Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

Posts Tagged ‘NAFTA’

How the Canadians Are Trying to Use NAFTA to Raise Your Wage

Tuesday, September 19th, 2017

Finally, after nearly a quarter of a century, the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) is being renegotiated. This is a good thing. NAFTA is called a “trade deal,” but it’s mostly a collection of rules that give corporations more power over the three economies of North America. It gives companies tools to undermine laws and rules that protect America’s working families. It increased threats by U.S. employers to close workplaces and move to Mexico. And once the companies got there, NAFTA provided strict rules for them, but only vague guidelines to protect working people’s rights and freedoms.

NAFTA negotiations have not progressed very far, and it is too early to say whether the effort will bring a New Economic Deal to working people or simply more crony capitalism. But there was some fantastic, surprising, excellent news recently.

The Canadian negotiating team did something big: They told the U.S. negotiators that U.S. laws that interfere with people’s freedom to negotiate on the job are dragging down standards for Canada and need to be abolished. Guess what? Canada is right.

These laws, known as “right to work,” are another example of the wealthiest 1% rigging the rules to weaken the freedom of people joining together in union and negotiating with employers for better pay, benefits and conditions at work. Not surprisingly, states with these freedom-crushing laws are less safe and have lower wages, dragging down workplace standards for those in other states, and apparently in Canada, too.

Canada gets the obvious: These laws take away working people’s freedom to join together and raise their wages. Canada is pushing the United States to be fairer to working people, just as the U.S. is pushing Mexico to be fairer to its working people. Will the U.S. negotiators see the light and agree to this proposal in NAFTA? We certainly hope so. It will tell us a lot about who the president stands with: Corporate CEOs or working families?

Learn more about laws that take away working people’s freedom.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO.org on September 19, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 
About the Author: Celeste Drake is the trade and globalization policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, where she advocates for reforms to U.S. trade policy to create shared gains from trade on behalf of working families. She has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, various House subcommittees and the U.S. International Trade Commission, and made presentations before the European Union’s Economic and Social Committee.

Canadian Mounties to the Rescue of American Workers

Friday, September 8th, 2017

The Canadian Royal Mounties have offered to ride to the rescue of beleaguered American workers.

It doesn’t sound right. Americans perceive themselves to be the heroes. They are, after all, the country whose intervention won World War II, the country whose symbol, the Statue of Liberty, lifts her lamp to light the way, as the poem at the statue’s base says, for the yearning masses and wretched refuse, for the homeless and tempest-tossed.

America loves the underdog and champions the little guy. The United States is doing that, for example, by demanding in the negotiations to rewrite the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that Mexico raise its miserable work standards and wages. Now, though, here comes Canada, the third party in the NAFTA triad, insisting that the United States fortify its workers’ collective bargaining rights. That’s the Mounties to the rescue of downtrodden U.S. workers.

This NAFTA demand from the Great White North arrives amid relentless attacks on labor rights in the United States, declining union membership and stagnant wages. To prevent Mexico’s poverty wages from sucking U.S. factories south of the border, the United States is insisting that Mexico eliminate company-controlled fake labor unions. Similarly, to prevent the United States and Mexico from luring Canadian companies away, Canada is stipulating that the United States eliminate laws that empower corporations and weaken workers.

The most infamous of these laws is referred to, bogusly, as right-to-work. Really, it’s right-to-bankrupt labor unions and right-to-cut workers’ pay. These laws forbid corporations and labor unions from negotiating collective bargaining agreements that require payments in lieu of dues from workers who choose not to join the union. These payments, which are typically less than full dues, cover the costs that unions incur to bargain contracts and pursue worker grievances.

Lawmakers that pass right-to-bankrupt legislation know that federal law requires labor unions to represent everyone in their unit at a workplace, even if those employees don’t join the union and don’t make any payments. These dues-shirkers still get the higher wages and better benefits guaranteed in the labor contract. And they still get the labor union to advocate for them, even hire lawyers for them, if they want to file grievances against the company.

The allure of getting something for nothing, a sham created by right-wing politicians who prostrate themselves to corporations, ultimately can bankrupt unions forced to serve freeloaders. Which is exactly what the right-wingers and corporations want. It’s much easier for corporations to ignore the feeble pleas of individual workers for better pay and safer working conditions than to negotiate with unions that wield the power of concerted action.

Canada is particularly sensitive about America’s right-to-bankrupt laws because they’ve now crept up to the border. Among the handful of states that in recent years joined the right-to-bankrupt gang are Wisconsin and Michigan, both at the doorstep of a highly industrial region in Ontario, Canada.

So now, the governors of Wisconsin and Michigan can whisper in the ears of CEOs, “Come south, and we’ll help you break the unions. Instead of paying union wages, you can take all that money as profit and get yourself even fatter pay packages and bonuses!”

