vincent went above and beyond what I would have expected to give us a truly memorable experience,” says McKenna. “We had too many meetings to mention, but he still found time to allow us to have fun and experience the culture of his beautiful country.”
Federal Labor Relations Authority Member Ernie DuBester was the lone federal representative in the group, and he also found the people to have a profound effect. “The Taiwanese are a very friendly people. I think we were all taken with their vitality and optimism,” he says. “They are also a determined people. Having gotten to know them better, I can understand their economic and political accomplishments, namely, how they have achieved democracy, freedom, and prosperity peacefully.”
Sixteen hundred feet above the glittering lights of a sprawling city stands the tip of Taipei 101. The skyscraper was the world’s tallest building from 2004 to 2010. It is designed to withstand a typhoon or a massive earthquake. Like the people of Taiwan, it is a marvel that triumphs over adversity, and it is a symbol of stability around a world of complex and uncertain times.
NAGLO President Larry Roberts says the lessons of the trip will linger with each member for years to come.
“If the state of Taiwan is “unsettled” — the people are strong and secure,” says Roberts. “Just like Taipei 101, they are building what they dream, including a powerful economy and a workforce based on dignity. They aren’t letting problems stop them from daring to be great. These are lessons that they shared with me and my fellow NAGLO members, and from that and the opportunities we shared by meeting and talking with each other on this trip, we are all stronger labor leaders because of it.”
A Special Thanks
All the members of the NAGLO delegation owe a sincere debt of gratitude to Vincent Huang, who served as the guide for the visit. He was an outstanding and gracious host — who made all members feel at home. Thank you, Vincent!