Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

TPP Deal Rushed Through; Working Families Respond

October 5th, 2015 | Kenneth Quinnell

Kenneth QuinnellIn Atlanta this weekend, negotiators rushed through a deal for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and working families were quick to respond, asking why the deal has to be rushed when there are many unanswered questions, and demanding that the details of the agreement be released as soon as possible so the people most affected by the deal—working people—know what to expect. Here are the responses from the AFL-CIO and other working family organizations.

Richard Trumka, AFL-CIO president:

We are disappointed that our negotiators rushed to conclude the TPP in Atlanta, given all the concerns that have been raised by American stakeholders and members of Congress. The Administration had a hard time reaching this deal for good reasons: it appears that many problematic concessions were made in order to finalize the deal. We ask the Administration to release the text immediately, and urge legislators to exercise great caution in evaluating the TPP. As we’ve said, rushing through a bad deal will not bring economic stability to working families, nor will it bring confidence that our priorities count as much as those of global corporations. We will evaluate the details carefully and work to defeat this corporate trade deal if it does not measure up.

Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA):

Negotiators from the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal countries, meeting in Atlanta, have announced an agreement. Despite all the hype, and given what we’ve learned over the past many months and years of negotiations, it’s clear that this TPP remains a bad deal for working families and communities. The corporate lobbyists who make up the majority of U.S. trade advisers have been pushing hard for an agreement, mainly because they’ve known all along that what’s in the TPP represents a sweet deal for multinational corporations and the 1 percent.  For the rest of us—U.S. working families and communities, and workers in the other TPP countries—this agreement is bad news.

Despite broad promises from the Obama administration and U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman that the deal would deliver for middle-class families, working people know that TPP would be a disaster. It would continue the offshoring of jobs and weakening of our communities that started under the North American Free Trade Agreement and hasn’t stopped. It would mean labor and environmental standards that look good on paper but fall flat when it comes to enforcement. It’s a corporate dream but a nightmare for those of us on Main Street.

We’re still very concerned about the Investor State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) process. The window dressing changes adopted in Atlanta don’t change the fact that corporations still have an extra-judicial process—ISDS 0151to enforce their rights. That’s not the case for labor and environmental standards. And we’re concerned that the protections given to pharmaceutical companies will mean that life-saving drugs won’t be affordable for millions. Before the TPP is put to a full vote in Congress, there must be adequate time for full review and discussion. Even on the quickest timetable, a vote that can’t happen until early 2016. Few members of Congress will want to vote in an election year on the mass giveaway of U.S. jobs that this TPP allows. CWA and our allies will be certain to hold accountable those members of Congress who support this giveaway to the 1 percent.

Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW):

The only good thing about a TPP agreement being reached is that the American people will finally be able to read every line of this deal. Given what we already know from leaked drafts, we should prepare for the worst, and expect even worse than that. This deal will most likely fail to address currency manipulation, offer big pharmaceutical corporations unacceptable protections that will limit access to life-saving medicine and threaten every hardworking American family with job losses and lower wages. How could this be good for America? Contrary to the rosy rhetoric and false promises, a long history of trade agreements proves that the TPP will have a devastating impact upon our families, our jobs and this nation. In the coming months, hardworking men and women who are a part of the UFCW family will be pushing every member of Congress—Republican and Democrat—to see the harmful effects of this deal through the eyes of everyday American families. Make no mistake, this fight is not over.

R. Thomas Buffenbarger, president of the Machinists (IAM):

As a labor union whose members build products that are exported all over the world, the IAM has always taken a strong interest in the development and growth of international trade. We know firsthand that trade done right will improve living standards and strengthen our economy to the benefit of all Americans. Unfortunately, the recently concluded Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) represents a new low in corporate dominance of our nation’s trade agenda. Despite the rhetoric, this deal represents a step backward in efforts to achieve effective labor standards and human rights. Negotiated in secret by and for multinational corporations that have no allegiance to any flag or country, the TPP will facilitate the export of American jobs to countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Mexico, which lack fundamental labor rights, some of which even engage in slave labor. Reports of a secret side agreement with Vietnam are especially offensive to anyone who takes internationally recognized labor standards seriously.

