UAW Trade Resolution Demands “Significant Economic Consequences” for Worker Rights Violators

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Going beyond other stands, the United Auto Workers are demanding “significant economic consequences” under any new trade pacts – NAFTA included – for firms that violate workers’ rights.

And enforceable, transparent worker rights, including forcing nations to live up to international labor standards, must be written into any and all future trade pacts, UAW added.

UAW convention delegates in Detroit passed the resolution with that demand on June 13. There was no dissent, and a lot of denunciation of predatory corporations and foreign nations who use so-called “free trade” pacts to strip U.S. workers of jobs and U.S. cities of factories, notably in autos and auto parts.

The resolution and the remarks from the convention floor made clear that UAW, like other unions, is not against foreign trade, but against unfair foreign trade.

Delegates approved the measure at a time when tensions over trade between the GOP Trump administration and its two NAFTA trading partners, Canada and Mexico, are rising. On the campaign trail in 2016, Donald Trump called NAFTA “a disaster” and pledged to kill it.

That stance won him hundreds of thousands of unionists’ votes in the key Great Lakes industrial states – Ohio, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin – he carried. And those states’ electoral votes put him in the White House.  But since then, Trump’s been renegotiating NAFTA, not killing it. Progress in the talks has been rocky.

And labor and congressional Democratic opposition forced Democratic President Barack Obama to shelve an even worse pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). NAFTA was the recipe for TPP and other following corporate-written “free trade” pacts. All those pacts, led by NAFTA, anger UAW and the rest of organized labor.

And on June 15, after the conclave closed, Trump imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of goods from China, which immediately retaliated. New union President Gary Jones told a post-confab press conference union leaders are evaluating Trump’s move.

“In this interconnected world, the issue is not whether one is ‘for’ or ‘against’ trade, but what form it will take and who it will benefit,” the union resolution said. “The UAW supports trade that benefits working people as opposed to global capital.”

“Unfortunately, over the past several decades our country has entered into trade agreements that put corporations in the driver’s seat at the expense of workers and discouraged the outsourcing of our jobs.”

But now there’s “a new opportunity” to rewrite trade pacts with “strong, enforceable language” benefit workers and halt outsourcing, the union said – without saying how that opportunity occurred. It pledged to fight for “renegotiating all harmful trade agreements.” 

It’s that corporate trade pact authorship and tilt that UAW denounced, both in print and from the floor. Its resolution said any new trade pacts must also “preserve and expand” U.S. factory employment and include “meaningful and strong provisions to prevent currency manipulation by our trading partners.” That phrase is aimed not at Mexico, but at China.

And past trade pacts not only took U.S. jobs overseas, but drove down wages and working standards here at home, delegates added.

“Unfair trade policies have…shuttered companies like mine, Delphi,” the former unionized auto parts subsidiary for GM, said Arturo Reyes, president of Local 651 in Flint, Mich. “We need policies that penalize companies that chase cheap labor.”

"I don’t want to have to sit at the bargaining table and have them tell me that ‘Unless you take this, we’re moving to South Korea, to China, to Mexico,’” another delegate said. “I don’t want to take this b---s--- anymore.”

“We’re living in an era of unrivaled, unending corporate greed,” said a Local 276 member from Arlington, Texas, who helps manufacture Cadillac Escalades. “It’s our responsibility to tell our elected leaders that we expect organized labor to have a seat at the table when trade deals are brought up.”

“Trade agreements seem to drive wages down, even in Mexico, where they went from $3.95 an hour” when NAFTA passed “to $2.93,” said Mark Payne, president of Local 1250 in Cleveland. His local represents workers at Cleveland Engine. “For Cleveland, NAFTA’s been a job-killer.” His own former company’s plant was across the street from the union hall. Now the firm is gone “and the site is an empty field.”

But several speakers noted U.S. workers and consumers make things worse for themselves. “There’s not an easy answer, but here’s a message to our members: Do not shop at Wal-Mart. They do not pay a fair wage,” said Steve Gruener, president of Local 659 in Flint, Mich. Though Gruener did not say so, most of the virulently anti-union retailer’s goods come from China, a notorious breaker of trade pacts.

Brian Schneck, president of Local 259 in New York City, reminded his colleagues many unionists, including many UAW members, voted for Trump. “Elections have consequences,” he said. “Working people have to immunize themselves against voting for our executioners. Do people really believe [Trump} is going to do anything for us? He took our” fair trade “issue and used it against us! Gimme a break!”

“A good trade policy will equal jobs for the middle class and our way of life,” concluded Tony Renfro, vice president of Local 249 in Kansas City. 

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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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