Then those governors will make American workers pay for the move with shocking tax breaks for corporations, like the $3 billion Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker promised electronics manufacturer Foxconn to locate a factory there. That’s $1 million in tax money for each of the 3,000 jobs that Foxconn said would be the minimum it would create with the $10 billion project.

Right-wing lawmakers like Walker and U.S. CEOs have been union busting for decades. And it’s been successful.  In the heyday of unions in the 1950s and 1960s, nearly 30 percent of all U.S. workers belonged. Wage rates rose as productivity did. And they climbed consistently. Then, one wage-earner could support a middle-class family.

That’s not true anymore. For decades now, as union membership waned, wages stagnated for the middle class and poor, and compensation for CEOs skyrocketed. And this occurred even while productivity rose. By January of 2016, the most recent date for which the statistics are available, union membership had declined to 10.7 percent. The number of workers in unions dropped by nearly a quarter million from the previous year.

This is despite the fact that union workers earn more and are more likely to have pensions and employer-paid health insurance. The median weekly earnings for non-union workers in 2016 was $802. For union members, it was $1,004.

It’s not that labor unions don’t work. It’s that right-wing U.S. politicians are working against them. They pass legislation and regulations that make it hard for unions to represent workers.

It’s very different for unions in Canada. For example, union membership in Canada is growing, not dwindling like in the United States. In Canada, 31.8 percent of workers were represented by union in 2015, up 0.3 percentage points from 2014. That is higher than the all-time peak in the United States.

And it’s because Canadian legislation encourages unionization to counterbalance powerful corporations. In some Canadian provinces, for example, corporations are prohibited from hiring replacements when workers strike; striking workers are permitted to picket the companies that sell to and buy from their employer; labor agreements must contain “successorship” rights requiring a corporation that buys the employer to recognize the union and abide by its labor agreement; and employers must submit to binding arbitration if they fail to come to a first labor agreement with a newly formed union within a specific amount of time.

The second round of negotiations to rewrite NAFTA ended in Mexico this week. The third is scheduled for later this month in Canada. That’s a good opportunity for the northernmost member of the NAFTA triad to showcase its labor laws and explain why they are crucial to defending worker rights and raising wages.

Getting language protecting workers’ union rights into NAFTA is not enough, however. The trade deal must also contain penalties for countries that fail to meet the standards. This could be, for example, border adjustment taxes on exports from recalcitrant countries.

Canada’s nearly 20,000 Royal Canadian Mounted Police only recently filed papers to unionize. That occurred after the Canadian Supreme Court overturned a 1960s era federal law that barred them from organizing.

Canada’s Supreme Court said the law violated the Mounties’ freedom of association, a right guaranteed to Americans in the U.S. Constitution. Now, Canada is riding to the rescue of U.S. and Mexican workers’ freedom of association by demanding the new NAFTA include specific protections for collective bargaining.

This blog was originally published at OurFuture.org on September 8, 2017. Reprinted with permission. 

About the Author: Leo Gerard, International President of the United Steelworkers (USW), took office in 2001 after the retirement of former president George Becker.

Working People Have 17 Recommendations for NAFTA. Here’s #2

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2017

By now, you’ve probably heard of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). You might have heard that some businesspeople think it’s a great deal, while average working families—and those who stand with us—think it only works if you’re already at the top.

If you’ve been reading our blog regularly, then you know NAFTA is being renegotiated. That means working people like us have an opportunity to fix it. And we laid out the first step: open the negotiations so that average citizens, not just corporate lobbyists and CEOs, can participate. So far, it’s not clear the negotiators heard us—but you can help us keep up the pressure.

Even if they do keep the doors closed on the talks, we have to address the rules of the deal. The first rules that need replacement are the labor rules. The labor rules determine whether the playing field is fair for all workers or whether global corporations can treat us like pawns, bidding down our wages and working conditions as they increase their profits at our expense.

Given our long experience of trying to use trade rules to protect rights and freedoms for working people, we know what works and what doesn’t. We won’t fall for vague promises about NAFTA being the best deal ever for working people. Instead, we will be looking for specific provisions.

A fair North American deal will:

  • Ensure that all three countries protect fundamental labor rights as set for in the International Labor Organization’s eight core conventions.

  • Establish an independent monitoring and enforcement entity so that governments can’t use delay tactics to deny our rights.

  • Establish prompt enforcement tools.

  • Ensure that goods traded between the countries are made by workers being paid living wages.

  • Protect migrant workers from fraud and abuse.

  • Protect all workers from discrimination and trafficking.

  • Contain effective tools to continually lift our wages and working conditions, rather then putting a ceiling on what we can achieve.

  • Ensure that no communities are left behind—we must all prosper together or we won’t prosper at all.