Earlier this year, Congress passed Fast Track legislation that laid out an ambitious set of negotiating goals that we, and others, warned were completely unenforceable. Reports indicate that we were correct in our assumption about the congressional negotiating goals; the U.S. Trade Representative simply ignored them. Although the agreement has not been made public yet, these reports indicate that, substandard labor standards remain weak and ineffective, currency manipulation has not been effectively addressed, rules of origin for autos are greatly weakened, access to affordable medicines is reduced, post Great Recession financial regulations were made less effective and secret non-governmental tribunals will interpret and enforce the agreement. As job and income growth continue to stagnate, Americans know that the economic system is rigged against them and the TPP is just the latest example. Congress must put the American people first and reject this deeply flawed trade agreement.

National Nurses United:

National Nurses United today urged Congress members to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership final agreement, warning there remains inadequate guarantees to assure patients and consumers will not be harmed by pharmaceutical price gouging.

NNU, the nation’s largest organization of nurses, says it also opposes any trade agreement that permits transnational corporations to use extra-legal proceedings to overturn public laws and regulations, the Investor State Dispute Settlement corporate tribunals seen in prior trade deals.

The nurses said they are in full agreement with Sen. Bernie Sanders who said today, that “Wall Street and other big corporations have won again. It is time for the rest of us to stop letting multinational corporations rig the system to pad their profits at our expense.”

While full details of the final pact remain murky, “there is simply no basis for any concessions that give the pharmaceutical corporations a green light to continue pricing patients in the U.S. or other countries out of affordable medications,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN.

Recent outrage over the decision of one pharmaceutical CEO, Martin Shrkeli to jack up prices by 5,000 percent on Duraprim, an anti-infection drug critical for people with weakened immune systems, “symbolizes why we need to close down on the handouts to big pharma, not give them greater monopoly control over high prices,” Ross noted.

With profits for the five largest pharmaceutical corporations topping $56 billion last year alone, and increased reporting on how much of the “innovation” drug companies claim they need is actually financed with taxpayer subsidies, “no one should be assisting the price gouging that puts patients’ lives at risk,” Ross said.

Ross cited concerns voiced by economist Joseph Stiglitz and Adam Hirsh who warned last week about the U.S. insistence on TPP language that permits the drug companies to maintain “their monopolies on patented medicines, keep cheaper generics off the market, and block ‘biosimilar’ competitors from introducing new medicines.”

The nurses “will also protest any agreement that allows any corporation to sue a government for ‘lost’ profits due to laws or regulations that establish public protections,” Ross added. News reports today said that the final TPP agreement had excluded tobacco companies from ISDS, which have committed some of the most notorious abuses under the corporate tribunals. “Why just tobacco when you have had many other corporate giants exploiting the same disgraceful extra-legal proceedings, Ross said. “No corporation should ever have the right to override laws that protect public safety.”

Professional and Technical Engineers:

Negotiators from the United States, Canada and 10 other countries reached an agreement in principle on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the ‘free trade agreement’ that has essentially been negotiated in secret over the last several years.

 Representing workers across North America, IFPTE has and will continue to oppose TPP, which has been dubbed “NAFTA on steroids.” Unless major changes were included by negotiators, the pact’s contents are designed to primarily benefit multinational corporations at the expense of workers, domestic manufacturers, and IFPTE members’ local and national economies and communities. The TPP is likely to further exacerbate the loss of well-paying jobs in both the Canadian and US manufacturing sectors, grant foreign corporations rights to contest local and national laws and regulations, and undermine financial regulations. TPP further perpetuates the global race to the bottom as TPP nations such as Malaysia, Vietnam, and Brunei have shown little to no commitment to international standards of human and workers’ rights. The trade agreements that TPP is modeled after have repeatedly failed to enforce language on labor and environmental standards.

IFPTE and its members will continue to urge legislators in Congress and Parliament to oppose ratification of TPP when it comes before their respective chambers.

