Pro-Worker Dems Bargain With Trump Trade Rep About Worker Rights and the ‘New NAFTA’

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

A coalition of pro-worker House Democrats, led by veteran Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., opened talks on June 25 with GOP President Donald Trump’s trade negotiator about writing strong and specific worker rights straight into Trump’s “new NAFTA,” rather than just into U.S. legislation to implement the controversial “free trade” pact.

“We have made it clear from Day One there must be changes in the agreement” itself, DeLauro said in an interview after a Capitol Hill press conference that day with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, other union reps and other pro-worker lawmakers.

Trumka called the confab to present more than 200,000 names on “National Day Of Action” petitions demanding Congress not even consider, much less approve, legislation implementing the ‘new NAFTA’ – formally called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement -- unless there are strong and enforceable worker rights sections.

With such strictures, Mexican wages would increase, unions and workers say. “If Mexican wages are not allowed to increase, they” – corporations – “will continue to suck jobs out of the U.S.,” Trumka warned. 

One reason the lawmakers and unions want the pro-worker requirements written into the trade pact’s text itself is they don’t trust Trump, or U.S. multinationals, to follow any law implementing the new agreement.

“Go back to 1992-93, when NAFTA passed,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., an Electrical Worker and former head of the South Jersey Building Trades Council. NAFTA proponents “promised we’d get more and better-paying jobs, but if you were a worker, you got royally screwed.”

“So the idea of ‘Trust me again and somehow it’ll be different’ isn’t going to do it.”

“My workers asked for” a new trade pact, “but they also said ‘Don’t give us the shaft,’” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., whose district includes Detroit 3 auto plants, such as Ford’s River Rouge. “We need an enforceable deal that pays American workers fairly and Mexican workers fairly.”

The worker rights sections of the USMCA are important. NAFTA, the 25-year-old pact it would replace, cost the U.S. between 770,000 and one million industrial jobs and thousands more white-collar jobs, such as in call centers. Machinists Legislative Director Hasan Solomon said his union alone lost 40,000 aerospace jobs as bosses moved 300 factories to Mexico.

As a result, the AFL-CIO and its member unions have been lobbying hard for enforceable worker rights and Trumka led a 3-day trade pact town hall listening tour to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit earlier in June.

Those enforceable worker rights include extensive labor law reform in Mexico, establishment of a Mexican Labor Department and a new court system to handle worker rights, free – not pro-company – Mexican unions and hiring of thousands of labor rights inspectors there.

They also include an end, in four years, to the 700,000 contracts those sham unions signed with multinational corporations, Trumka said. He previously doubted Mexico could achieve those goals, even more so since he reported multinationals are now challenging USMCA’s Mexican ratification in 96 court cases.

All those worker rights proposals, and more, were thought to be in the enabling legislation Trump has yet to send to Congress to implement the USMCA. DeLauro and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., made it clear those rights must be in the pact itself, especially since lawmakers theoretically cannot change the USMCA or the legislation Trump sends with it.

“There must be amendments to the text” of the “free trade” pact, DeLauro said in an interview after the press conference. “That has been our understanding from the outset and the U.S. Trade Representative has been told that,” DeLauro said of Trump’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer.

"We have said we want changes in the agreement,” not just in the bill Trump sends to Capitol Hill, Schakowsky added.

“Activists are demanding there be no vote on NAFTA 2.0” – the USMCA – “until it’s fixed,” said Lori Wallach, a trade expert who heads Public Citizen’s Trade Watch. “The petitions demand strong labor and environmental standards” in all three countries, but particularly in Mexico, “and that enforcement be swift and certain.”

She also noted there is precedent for rewriting the actual texts of trade pacts once they’re supposedly signed, sealed and delivered to presidents by Congress, with the enabling laws, too.

Three trade pacts the GOP George W. Bush administration signed in 2006 were reopened and renegotiated after congressional Democrats took power that fall and demanded it. The one pact Bush refused to reopen lost, Wallach said.

And both Wallach and Hassan warned of political trouble should Lighthizer, and Trump, not budge. “Expect an ugly fight” in Congress over the USMCA if Trump stays stubborn, said Wallach.

“I want to be crystal clear,” Hassan added.” This message is for any candidate for president or running for Congress: If you support NAFTA 2.0 as currently written, please do NOT call the Machinists union for an endorsement, political support or a contribution. You need to call Mexico for support! Because that’s exactly where NAFTA 2.0 will send our good American jobs.” 

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Steel for Wind Power

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

Siemens Gamesa last month laid off 130 workers at its turbine blade manufacturing plant in Iowa, just months after GE Renewable Energy decided to close an Arkansas factory and eliminate 470 jobs.

The companies reported shrinking demand for their products, even though U.S. consumption of wind energy increases every year.

America’s prosperity depends not only on harnessing this crucial energy source but also ensuring that highly skilled U.S. workers build the components with the cleanest technology available.

Right now, the nation relies on imported steel and turbine components from foreign manufacturers like China while America’s own steel industry—well equipped for this production—struggles because of dumping and other unfair trade practices.

Steel makes up the bulk of turbine hubs and the wind towers themselves. It’s also used to make the cranes and platforms necessary for installing the towers.

Yet the potential boon to America’s steel industry is just one reason to ramp up domestic production of wind energy infrastructure.

American steel production ranks among the cleanest in the world, while China has the highest carbon emissions of any steelmaking nation and flouts environmental regulations.

The nation’s highly-skilled steelmaking workforce must play an essential role in the deeply-needed revitalization and modernization of the nation’s failing infrastructure. Producing the components for harnessing wind energy domestically and cleanly is an important step that will put Americans to work and position the United States to be world leaders in this growing industry.

 

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There is Dignity in All Work