Union leaders to Trump: “New NAFTA” must boost workers’ rights, wages
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka. | Andrew Harnik/AP

WASHINGTON—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 key one 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 all U.S. roads.

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


CONTRIBUTOR

Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of Press Associates Inc. (PAI), a union news service in Washington, D.C. that he has headed since 1999. Previously, he worked as Washington correspondent for the Ottaway News Service, as Port Jervis bureau chief for the Middletown, NY Times Herald Record, and as a researcher and writer for Congressional Quarterly. Mark obtained his BA in public policy from the University of Chicago and worked as the University of Chicago correspondent for the Chicago Daily News.

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