Pro-Worker Dems Bargain With Trump Trade Rep About Worker Rights and the ‘New NAFTA’

Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg Editor, Press Associates Union News

A coalition of pro-worker House Democrats, led by veteran Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., opened talks on June 25 with GOP President Donald Trump’s trade negotiator about writing strong and specific worker rights straight into Trump’s “new NAFTA,” rather than just into U.S. legislation to implement the controversial “free trade” pact.

“We have made it clear from Day One there must be changes in the agreement” itself, DeLauro said in an interview after a Capitol Hill press conference that day with AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, other union reps and other pro-worker lawmakers.

Trumka called the confab to present more than 200,000 names on “National Day Of Action” petitions demanding Congress not even consider, much less approve, legislation implementing the ‘new NAFTA’ – formally called the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement -- unless there are strong and enforceable worker rights sections.

With such strictures, Mexican wages would increase, unions and workers say. “If Mexican wages are not allowed to increase, they” – corporations – “will continue to suck jobs out of the U.S.,” Trumka warned. 

One reason the lawmakers and unions want the pro-worker requirements written into the trade pact’s text itself is they don’t trust Trump, or U.S. multinationals, to follow any law implementing the new agreement.

“Go back to 1992-93, when NAFTA passed,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, D-N.J., an Electrical Worker and former head of the South Jersey Building Trades Council. NAFTA proponents “promised we’d get more and better-paying jobs, but if you were a worker, you got royally screwed.”

“So the idea of ‘Trust me again and somehow it’ll be different’ isn’t going to do it.”

“My workers asked for” a new trade pact, “but they also said ‘Don’t give us the shaft,’” said Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., whose district includes Detroit 3 auto plants, such as Ford’s River Rouge. “We need an enforceable deal that pays American workers fairly and Mexican workers fairly.”

The worker rights sections of the USMCA are important. NAFTA, the 25-year-old pact it would replace, cost the U.S. between 770,000 and one million industrial jobs and thousands more white-collar jobs, such as in call centers. Machinists Legislative Director Hasan Solomon said his union alone lost 40,000 aerospace jobs as bosses moved 300 factories to Mexico.

As a result, the AFL-CIO and its member unions have been lobbying hard for enforceable worker rights and Trumka led a 3-day trade pact town hall listening tour to Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Detroit earlier in June.

Those enforceable worker rights include extensive labor law reform in Mexico, establishment of a Mexican Labor Department and a new court system to handle worker rights, free – not pro-company – Mexican unions and hiring of thousands of labor rights inspectors there.

They also include an end, in four years, to the 700,000 contracts those sham unions signed with multinational corporations, Trumka said. He previously doubted Mexico could achieve those goals, even more so since he reported multinationals are now challenging USMCA’s Mexican ratification in 96 court cases.

All those worker rights proposals, and more, were thought to be in the enabling legislation Trump has yet to send to Congress to implement the USMCA. DeLauro and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., made it clear those rights must be in the pact itself, especially since lawmakers theoretically cannot change the USMCA or the legislation Trump sends with it.

“There must be amendments to the text” of the “free trade” pact, DeLauro said in an interview after the press conference. “That has been our understanding from the outset and the U.S. Trade Representative has been told that,” DeLauro said of Trump’s top trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer.

"We have said we want changes in the agreement,” not just in the bill Trump sends to Capitol Hill, Schakowsky added.

“Activists are demanding there be no vote on NAFTA 2.0” – the USMCA – “until it’s fixed,” said Lori Wallach, a trade expert who heads Public Citizen’s Trade Watch. “The petitions demand strong labor and environmental standards” in all three countries, but particularly in Mexico, “and that enforcement be swift and certain.”

She also noted there is precedent for rewriting the actual texts of trade pacts once they’re supposedly signed, sealed and delivered to presidents by Congress, with the enabling laws, too.

Three trade pacts the GOP George W. Bush administration signed in 2006 were reopened and renegotiated after congressional Democrats took power that fall and demanded it. The one pact Bush refused to reopen lost, Wallach said.

And both Wallach and Hassan warned of political trouble should Lighthizer, and Trump, not budge. “Expect an ugly fight” in Congress over the USMCA if Trump stays stubborn, said Wallach.

“I want to be crystal clear,” Hassan added.” This message is for any candidate for president or running for Congress: If you support NAFTA 2.0 as currently written, please do NOT call the Machinists union for an endorsement, political support or a contribution. You need to call Mexico for support! Because that’s exactly where NAFTA 2.0 will send our good American jobs.” 

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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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