The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, June 28, 2019

AFL-CIO chief pushes 'New NAFTA' - with worker protections

By The Building Tradesman

TAYLOR - A three-city, three-night "Trade Tour" by AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka brought to three Midwest locations a working class perspective regarding NAFTA.

At his final stop on June 19 at the UAW Region 1A union office, Trumka said the existing North American Free Trade Agreement, implemented on Jan. 1, 1994, "has devastated working people," costing the U.S. nearly one million jobs.

But with the pending "New NAFTA" that would renew the trading rules among the U.S. Mexico and Canada, "it's important to get it right because we're not going to get another bite at this apple for a long time," Trumka said. "It's time for those negotiators to go back to the table and hammer out an agreement that's good for working people. They bring us a deal like that, and we'll support it."

Trumka made visits to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Taylor to push the perspective of organized labor when it comes to NAFTA, the all-encompassing trade deal eliminated most tariffs on goods and eases their flow across the three nations' borders. President Trump has called NAFTA "the worst deal in history," believing the U.S. has lost jobs because of the agreement. 

Organized labor shares that view about massive job losses, but leaders like Trumka have prodded negotiators to institute stronger worker wage and safety protections in the language of any new NAFTA agreement. The term "race to the bottom" began with NAFTA, as companies left the U.S. and Canada in search of lower Mexican wages.

"That's only the surface, the direct jobs that have been lost," Trumka said. "You know how they have used this agreement to try to lower our wages, to threaten us, to do outsourcing, and to do all kind of other things to prevent workers from getting ahead. And NAFTA, unfortunately, continues to be used as a model for every other trade agreement that's out there."

Trumka said the $900 billion annual trade deficit the U.S. has with other countries kills about 20,000 American jobs every year.

"They'll talk about a lot of things with these agreements," Trumka said. "They'll want you to believe that they're inevitable, they're wonderful, they're the market, but at the core of every debate, it's about one thing. People. Is this agreement good for people? Or is it just good for Wall Street and the elite. Is it good for corporations or does it help the everyday worker?"

NAFTA proved to be "an attack on our livelihood, an attack on our way of life," Trumka said. "And remember, we warned leaders, 26 years ago, we told them exactly what was going to happen. We had letters from all kinds of unions saying 'don't do this.' Well, they didn't listen to us. They listened to Wall Street instead. 

"So remember that NAFTA was a bipartisan policy failure. And we're working right now to get a bipartisan policy solution to a failure."

Trumka said over the past two years, organized labor has lobbied the Trump Administration, submitting 130 recommendations. Some were included in the latest draft, others weren't.

"Now, the labor section of the agreement is actually better," Trumka said. "But here's the problem: You can't enforce it. There's no way to enforce the agreement, and therefore it becomes useless." 

While Canada has maintained that both the U.S. and Mexico have their anti-labor issues - the U.S. has 26 right-to-work states, after all - Mexico has gone out of its way to keep workforce wages low, with lax safety and environmental standards, to and keep it attractive as a jobs destination. 

"Mexico for years has used a low wage model," Trumka said. "They keep wages artificially low so they can suck investment and jobs out of the United States. They're going to have to change their labor laws, and enforce them, if we're going to make any progress towards trade."

Trumka said the Trump Administration is trying to push a vote on the new NAFTA, as soon as they can, without requiring Mexico to implement and enforce strong labor laws. 

"But we're not going to let that happen without the changes that working people deserve," Trumka said, adding the House Speaker Nancy Pelosi "is standing in lockstep with us. She told them that until the agreement is worthy of the American workers and the American economy, she is not going to bring it up for a vote."