Since the dawn of the modern trade era (roughly 1990), no trade deal has ever put working families first. But we know the rules we need to make it happen. But no one will fight for those rules if we don’t lead.

Are you ready to join us? Urge your representative to call for open, transparent NAFTA renegotiations.

This blog was originally published at AFL-CIO on August 22, 2017. Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Celeste Drake is the trade and globalization policy specialist at the AFL-CIO, where she advocates for reforms to U.S. trade policy to create shared gains from trade on behalf of working families. She has testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, various House subcommittees and the U.S. International Trade Commission, and made presentations before the European Union’s Economic and Social Committee.

Trade Is Trump’s Biggest Broken Promise

Monday, April 3rd, 2017

Say anything – literally anything – to sway working-class voters. Get elected, then loot the country. Hey, it worked for this guy.

If there was a singular issue Trump campaigned on, it was trade. Everywhere he went, Trump swore the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere” and “a rape of our country” – and whatever else he needed to say to sway working-class voters who felt betrayed by our economy and our trade deals.

Like other candidates before him, Trump wanted to win votes in places like Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and other states devastated by the loss of manufacturing jobs to “trade.”

In his speeches he complained that candidate Hillary Clinton had aligned herself with a”financial elite” to “betray” working people.

“Globalization has made the financial elite who donate to politicians very wealthy. But it has left millions of our workers with nothing but poverty and heartache.

[. . .] Hillary Clinton and her friends in global finance want to scare America into thinking small – and they want to scare the American people out of voting for a better future.

My campaign has the opposite message.

Later, he outlined specific complaints about the content of trade agreements, referring to Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) signed by President Obama, but clearly he meant multilateral trade deals in general. He said these trade deals had left decision-making to “an international commission” and that they do nothing about “currency cheaters.”

The “international commission” he refers to is a provision in trade agreements knowns as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS), more commonly known as “Corporate Courts.”

It would give up all of our economic leverage to an international commission that would put the interests of foreign countries above our own.

It would further open our markets to aggressive currency cheaters.

Specifically about ISDS provisions,

The TPP creates a new international commission that makes decisions the American people can’t veto.

These commissions are great Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street funders who can spend vast amounts of money to influence the outcomes.

Of course, that was then.

Never Mind

Trump, who campaigned promising to “drain the swamp” in Washington, has filled his administration with the very swamp creatures his voters hated. Billionaires, Goldman Sachs executives, lobbyists, and so on.

Now the very “financial elite” he railed about during the campaign appears to be having its way with him on trade. If the details in a draft letter circulated to members of Congress this week are true, Trump is not scrapping NAFTA after all.

In fact, he’s not even addressing what he had said were his biggest concerns in the trade agreement. A NY Times report explains,

Rather than scrap NAFTA’s arbitration tribunals, regarded by some free-trade critics as secretive bodies that give private corporations unbridled power to challenge foreign governments outside the court system, the letter proposed to “maintain and seek to improve procedures” for settling disputes.

It made no mention of currency policy, an issue many trade experts had thought might be on the table.

Trump wants minor tweaks to the agreement. ISDS still there. Nothing about currency. Too bad. Sad!

“The Same Corporate Wish List”

There were a number of reactions to Trump’s NAFTA reversal.

“Mostly what I see here is the same corporate wish list and a set of international rules that work quite well for global corporations,”  said the AFL-CIO’s trade policy specialist, Celeste Drake, to Politico.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka weighed in as well:

This draft leaves standing the worst and most oppressive parts of NAFTA. It leaves in place the right of foreign investors to sue the U.S. in private tribunals in order to skirt health, safety and environmental laws. On other important issues, including rules of origin for automobiles, labor and environmental standards, currency misalignment and procurement, the draft plan is either silent or so vague that it could be describing the now defunct Trans-Pacific Partnership – an agreement working people wholeheartedly opposed.

Rewriting the rules of our economy, and specifically changing the way we do trade, was one of the most important issues that voters went to the polls on. If the president wants to keep his promises, he needs to bring that same tough stance he had on the campaign trail to renegotiating America’s trade deals.

Politico’s Morning Trade carried reactions from Democrats in Congress:

Rep. Bill Pascrell, the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, called it “baffling” that the draft left out currency manipulation, which Trump had made a signature campaign issue – “let alone call for strong and enforceable commitments.” “And I do not get the sense that the administration yet understands the importance of ensuring full implementation of international labor standards in Mexico to ensure the competitiveness of U.S. workers in the North American market,” the New Jersey lawmaker added in a statement.

So there it is. The guy who set up Trump University has now set up the Trump administration. It is staffed by family members, Breitbart editors, kooks, and, of course, the upper crust of the very “financial elite” he supposedly ran against.

