Union Leaders to Trump: ‘New NAFTA’ Must Boost Workers’ Rights, Wages

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

Six top union leaders told Republican President Donald Trump any “new NAFTA” so-called “free trade” pact must improve workers’ rights and wages.

With the next round of NAFTA talks starting in Mexico City on Feb. 23, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka led the delegation into the closed-door talk with Trump.

No aides or specialists accompanied Trumka, Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President Jim Hoffa, Machinists President Robert Martinez and Communications Workers President Chris Shelton into the meeting.

“Labor is united in its view that NAFTA is a disaster for working people and must be fixed,” the six said in a joint statement afterwards.

“We had a very productive meeting which made clear to the president that a new NAFTA must create fair and balanced trade in North America. Real solutions for any new trade deal must dramatically improve workers’ rights and raise wages and living standards in all three countries,” they added.

They also agreed to say nothing more and the White House did not discuss the Feb. 21 talk between Trump and the six.

But the “new NAFTA” talks appear to have hit several big rocks, according to media reports in Canada, the third partner in the controversial jobs-losing current NAFTA pact with the U.S. and Mexico.

One rock is Canadian resistance to Trump’s demand for higher domestic U.S. content in cars. U.S.-Canada cross-border auto trade, mostly between U.S. plants around Detroit and Canadian plants in Windsor, Ont., is a large component of the nations’ 2-way trade.

Another is Trump’s demand for an end to U.S. trade deficits with the two nations. Canadian government analysis of their new Trans-Pacific Partnership Pact – a free trade deal signed with 10 other nations after Trump formally pulled the U.S. out – shows U.S. exports to Canada would fall by $3.3 billion yearly. Exports from the TPP nations would replace them.

The AFL-CIO and its unions argued long and hard against the present 24-year-old NAFTA, pushed through by Democratic President Bill Clinton. They forecast, accurately, that it would cost U.S. jobs. The Economic Policy Institute puts the job losses at 700,000-1 million.

And Trump made slams against NAFTA a key campaign plank in 2016, helping him win half of unionists’ votes in key Midwestern swing states – Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania – to take those states and the election.

Unions have repeatedly told Trump’s trade team any new NAFTA must ensure meaningful and enforceable worker rights, higher wages and an end to company-run and government-sponsored unions in Mexico.

Another key demand is to end NAFTA’s Investor State Dispute System, a secret pro-business trade court that can overturn any federal, state or local law – from Buy American to job safety to local laws – that might allegedly drive down present or future corporate profits.

The Auto Workers are concerned about the domestic content provisions, while the Teamsters want to restore strict restrictions on unsafe Mexican trucks with tired drivers roaming U.S. roads.

Meanwhile, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau demands stronger labor laws, and stronger enforcement not just in Mexico but the United States too. That includes repeal in the United States of so-called “right-to-work” laws. Those laws encourage Canadian firms to flee to union-hostile states, primarily in the South.                

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Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Federal Minimum Wage Reaches Disappointing Milestone

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

A disgraceful milestone occurred last Sunday, June 16.

That date officially marked the longest period that the United States has gone without increasing federal the minimum wage.

That means Congress has denied raises for a decade to 1.8 million American workers, that is, those workers who earn $7.25 an hour or less. These 1.8 million Americans have watched in frustration as Congress not only denied them wages increases, but used their tax dollars to raise Congressional pay. They continued to watch in disappointment as the Trump administration failed to keep its promise that the 2017 tax cut law would increase every worker’s pay by $4,000 per year.

More than 12 years ago, in May 2007, Congress passed legislation to raise the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour. It took effect two years later. Congress has failed to act since then, so it has, in effect, now imposed a decade-long wage freeze on the nation’s lowest income workers.

To combat this unjust situation, minimum wage workers could rally and call their lawmakers to demand action, but they’re typically working more than one job just to get by, so few have the energy or patience.

The Economic Policy Institute points out in a recent report on the federal minimum wage that as the cost of living rose over the past 10 years, Congress’ inaction cut the take-home pay of working families.  

At the current dismal rate, full-time workers receiving minimum wage earn $15,080 a year. It was virtually impossible to scrape by on $15,080 a decade ago, let alone support a family. But with the cost of living having risen 18% over that time, the situation now is far worse for the working poor. The current federal minimum wage is not a living wage. And no full-time worker should live in poverty.

While ignoring the needs of low-income workers, members of Congress, who taxpayers pay at least $174,000 a year, are scheduled to receive an automatic $4,500 cost-of-living raise this year. Congress increased its own pay from $169,300 to $174,000 in 2009, in the middle of the Great Recession when low income people across the country were out of work and losing their homes. While Congress has frozen its own pay since then, that’s little consolation to minimum wage workers who take home less than a tenth of Congressional salaries.

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