The Building Tradesman Newspaper

Friday, March 20, 2015

Fast Track the wrong track, unionists tell Congress

By The Building Tradesman

By Mark Gruenberg
PAI Staff Writer

WASHINGTON, D.C. (PAI)—Energized by speeches of support from union leaders from Oregon, California and Maryland and combative House Democrats ready to take on their own president, several hundred unionists fanned out over Capitol Hill on March 4 to lobby lawmakers to vote against so-called “fast-track” trade promotion authority.

But while they claim popular support – a poll released during the rally in the Capitol shows 75 percent support “fair trade that protects workers, the environment and jobs” and 11 percent oppose that – Congress may be another matter.

That’s because fast-track and the job-destroying “free trade” pacts that it would let President Barack Obama (D) jam through are one of the few issues that Obama, big business and most of Congress’ majority Republicans agree on.  And not all Democrats are on board with workers, either, several of the workers told Press Associates Union News Service.

Fast-track would let Obama push through three looming trade pacts, one with Europe, another covering public services and the third, and most dangerous, with 11 other Pacific Rim nations, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).  Congress couldn’t change the pacts, and all three would lack worker rights. 

They also would let business use secret trade courts to challenge and override federal, state and local laws if those laws even threatened potential corporate profits, speakers said.  Everything from state minimum wage hikes to Buy American laws would be under the gun.

“Fast track is the wrong track,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who hosted the mass rally, which marked the start of at least six weeks of lobbying on fast-track.  “Bad public policies,” including “bad trade agreements play a role” in stagnation of wages and decline of the middle class for the last 30 years, she declared.

Oregon AFL-CIO President Tom Chamberlain faulted Congress for not addressing “a number of pressing issues: Income inequality, wages are stagnant, manufacturing is decaying, the minimum wage is too low, and families struggle.”

Instead, he said, lawmakers tackle job-losing measures, with trade pacts at their head. “We can’t afford another bad trade deal that undermines our standard of living.  Working families deserve better and we’ve come to Washington to tell our congressional delegations to stand up for all of us.”