After scarcely two months in office, the new administration is under investigation for violations ranging from breaking ethics rules to corruption and espionage. Trump has spent roughly a third of his time as president vacationing at his Mar-a-Lago golf resort in Florida and other Trump properties, with the government paying a huge tab – to him – for Secret Service, staffers and others who are along for the ride.

He said what he had to say to win. Now we’re stuck.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on March 31, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Dave Johnson has more than 20 years of technology industry experience. His earlier career included technical positions, including video game design at Atari and Imagic. He was a pioneer in design and development of productivity and educational applications of personal computers. More recently he helped co-found a company developing desktop systems to validate carbon trading in the US.

 

Trading Rules for Workers

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

President Donald Trump met with a bunch of CEOs at the White House last week, prompting the same old, tired and untrue round of assertions that America lost millions of manufacturing jobs because of automation, regulation, illegal immigration and lack of education.

The real culprit is globalization – fostered by a series of bad trade deals. That’s not what the CEOs talked about, though, mainly because a huge portion of them already have moved factories from America to low-wage, high-pollution countries.

Bad trade is, however, what President Trump talked about constantly on the campaign trail. He repeatedly assured cheering crowds he would stop corporations from offshoring factories. A new report from the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation proves his diagnosis was right – bad trade caused the vast majority of the job losses. He was right when he said the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade deal and NAFTA had to go. Offshoring CEOs are trying to bamboozle the administration about the cause of job loss to prevent President Trump from keeping his promises to industrial workers.

And those CEOs are wrong about automation. Robots didn’t do it. They didn’t kill 5.7 million manufacturing jobs between 2000 and 2010. That’s the bottom line in research published this month by Adams Nager, an economic policy analyst for the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation and in another report by economists Lawrence Mishel and Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute.

If robots were responsible, then manufacturing productivity would have grown substantially during that period, as fewer people would have been needed to perform the same work. But that didn’t happen. Manufacturing productivity actually declined. It was 25.8 percent in the 1990s and dropped slightly to 22.7 percent between 2000 and 2010.

During that decade of lower productivity, manufacturing job losses were 10 times greater than during the 1990s. Those massive losses could be attributed to robots only if productivity had risen dramatically.

Mishel and Shierholz put it this way in their report: “We need to give the robot scare a rest. Robots are not leading to mass joblessness and are not the cause of wage stagnation or growing wage inequality.”

Undocumented immigrants didn’t take those lost manufacturing jobs either. Those jobs disappeared from the United States. No one in America has them, documented or undocumented. In addition, the vast majority of undocumented aliens work in low-paid agricultural, cleaning and food service jobs, and their share of the work force has declined since 2007, according to the Pew Research Center.

Regulation-kills-jobs is another trope CEOs cite incessantly. They brought it up again in their meeting Thursday with President Trump. They want to neglect their duty to protect air and water from toxic industrial pollutants. They want to disregard the health and safety protections established to prevent workers from dying on the job or from job-induced illnesses. And they certainly want to ignore the safeguards that enable workers to organize and collectively bargain for better wages, benefits and working conditions.

The government, they contend for example, has no right to oversee corporate use of toxic chemicals that can kill workers and neighboring community members because those protections cut into profitability. To CEOs, it’s always profits before people.

In addition, CEOs say American workers are just too stupid to work in manufacturing. Some CEOs told Trump there are hundreds of factory job openings, but not enough qualified workers to fill them.

One CEO complained, for example, that most high school graduates lack the math and English skills necessary for his company’s apprenticeship.

These CEOs didn’t offer to provide the remedial skills. They didn’t step forward to pay for the training they say workers don’t have. They want the government – that is taxpayers – to foot the bill. That is the same taxpayers who CEOs say should not get government protection from toxic manufacturing chemicals.

If CEOs would raise the pay for manufacturing work, more workers might be willing to invest in training themselves. Most of those high school graduates who the CEOs derided possess sufficient math skills to perform the cost-benefit analysis on self-training. They have figured out that paying $25,000 to $100,000 in tuition to a technical school to get a low-pay, no-benefits job that a corporation may ship offshore at any time does not add up.

Still, the CEOs called American workers stupid.

These workers, unlike the CEOs, know the truth. They know what killed their jobs. It was bad trade deals and violations by exporting countries like China. They saw the likes of Carrier, Caterpillar and Dana, whose CEOs attended Trump’s manufacturing meeting Thursday, close American factories and open them in other countries. They know that many countries, but particularly China, disregard international trade regulations then dump artificially underpriced products on the American market, killing U.S. manufacturing jobs.

The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation study provides the statistics to back up workers’ experience. “It is important to recognize how global competition contributed to upwards to two-thirds of the manufacturing jobs lost from 2000 to 2010,” the author Adam Nager, wrote. During that time, he said, “China ramped up its mercantilist policies – from currency manipulation to forced intellectual property transfers and government subsidies – all of which hurt U.S. manufacturing employment.” All of which also violate trade rules.

