Before the vote takes place, governments have usually been really focused on labor issues and giving a good showing, she said. The day after the vote, there can be fall-off in the effort and good will.
Lee said the AFL-CIO will keep lobbying U.S. legislators to ensure the free trade agreement is not implemented until all the Colombian labor reforms are in place.
The brunt of union violence came in the 1990s as powerful right-wing paramilitary groups battled left-wing guerrillas. Union members were often accused of being guerrilla sympathizers and caught in the crossfire.
Even today, those perceptions exist. The national police recently warned that FARC and ELN guerrillas have been stepping up efforts to infiltrate strikes and labor protests.
Domingo Tovar, the secretary general of Colombias largest labor group, the Central Unitario de Trabajadores, said much of todays violence can be blamed on criminal gangs linked to former paramilitary groups.
Since 2003, more than 31,000 paramilitary members have sworn off violence as part of the governments demobilization efforts. But there are indications that many of them form the core of growing criminal bands, or bacrim, that have been fighting for the control of drug routes.
Yony Zea is the president of ADIDA, the teachers union in the state of Antioquia. This year, two ADIDA members have been killed and more than 196 have been threatened, he said.
Its often difficult to tell where the threats are coming from, Zea said.
We have to recognize that political violence against union members has dropped significantly, he said. But we are still getting pressure from these criminal gangs or combos, and its hard to figure out what their ideology is if any.