Leo W. Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers (USW):

Since negotiations on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) started, the cleared advisers of the USW have devoted substantial resources and time to working with the trade negotiators responsible for developing and advancing U.S. interests in the trade talks.  Because the USW is the largest industrial union in North America, we see the real-life effects of trade policy every day. That is why we are paying close attention to the provisions that have the potential to harm the majority of our membership.

From what we know, the draft TPP threatens the future of production and employment. It compromises the so-called 21st century standards that were supposed to form the foundation for this agreement. It will deal a critical blow to workers and their standard of living in the United States. Although the final text has not been made available and will contain some new bells and whistles; from what we have seen and know, at its core the hastily concluded TPP deal will simply continue today’s outdated, disastrous approach to trade. This TPP deal shouldn’t even be submitted to Congress and, if it is, it should be quickly rejected.

You only have to look at the consistently dismal job numbers in manufacturing to understand what every manufacturing worker already knows. We have been on the losing end of trade deals. Once again, it appears that misguided foreign policy and global corporate interests have trumped sound economics and the opportunity to get things right. Our negotiators are trying to beat the clock to close a deal so they can rush it through Congress before next year’s elections.

TPP is sold as a way for the United States to write the rules of trade before China does. In many areas, the agreement fails this objective and the language on rules of origin will put a smile on the faces of China’s leaders. China didn’t get to write the rules in their favor because our American negotiators did it for them. The rule of origin on autos governs how much of a vehicle’s content must be produced by the twelve TPP countries to get the preferential treatment the TPP will provide. In this quickly concluded deal on rules of origin, Chinese-produced auto parts could account for more than a majority of a car’s parts and still get sweetheart treatment. While China is not as yet a party to the twelve-nation TPP, the TPP is designed so that other countries can join.

In many other areas critical to workers, U.S. negotiators refused to take the advice that was provided to them time and time again by the representatives of working people. But while supporters tout the deal, those promises will fall on deaf ears. Workers across this country have had to fight to get our trade rules enforced in the face of inadequate enforcement and constant cheating by our trading partners.

Even the best rules, which were not included in TPP, if unenforced, are essentially worthless. How trade rules are implemented, how we monitor imports, obtain market access for our exports and how we enforce our rules are all critical to any deal’s success. So far, there has been no progress or willingness of the Administration to even discuss specific steps that could be taken. TPP may be the final blow to manufacturing in America. Our producers and workers are under siege from other nations’ massive overproduction, foreign currency devaluation, our own lack of long-term infrastructure investment and the strong dollar.

Therefore, trade policy is not the only issue that determines what the economic prospects will be for working people. But, trade is the critical link to the world economy and global pressures are being felt in virtually every occupation and in every workplace.

Unions weren’t the only ones to express concern about TPP, Ford Motor Co. said the following via press release:

As a top U.S. exporter, Ford supports free trade agreements that result in real market openings and a level playing field for all to compete. Within the U.S. Congress, there is bipartisan consensus that currency manipulation needs to be meaningfully addressed. This summer, U.S. lawmakers took unprecedented action to set a clear negotiating objective for addressing currency manipulation in all future trade deals. The TPP fails to meet that test. To ensure the future competitiveness of American manufacturing, we recommend Congress not approve TPP in its current form, and ask the Administration to renegotiate TPP and incorporate strong and enforceable currency rules. This step is critical to achieving free trade in the 21st century.

This blog originally appeared in AFL-CIO on October 5, 2015. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Kenneth Quinnell is a long-time blogger, campaign staffer and political activist.  Before joining the AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  Previous experience includes Communications Director for the Darcy Burner for Congress Campaign and New Media Director for the Kendrick Meek for Senate Campaign, founding and serving as the primary author for the influential state blog Florida Progressive Coalition and more than 10 years as a college instructor teaching political science and American History.  His writings have also appeared on Daily Kos, Alternet, the Guardian Online, Media Matters for America, Think Progress, Campaign for America’s Future and elsewhere.

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