AFL-CIO to Push for Revised NAFTA to Protect Workers’ Rights, Raise Incomes

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Vowing to hold Republican President-elect Donald Trump to his promise to repeal the controversial 23-year-old jobs-losing North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the AFL-CIO and a group of pro-labor lawmakers will push for a new NAFTA that protects workers’ rights and raises their incomes, too – on all sides of all U.S. borders.

Their opening salvo came in a press conference on the first day of the GOP-run 115th Congress. Whether their plan will get anywhere is open to question: As some lawmakers noted, several key players in Trump’s proposed Cabinet are confirmed free traders. And the lawmakers who spoke were all House Democrats, who are heavily outnumbered there.

That didn’t stop them. “Renegotiating NAFTA is a necessary first step towards creating an economy with shared prosperity” for workers, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said.

Trump used his denunciations of NAFTA and similar job-losing trade agreements to narrowly win the key Great Lakes industrial states of Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, giving him an Electoral College majority over Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.

Trump’s arguments resonated with factory workers who have lost their jobs – with no or inadequate replacements, the lawmakers said – to NAFTA and succeeding trade pacts. Unions and workers opposed the pacts, predicting the calamities which have since occurred. Calculations show NAFTA alone cost between 685,000 and 1 million factory jobs in 23 years.

But, emphasizing that they’re for fair trade that helps workers, the lawmakers and Trumka want to trash the current NAFTA and replace it with one that puts workers first. And Trumka reminded listeners that Trump promised on the campaign trail to make such pro-worker deals. He vowed the fed and the solons will hold him to it.

“The momentum for a new” type of trade pact “is very, very clear and growing,” Trumka pointed out. “We saw it in the grass-roots campaign that killed the TPP (the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact), in the primaries of both parties and in the general election.

“When Donald Trump was elected, I made it clear the labor movement would work with Trump, where possible, on positions consistent with our values,” he said. Trade is one.

“Working Americans have to be at the center of any new strategy” for trade deals, both a replacement NAFTA and anything else, added Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., who led the successful fight in Congress to kill the TPP.

Rep. Paul Tomko, D-N.Y., said it’s time to “deliver policies that speak to American workers.”  And Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., said the junking-bad-trade-deals stand should extend to other past pacts, including letting China into the World Trade Organization. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, invited Trump to come there, or to “any state that has lost jobs to NAFTA, and talk to the workers” about its devastation of factories, families and communities.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., added another harm from NAFTA and similar pacts: Firms used them to force U.S. workers to accept lower wages and lousy benefits, by threatening to move. That’s what Mondelez, owner of Nabisco, did with its Oreo cookies production line on Chicago’s South Side last year, she said. That’s what it’s doing now at a cookie plant in the Philadelphia area, added Rep. David Norcross, D-N.J., a former building trades leader whose South Jersey congressional district is right across the Delaware River.

And Trump could act as soon as he becomes president, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., added, by sending a required negation notice under the pact to Canada and Mexico. Trump “also has the authority to impose additional tariffs on” a big trade violator, China, he added.

The “new NAFTA” labor and the lawmakers envision would include:

            • Enforceable worker rights and environmental standards written into the texts of trade pacts, not as “side letters,” and accompanied by tough and predictable enforcement.

            • Elimination of the Investor State Dispute System (ISDS), the secret pro-business “trade court” staffed by trade lawyers, that can kill federal, state and local laws – everything from job safety to Buy American statutes – that firms claim threaten present or future profits.

• Making currency manipulation a trade violation, subject to penalties and tariffs. DeLauro said several months after NAFTA passed, Mexico devalued the peso, further inciting U.S. firms to move plants to Mexico. Maquiladoras – U.S. factories transplanted over the border – have grown by 86 percent in 23 years, she said.

            • Writing protection for Buy American language into a new NAFTA and any other trade pacts. Federal, state and local “government dollars” should be spent on “procurement or products” made by American workers, Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, said.

            • Upgrading “rules of origin” for cars and parts. Trade pacts let so many car parts be made overseas, said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., that “40 percent of a vehicle can be made in China or Japan and it still could say ‘made in North America.’”

The new NAFTA should benefit workers on all sides of both the U.S.-Mexico and U.S.-Canada borders, Kaptur declared. Holding up a 22-year-old Houston Chronicle she had saved, Kaptur noted it was the only paper to send reporters to Mexico to find out what would happen there after NAFTA. The paper forecast high Mexican unemployment and migration to the U.S.

Several lawmakers were unsure of where Trump stands. He nominated ardent “free traders” to top posts, except for his nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, former Reagan administration trade official Robert Lighthizer.

Teamsters President Jim Hoffa, who was not at the press conference, said that nod shows Trump “laid the groundwork for following through on his campaign promise to end U.S. trade policies that devastated working families for the past 30 years.” The Teamsters hope “Lighthizer will enact policies that help our working families by strengthening U.S. industry and bringing back good-paying jobs to our country.”  

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Get to Know AFL-CIO's Affiliates: National Association of Letter Carriers

From the AFL-CIO

Next up in our series that takes a deeper look at each of our affiliates is the National Association of Letter Carriers.

Name of Union: National Association of Letter Carriers (NALC)

Mission: To unite fraternally all city letter carriers employed by the U.S. Postal Service for their mutual benefit; to obtain and secure rights as employees of the USPS and to strive at all times to promote the safety and the welfare of every member; to strive for the constant improvement of the Postal Service; and for other purposes. NALC is a single-craft union and is the sole collective-bargaining agent for city letter carriers.

Current Leadership of Union: Fredric V. Rolando serves as president of NALC, after being sworn in as the union's 18th president in 2009. Rolando began his career as a letter carrier in 1978 in South Miami before moving to Sarasota in 1984. He was elected president of Branch 2148 in 1988 and served in that role until 1999. In the ensuing years, he worked in various roles for NALC before winning his election as a national officer in 2002, when he was elected director of city delivery. In 2006, he won election as executive vice president. Rolando was re-elected as NALC president in 2010, 2014 and 2018.

Brian Renfroe serves as executive vice president, Lew Drass as vice president, Nicole Rhine as secretary-treasurer, Paul Barner as assistant secretary-treasurer, Christopher Jackson as director of city delivery, Manuel L. Peralta Jr. as director of safety and health, Dan Toth as director of retired members, Stephanie Stewart as director of the Health Benefit Plan and James W. “Jim” Yates as director of life insurance.

Number of Members: 291,000 active and retired letter carriers.

Members Work As: City letter carriers.

Industries Represented: The United States Postal Service.

History: In 1794, the first letter carriers were appointed by Congress as the implementation of the new U.S. Constitution was being put into effect. By the time of the Civil War, free delivery of city mail was established and letter carriers successfully concluded a campaign for the eight-hour workday in 1888. The next year, letter carriers came together in Milwaukee and the National Association of Letter Carriers was formed.

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