When CEOs Say 'Do No Harm' in NAFTA, They Mean 'Don’t Harm Me'

Celeste Drake

Celeste Drake AFL-CIO

We keep hearing CEOs of global companies and giant agribusiness conglomerates say “do no harm” in the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations, but from the perspective of working families who haven’t had a raise in the past 20 years, this advice doesn’t make any sense.

NAFTA continues to hurt families across the United States, Canada and Mexico, pushing down our wages, making it harder to join together in union, and making us constantly vulnerable to losing our jobs due to outsourcing. NAFTA threatens our health and undermines democracy. It forces our governments to pay off private companies like Exxon Mobil that object to laws and rules created in a democratic fashion. So how could any rational person say that fixing NAFTA would be "harmful"?

It’s true that the negotiations could make NAFTA more like the Trans-Pacific Partnership—and that would be extremely harmful. But big businesses liked TPP, so that’s not what they mean.

To understand what they mean, let’s use an analogy, comparing North America's economy to the human body. Like the human body, the North American economy is susceptible to various illnesses, and NAFTA is one such illness. In fact, we can compare NAFTA to a tumor. Like a tumor, it has led to rapid growth in profits and incomes for some, but at the expense of the economic health of the rest of us. In fact, bad U.S. trade policies cost most of America’s workers $2,000 a year in lost income.

To heal the North American economy, we need new rules for trade. New rules that level the playing field and prioritize ordinary families over corporate profits. But changing the rules means getting rid of the privileges that global corporations now enjoy. And just like tumors cling to life, these companies are fighting to keep their entitlements.

Those who have profited off NAFTA say "do no harm" because they can only see what benefits them. They don’t see that the unfair rules are actually bad for America as a whole. NAFTA’s unfair rules make it harder for most families to reach the American Dream because they divert the benefits of trade to those who already are economically powerful. That’s why we always feel like we are running in place and not getting ahead.

Changing the rules of trade means those who have benefited at the expense of others must get used to a level playing field. It means the president will have to say no to global corporations, despite their whining. The president promised to protect working families from bad trade, but it remains to be seen whether he will renegotiate NAFTA to protect working families or, as he did with the tax bill, protect the interests of his rich and powerful friends.

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Reposted from AFL-CIO

Posted In: Allied Approaches, From AFL-CIO

Union Matters

Uber Drivers Deserve Legal Rights and Protections

By Kathleen Mackey
USW Intern

In an advisory memo released May 14, the U.S. labor board general counsel’s office stated that Uber drivers are not employees for the purposes of federal labor laws.

Their stance holds that workers for companies like Uber are not included in federal protections for workplace organizing activities, which means the labor board is effectively denying Uber drivers the benefits of forming or joining unions.

Simply stating that Uber drivers are just gig workers does not suddenly undo the unjust working conditions that all workers potentially face, such as wage theft, dangerous working conditions and  job insecurity. These challenges are ever-present, only now Uber drivers are facing them without the protection or resources they deserve. 

The labor board’s May statement even seems to contradict an Obama-era National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) ruling that couriers for Postmates, a job very similar to Uber drivers’, are legal employees.

However, the Department of Labor has now stated that such gig workers are simply independent contractors, meaning that they are not entitled to minimum wages or overtime pay.

While being unable to unionize limits these workers’ ability to fight for improved pay and working conditions, independent contractors can still make strides forward by organizing, explained executive director of New York Taxi Workers Alliance Bhairavi Desai.

“We can’t depend solely on the law or the courts to stop worker exploitation. We can only rely on the steadfast militancy of workers who are rising up everywhere,” Desai said in a statement. 

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