The day after his meeting with CEOs, President Trump repeated the promise he made many times on the campaign trail: “the forgotten men and women of America will be forgotten no more.” This was compelling to manufacturing workers who had lost their jobs and felt their plight was ignored.

But these workers know from bitter experience that CEOs don’t have their best interests in mind. They know the problem with the TPP and NAFTA is that they were drafted by CEOs for the benefit of CEOs and 1 percenter shareholders. Workers never got an equal seat at the negotiating tables.

They know that Donald Trump listened to 24 CEOs on Thursday but not one manufacturing worker.

Just like with TPP and NAFTA, it matters who is giving advice. Just like with bogus trickle-down economics, the advice given by CEOs doesn’t trickle down to benefit workers on the line. It only bubbles up to line executives’ pockets.

Workers need a seat at the table when the new rules for trade and restoring American manufacturing are written.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on February 28, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

Make American Jobs

Monday, February 13th, 2017

President Donald Trump had Harley-Davidson executives and employees over to lunch at the White House last week and reiterated his promise to end wrong-headed trade policies that enable foreign countries to eat American workers’ lunch.

Trump reassured the Harley workers from the United Steelworkers (USW) union and the International Association of Machinists (IAM) that he would renegotiate NAFTA and other trade deals.

“A lot of people [have been] taking advantage of us, a lot of countries [have been] taking advantage of us, really terribly taking advantage of us,” he said as news cameras clicked. “We have to be treated fairly.”

No promise could be more heartening to workers as corporations like Carrier and Rexnord continue to move jobs to Mexico. No news could be better in the same week that the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released research showing that since 2001, the United States’ massive trade deficit with China cost 3.4 million Americans their jobs.

EPI-jobs-China-Gerard-OurFuture

Workers, families and communities have suffered as trade and tax policy over the past quarter century encouraged corporations to off-shore factories and jobs. Flipping that philosophy to favor American workers and domestic manufacturing is exactly what labor organizations like the USW have long fought for. If Trump actually achieves that, all Americans will benefit.

In the meantime, Rexnord Corp. has finalized plans to uproot its bearings manufacturing machines in Indianapolis, transport the equipment to Mexico and throw 300 skilled and dedicated workers, members of my union, the USW, into the street. Terminations begin Feb. 13.

Automation did not take these workers’ jobs. The lure of dirt-cheap wages in Mexico and tax breaks awarded for the costs of moving jobs and machinery stole them.

Trump talked to the Harley workers and executives about changing tax policy. Ending all special tax deals and loopholes that corporations like Rexnord and Carrier use for shuttering American factories and shipping them to other countries would be a good first step. U.S. policy shouldn’t reward corporations like Rexnord and Carrier that profit from exploiting the international wage race to the bottom and the wretched environmental regulation of emerging nations.

Harley-Gerard-OurFuture

Caption: Photo by Vlad/Flickr

The next logical step would be establishing consequences for those corporations — like requiring them to pay substantial economic penalties if they want access to the U.S. market for their once-domestic and now foreign-made products.

In addition, American policy must be —  just as Trump promised in his campaign — to stop trade law violators who are trampling all over American workers.

The EPI study detailed the devastation caused by the worst violator — China. American workers and companies can compete on a level playing field with any counterpart in the world. But the EPI study shows just how much American workers and their employers suffer when the United States fails to strictly enforce international trade law.

Of the 3.4 million jobs lost between 2001 and 2015 because of the U.S. trade deficit with China, EPI found that nearly three-quarters of them, 2.6 million, were manufacturing jobs. Every state and every congressional district was hit. These are jobs fabricating computer and electronic parts, textiles, apparel and furniture.

Manufacturing jobs such as these provide family-supporting wages and benefits such as health insurance and pensions. As these jobs went overseas, American workers’ income stagnated while those at the top — executives, 1 percenters and corporate stockholders — benefited.

As the rich got richer, the EPI researchers found, all non-college educated workers lost a total of $180 billion a year in income.

When the United States agreed to allow China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, former President Bill Clinton said the access that the deal provided American companies to the gigantic Chinese market would create jobs. Promises, promises.

It’s possible no one guessed just how massively China would violate the trade rules it agreed to abide by under the WTO pact. Numerous investigations by the Department of Commerce have found China improperly subsidizes its exports by providing artificially cheap loans, free land, and discounted raw materials and utilities. To keep its workers employed, China helps finance overproduction in industries like steel and aluminum, then dumps the excess at below-market prices in the United States, bankrupting mills and factories here.

China pirates innovation, software and technology from foreign producers. To steal trade secrets, its military hacked into the computers of American corporations and the USW. In addition, China has manipulated the value of its currency so that its exports are artificially cheap and imports from the United States are artificially expensive.

