Washington (PAI) — With U.S.-Mexico talks on a “new NAFTA” heating up – and facing a deadline to send a pact to Capitol Hill –– union leaders met with President Donald Trump at the White House on Aug. 21 to urge him to negotiate a stronger deal that will protect and advance the interests of working people.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka led the delegation, which included Machinists (IAM) International President Robert Martinez, UAW President Gary Jones, United Steelworkers (USW) International President Leo W. Gerard and Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa.
“NAFTA has wreaked havoc on our families and communities for decades,” Trumka said. “Renegotiation is a massive undertaking that must be done with care and precision in order to create jobs and raise wages. From what we have seen up to this point, it is clear that this administration has made some progress, yet there is more that must be done.”
At last year’s AFL-CIO Convention in St. Louis, union delegates committed to advancing 18 key steps for improving NAFTA, including:
• Transparency and democratization of the negotiations process.
• Fundamental human rights and the adoption of international labor standards.
• Stronger rules to promote U.S. content in traded goods and to help reduce the trade deficit.
• The elimination of special rights and perks for foreign investors.
• Elimination of rules that weaken “Buy American” policies.
• Protections for working people whose incomes rely on copyrights.
“We are meeting with the president to reaffirm what a good deal for working people really looks like, starting with strong workers’ rights backed up by effective enforcement tools unlike those that have failed in that past and led to the unrelenting outsourcing of work to Mexico, eliminating corporate courts and new rules of origin that are fair to America’s workers,” Trumka said.
The pact must also have “a sunset provision to ensure these changes work for working people,” he said. That’s a sticking point for Canada – and for corporate interests now pushing “new NAFTA” hard.
“The Labor Movement has a plan to fix NAFTA, and working people have told us they will not settle for anything less. We will be closely reviewing the final text as soon as it is available,” Trumka concluded.
Trump’s trade negotiator, Robert Lighthizer, has been in talks for three weeks with Mexican negotiators over a “new NAFTA.” Key issues appear to be domestic content on cars and limits on U.S. exports of farm goods to Mexico. Worker rights went unmentioned in various reports on the U.S.-Mexico talks.
The third partner in NAFTA, Canada, has been left on the sidelines.
Both the U.S. and Mexico appear to be rushing to complete a “new NAFTA” to replace the 24-year-old pact, which the George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton administrations passed over strenuous Labor objections and lobbying.
HARM TO WORKERS FORECAST FROM BEGINNING
Workers and their allies forecast the current NAFTA would cost tens of thousands of jobs and subsequent studies proved them right: Companies relocated between 700,000 and one million jobs, from Oreo cookies and Ford car factories to newspaper call centers, south of the border. There, workers earn pennies an hour and have few rights.
“The IAM and other members of Congress are demanding an end to outsourcing by fighting for strong, enforceable labor standards within a renegotiated NAFTA,” the union said in a statement. “Low wages, a lack of independent unions, and an inability for workers to collectively bargain in Mexico have led to the outsourcing of good-paying American jobs to Mexico and low wage growth.”
Canada has been frozen out of the U.S.-Mexico “new NAFTA” talks and, in fact, hasn’t had much to say about the talks on a new trade agreement since last year, when Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for a repeal of U.S. “right-to-work” laws, citing their negative impact on wages. Canada has been notably silent on the talks ever since.
Trump and Lighthizer apparently believe they can force Canada into accepting whatever the U.S. and Mexico come up with.
“We’re not negotiating with Canada right now,” said Trump in a cabinet meeting before meeting with the union leaders. “Their tariffs are too high, their barriers are too strong, so we’re not even talking to them right now. But we’ll see how that works out. It will only work out to our favor.”
Lighthizer said, “I’m hopeful with Mexico and then I hope once we get one with Mexico that Canada will come along.”