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U.S. Brazil Union Exchange

As the eighth largest economy in the world, Brazil is a frequent destination for international business executives. Multinational corporations have some $27 billion invested in Brazil, which is the second largest overseas market for Coca-Cola and purchases some 17 percent of the world's Nabisco products.

Recently however, the conference rooms and restaurants of Rio de Janeiro hosted a new and different kind of international business summit. This time, instead of executives, it was union leaders from the U.S. meeting with their Brazilian counterparts to share strategies and make connections. Livelyhood was there to document the conference, which was held to help both sides learn to bargain more effectively with their common employer, the General Electric Corporation.

GE employs about 40,000 union workers in the U.S., most of them in manufacturing. In Brazil, approximately 10,000 GE workers make everything from light bulbs to airplane parts. The recent meeting was part of a strategy to organize labor across borders. These leaders say it's time to stop viewing workers in other countries as competition and start treating them as partners in the effort to raise labor standards around the globe.


Imagine waking up in a foreign country with a new job. Outside your door sprawls an endless sea of skyscrapers. Your morning shower spits the last hot water well before you're ready. The tap water is not even fit to drink. You go to catch up on the news, but wait, it's all in Portuguese!

Culture shock can render anyone ineffective, but 26-year old American Fulbright scholar Dan Gertsacov has important work to do in his new home of Sao Paulo, Brazil. Dan is the director of Empresa, a non-profit organization that helps Latin American businesses develop socially-responsible policies. The goal of Empresa is simple: to help make businesses make the world a better place to live. Livelyhood follows Dan as he settles into his new job, city, and life.


When U.S. factory workers worry about losing their jobs overseas, their worst fear may be that they'll end up flipping burgers. But with Brazil's 18 percent unemployment rate, fast food work is not just another Mc-Job.

McDonalds, which opened its first restaurant there in 1979, is today among Brazil's top five private employers. As in the U.S., jobs at any of Brazil's 1,123 McDonalds restaurants pay low wages and experience high turn-over. But for 19-year old Alfonso De Leandro, one of 34,000 McDonalds employees in Brazil, the job is a stepping stone to a career in business. After working every day but Sunday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Alfonso takes night classes in business administration to pick up where his on-the-job training leaves off.

Livelyhood offers a glimpse into Alfonso's busy life. He makes just 1.33 Reales an hour -- about $0.75. In Brazil a Big Mac cost 3.60 Reales or $1.50. Alfonso spends most of his hard-earned money, but he is trying to save up for a car.

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