Even if the scale of violation was underestimated, when it occurred, the American government had a responsibility to take action, to file trade cases, to take issues before the WTO, to negotiate to bring China in line with international standards and protect American jobs and preserve domestic manufacturing, which is crucial to national defense.

Precious little of that occurred. The trade deficit with China exploded, obliterating American jobs — a quarter million on average every year since China joined the WTO in 2001. China exports to the United States its overproduced aluminum, steel and other commodities, but also its unemployment.

After that lunch, Trump thanked Harley-Davidson for assembling its iconic motorcycles in America. He extended his hand in aid, saying, “We are going to help you, too. We are going to make it really great for business, not just for you, but for everybody. We are going to be competitive with anybody in the world.”

American workers and domestic manufacturers already are competitive. What they need is a government that doesn’t require them to compete with a handicap so huge that it’s like asking Evel Knievel to jump his Harley-Davidson XR 750 over 19 cars without a ramp. What they need is tough action against corporations that renounce their birthplace for profit and against flagrant, job-stealing trade violators like China.

This post originally appeared on ourfuture.org on February 7, 2017. Reprinted with Permission.

Leo Gerard is the president of the United Steelworkers International union, part of the AFL-CIO. Gerard, the second Canadian to lead the union, started working at Inco’s nickel smelter in Sudbury, Ontario at age 18. For more information about Gerard, visit usw.org.

6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People

Friday, December 30th, 2016

Today we released a blueprint for how to rewrite NAFTA to benefit working families. This past election there was much-needed discussion on the impact of corporate trade deals on our manufacturing sector and on working-class communities. The outline below puts forward real solutions that should garner bipartisan support if lawmakers are truly serious about realigning our trade policies to help workers.

We need a different direction on trade. This movement has been largely driven by working people. As we approach the inauguration of a new president, it is important that everyday working people’s perspectives lead the debate, starting with how to rewrite NAFTA.

The AFL-CIO has long supported rewriting the rules of NAFTA to provide more equitable outcomes for working families. To date, the biggest beneficiaries of NAFTA have been multinational corporations, which have gained by destroying middle-class jobs in the U.S. and Canada and replacing them with exploitative, sweatshop jobs in Mexico. It doesn’t have to be this way. With different rules, NAFTA could become a tool to raise wages and working conditions in all three North American countries, rather than to lower them.

6 Ways We Could Improve NAFTA for Working People

Key Areas for Improvement

1. Eliminate the private justice system for foreign investors.

NAFTA established a private justice system for foreign investors, thereby prioritizing corporate rights over citizens’ rights, giving corporations even more influence over our economy than they already have. This private justice system, known as investor-state dispute settlement, or ISDS, allows foreign investors to challenge local, state and federal laws before private panels of corporate lawyers. Although these lawyers are not accountable to the public, they are empowered to decide cases and award vast sums of taxpayer money to foreign businesses. Under NAFTA, these panels have awarded millions of dollars to corporations when local and state governments exercise their jurisdictional power to deny things such as municipal building permits for toxic waste processing facilities. ISDS gives foreign investors enormous leverage to sway public policies in their favor. Scrapping the entire system would help level the playing field for small domestic producers and their employees.

2. Strengthen the labor and environment obligations (the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation and the North American Agreement on Environmental Cooperation), include them in the agreement, and ensure they are enforced.

The NAFTA labor and environment side agreements were not designed to effectively raise standards for workers or to ensure clean air and water. Instead, they were hastily patched together to quiet NAFTA’s critics. These agreements should be scrapped and replaced with provisions that effectively and robustly protect international labor and environmental standards. Violators should be subject to trade sanctions when necessary—so that we stop the race to the bottom that has resulted from NAFTA. Without stronger provisions, environmental abuses and worker exploitation will continue unchecked.

3. Address currency manipulation by creating binding rules subject to enforcement and possible sanctions.

Within months after NAFTA’s approval by Congress, Mexico devalued the peso, wiping out overnight potential gains from NAFTA’s tariff reductions. This devaluation made imports from Mexico far cheaper than they otherwise would have been and priced many U.S. exports out of reach for average Mexican consumers. Countries should not use currency policies to gain trade advantages—something China, Japan and others have done for many years. All U.S. trade agreements, including NAFTA, should be upgraded to create binding rules, subject to trade sanctions, to prevent such game playing.

4. Upgrade NAFTA’s rules of origin, particularly on autos and auto parts, to reinforce auto sector jobs in North America.

