Trump Still Has Nothing But Platitudes For American Workers

By Lori Wallach and Rep. Rosa DeLauro

“America has also finally turned the page on decades of unfair trade deals that sacrificed our prosperity and shipped away our companies, our jobs and our wealth ... The era of economic surrender is totally over,” Trump crowed in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night, echoing the pro-working-American populist message he rode into the White House.

But in his near record-length speech, Trump actually said very little about trade and jobs, and nothing of substance.

Candidate Trump won Midwestern swing states in part by focusing on the reality that many people haven’t seen a pay increase in years and cannot find better paying jobs because of trade deals like the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and our 2000 China trade deal. Instead of leveling the playing field for workers, these deals made it easier for companies to outsource jobs so they can pay employees less.

Trump promised to stop American job outsourcing, bring down the trade deficit and bring jobs back with fast renegotiation of NAFTA  and speedy action to reverse the huge China trade deficit. On Tuesday night, he reiterated “we expect trading relationships to be fair. And very importantly, reciprocal.” But in the first year of his presidency, both the NAFTA and China trade deficits are up.

And contrary to Trump’s claim that companies are “roaring back,” outsourcing has continued. Hundreds of the very Carrier workers who Trump pledged to protect saw their jobs shipped to Mexico, along with 300 jobs across Indianapolis at Rexnord and another 600 at Nabisco in Chicago. Hundreds of Milwaukee GE workers saw their jobs shipped to Canada this fall, while Microsoft is outsourcing jobs to China. The list goes on.

Contrary to Trump’s campaign pledge, his administration continued to grant lucrative government contracts to firms that outsource, including 15 new contracts to Carrier’s parent corporation, United Technologies. And Trump’s tax bill is projected to incentivize corporations to outsource even more, offering lower tax rates to firms operating offshore while failing to eliminate longstanding outsourcing loopholes.

Despite his endlessly repeated promise of China trade action, Trump has done almost nothing to slow the flood of Chinese imports or boost U.S. exports there. A comprehensive new China trade policy is needed, not only stopgap measures to counter damage to specific industries.

Worse, during Trump’s China state visit, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross gleefully touted Goldman Sachs’ new $5 billion joint fund with the Chinese government’s main investment arm and plans by other Chinese state-owned and state-linked companies to acquire assets in sensitive U.S. infrastructure, energy and food sectors. Greater control over the U.S. market is part of the Chinese government’s “Made in China 2025” plan to dominate the global economy, not Trump’s promised “tough on China” agenda.

The sixth round of NAFTA renegotiations just ended in Montreal, but Trump’s speech provided no clue how he might deliver on his pledge to redo the trade pact to benefit working people. At the heart of the deal are special investor protections that make it cheaper and less risky to outsource jobs and empower firms to attack domestic policies before tribunals of corporate lawyers.

In October, the U.S. proposed vital changes ― long demanded by many in Congress, unions and consumer groups ― to cut NAFTA’s investor outsourcing protections, “Buy American” waivers and the investor-state tribunals, and to add tighter rules of origin and a mandatory performance review and reaffirmation clause. But the corporate lobby is now doing all it can to stop these changes.

The administration has also not yet proposed tough labor and environmental standards with swift and certain enforcement that would discourage companies from continuing to move jobs to Mexico, paying workers poverty wages and dumping toxins, and then importing those products back for sale here. Last week, a letter signed by nearly every Democratic member of the House of Representatives conveyed eagerness for a NAFTA rewrite they could support and the necessity of strong labor standards to be able to do so. Meanwhile, the talks are being mobbed by corporate lobbyists who want to preserve NAFTA’s outsourcing protections and add new limits on food safety, consumer privacy safeguards and financial rules, and new monopoly rights for pharmaceutical firms to raise medicine prices.

To date, more than 930,000 specific American workers are certified by the Department of Labor as having lost their jobs to NAFTA. Their job loss affects us all in the form of lower wages economy-wide as those who lose jobs to trade join the glut of workers seeking jobs in sectors that can’t be offshored. According to the Labor Department, almost half of laid-off manufacturing workers who find reemployment were paid less and 25 percent saw their income cut by one-fifth. That’s a $7,700 pay cut for the median wage manufacturing worker. Economists have previously shown that trade-related wage loss can exceed the savings consumers get from cheaper imported goods.

Meanwhile, Mexican wages have dropped from pre-NAFTA levels, with Mexico’s real minimum wage declining 19.4 percent. Manufacturing wages of under $2 per hour are now lower than in coastal China.

Unless we rewrite NAFTA, the trade pact will keep giving the green light to corporations to outsource American jobs, pushing down wages for everyone. A deal that harvests the benefits of expanded trade while halting NAFTA’s job outsourcing, lowering of wages and attacks on environmental and health safeguard is doable.

What remains a mystery, which his State of the Union speech notably did nothing to clarify, is if Trump will fight for these changes and if he does, whether he can deliver a deal.

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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There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work