NAFTA’s rules require that automobiles be 62.5% “made in North America” to qualify for duty-free treatment under NAFTA. Even though 62.5% seems high compared with the Trans-Pacific Partnership’s inadequate 45%, it still allows for nearly 40% of a car to be made in China, Thailand or elsewhere. The auto rule of origin should be upgraded to eliminate loopholes (through products “deemed originating” in North America) and to provide additional incentives to produce in North America. This, combined with improved labor standards, will contribute to a more robust labor market and help North American workers gain from trade.

5. Delete the procurement chapter that undermines “Buy American” laws (Chapter 10).

NAFTA contains provisions that require the U.S. government to treat Canadian and Mexican goods and services as “American” for many purchasing decisions, including purchases by the departments of Commerce, Defense, Education, Veterans Affairs and Transportation. This means that efforts to create jobs for America’s working families by investing in infrastructure or other projects, including after the financial crisis of 2008, could be ineffective. This entire chapter should be deleted.

6. Upgrade the trade enforcement chapter (Chapter 19).

NAFTA allows for a final review of a domestic anti-dumping or countervailing duty case by a binational panel instead of by a competent domestic court. This rule, omitted from subsequent trade deals, has hampered trade enforcement, hurting U.S. firms and their employees. It should be improved or omitted.

This blog originally appeared at aflcio.org on December 20, 2016.  Reprinted with permission.
Jackie Tortora is the blog editor and social media manager at AFL-CIO.

On Trade, Our Choices Aren’t Only Xenophobic Nationalism Or Neoliberal Globalization

Friday, August 5th, 2016

leon finkFew issues are receiving a more insipid—and thus more harmful—treatment in our public discourse than world trade.  Along with immigration, “free trade” is now the foremost symbol of a supposed either/or choice between globalism and nationalism.

“Globalists” generally hail the liberal marketplace as the engine of economic prosperity and assail its critics as uneducated and irrational isolationists, while “nationalists” instinctively identify trade with economic decline (or at least the loss of good working-class jobs), rising inequality and a general loss of control over the future.

As CNN host Fareed Zakaria put it after Britain voted to leave the EU, “the new politics of our age will be not be left versus right, but open versus closed.”

This framework risks closing off our best possibilities for building a progressive economic future. We need a new paradigm.

Some historical perspective is first in order. That is the only way to account for the fact that those forces—call them white working class— today most deeply resentful of the open market were among its loudest champions during the first three decades after World War II.

The wartime Bretton Woods agreement together with the immediate post-war Marshall Plan reintegrated the Western-plus-Japanese economies on the basis of stable currencies, expanding markets and political democracy. After the catastrophe of Nazi-era cartels and hyper-nationalism—including the United States’ own notorious Smoot-Hawley Tariff Act, which set barriers of up to 59 percent on imported goods—Western workers, generally well-organized in trade unions, felt as much stake in the rising tide of economic growth as did their bosses. A slick pamphlet designed for mass distribution by the American Federation of Labor in 1947 heralded “The Promise of Bretton Woods—5,000,000 Jobs in World Trade.”

In these early years of globalization, what we today call the Global South mattered mainly as sources of cheap raw materials or as markets for Western-produced goods. In hindsight it is easy to see how the global system that so long fed American middle-class prosperity came back to bite it, once poor countries (in alliance with multinational corporations) developed their own manufacturing platforms.

In an age of transportation and communication revolutions, geography proved less and less a haven for higher-cost home producers against distant competitors—and, to be sure, not even that distant. By the NAFTA era of the mid-1990s, U.S. workers were making ten times the average wage of their Mexican counterparts. If placed in direct competition, how could they possibly hold onto their jobs?

The question remains, however, how best to tackle the negative effects of globalization without upsetting the entire applecart of world trade? Oddly, most other problems of world economic integration have found solutions through compromise, whereas trade has remained the province of extreme either/or.

In finance and currency crises, for example, the International Monetary Fund and/or World Bank regularly intervene to protect a national currency from abrupt free falls. In oceanic mining and fishing, worldwide agreements limit territorial overreach to prevent the exhaustion of vital resources or whole species. However inadequately, even on the climate crisis, world powers have accepted the principle of limits and the need to discipline fuel consumption and carbon output.

Yet, there is no such movement towards an adoption of mutually-agreed international principles on matters of trade. In a politically suffocating manner, one is either pro-free trade (most big business and most Clinton-Bush-Obama policies), anti-free trade (Donald Trump with a proposed 45% tariff on China) or stumbling in the middle (pro-then-anti-TPP Hillary Clinton). The Trans-Pacific Partnership, in particular, attempts to overcome First World skepticism with side agreements on labor, affecting workers in Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei, but the record of enforcement for such guarantees is spotty at best.

The options here present a silly, self-defeating set of choices and one that both workers and consumers in the United States and Europe need quickly to transcend.

Interestingly, as early as the time of Bretton Woods, there were voices calling for a better international architecture when it came to world economic integration. The left-of-center Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO) even got initial support from the administration of Harry Truman for the creation of an International Trade Organization (alongside the IMF) that would coordinate further bilateral or multilateral trade openings with tangible commitments regarding employment, development, and investment. Hopes for the ITO collapsed when conservative Republicans captured the Congress in 1950. No similar idea has been seriously considered since.

In the spirit of the ITO, we need a return to the quest for a new world order as undertaken at Bretton Woods, but this time with a more encompassing agenda. Not just financial stability, but the regulation of trade and debt must be on the agenda. Global exchanges should yield equitable employment as well as enhanced bottom lines.

In the case of proposed NAFTA or TPP-type agreements, one could imagine an actualized ITO insisting on a step ladder of wage increases in the cheaper-labor countries as well as plans for displaced workers in the higher-wage countries before approving massive shake ups. In return, poor countries could count on significant debt relief.

Absent a move towards what we might call progressive internationalism, we are forced to choose between “globalists,” heedless of the consequences of development for those outside the professional and financial classes, or “nationalists,” suspicious of and hostile towards the world beyond our borders. Neither posture holds out much prospect for economic renewal, either at home or abroad.

This post originally appeared at Inthesetimes.com on August 2, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Leon Fink is Distinguished Professor of History at the University of Illinois at Chicago and editor of the journal Labor: Studies in Working-Class History of the Americas.

Trade Deals Like TPP Encourage 'Business Decisions' Like This Heartbreaking One from Indianapolis

Friday, February 12th, 2016
Kenneth Quinnell

In this video, workers at the Carrier plant in Indianapolis react to the company announcing that it will ship 1,400 local jobs to Mexico in what they described as “strictly a business decision.” You can hear the heartbreak and outrage in the voices of the workers who must now scramble to figure out how to take care of their families. Carrier makes heating, air conditioning, ventilation and other systems. The layoffs are scheduled to begin in 2017.

Aside from corporate greed, the main reason that Carrier can get away with something like this is the major flaws that have been built into international trade deals like North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. These kinds of deals make sure that these types of tragic moments happen more frequently.

First off, these deals provide companies that want to offshore to trading partners with extraordinary powers and legal rights they do not have under U.S. law–powers and rights that shift the balance of power further away from working people. Second, these deals put U.S. manufacturers in closer competition with foreign companies that pay low wages and don’t respect labor rights. This encourages U.S. companies to offshore in order to keep up with those foreign companies.

The third reason these deals encourage outsourcing is that they fail to level the playing field in terms of taxes. Such a deal could set a minimum level for corporate tax rates or create rules to prevent companies from gaming the tax system and pitting countries against each other. With those options left off the table, a race to the bottom is encouraged, where companies shift jobs to countries with lower tax rates, which, in turn, encourages higher-tax rate countries to lower taxes and the ripple effect those lower rates have on the economy and the government’s goods and services. A trade deal meant to create U.S. jobs would address this.

And lastly, of course, these trade deals eliminate tariffs in the trade zone, further encouraging companies to shift jobs to trade partners because corporations know they can ship goods back into the United States without paying tariffs, thus using the tariff cuts to increase U.S. imports instead of increasing U.S. exports.

This blog originally appeared in aflcio.org on February 11, 2016. Reprinted with permission.

Kenneth Quinnell is a long time blogger, campaign staffer, and political activist.  Prior to joining AFL-CIO in 2012, he worked as a labor reporter for the blog Crooks and Liars.  He was the past Communications Director for Darcy Burner and New Media Director for Kendrick Meek.  He has over ten years as a college instructor teaching political science and American history.

Avoiding NAFTA’s Job-Killing Mistakes

Monday, March 31st, 2014

Image: Mike HallThe North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) turns 20 this year. Some 700,000 jobs have been lost, income inequality, the U.S. trade deficit and environmental and other problems have grown because of NAFTA in the past two decades. On Thursday, a panel of trade experts will hold a Capitol Hill briefing on NAFTA’s failed trade model and how to avoid the mistakes of the past in the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

The 11 a.m. meeting in the U.S. Capitol Visitor Center, Room 201, is open to congressional staffers. If you wish to attend but don’t have a congressional ID, you may RSVP to Andrew.linhardt@sierraclub.org.

The briefing is sponsored by the AFL-CIO, the Institute for Policy Studies, Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch and the Sierra Club.

Read “NAFTA at 20” here.

This article was originally printed on AFL-CIO on March 31, 2014.  Reprinted with permission.

About the Author: Mike Hall is a former West Virginia newspaper reporter, staff writer for the United Mine Workers Journaland managing editor of the Seafarers Log.  He came to the AFL- CIO in 1989 and has written for several federation publications, focusing on legislation and politics, especially grassroots mobilization and workplace safety.

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