WASHINGTON (PAI) -- The controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact must include enforceable labor rights in its text, an overwhelming majority of House Democrats told the Obama administration's trade representative on May 29. And even if it does, the leaders of the group say, the TPP still faces tough sledding on Capitol Hill.
The warning drew high praise from Communications Workers President Larry Cohen, who joined several of the lawmakers in a telephone press conference. Cohen's CWA and the Steel Workers lead labor's campaign against both the TPP and so-called "fast-track" presidential trade authority that Obama needs to jam trade pacts through Congress.
Those pacts lack labor rights in their texts. When labor rights are mentioned, they're afterthoughts and usually the first thing dropped in negotiations, speakers said. U.S. workers suffer as firms use the lack of labor rights to exploit foreign workers and export U.S. jobs.
If Obama Trade Rep Michael Froman tries that in the TPP, and especially in current secret talks with one TPP nation, Mexico, over a side "labor action plan," it won't work, Cohen and Rep. George Miller, D-Calif., warned.
Some 153 House Democrats - more than three of every four - signed the letter. Miller and influential Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., previously got 150 House Democrats to sign an anti-fast-track letter to Obama.
Cohen praised the letter and also warned Obama against taking an end-run around his own party, by recruiting 30 pro-fast-track Democrats and joining them with the House GOP majority to approve both fast-track and the TPP.
"The point of this letter is that we're not going to have 20th century double talk on workers rights" and trade, Cohen said, referring to a 3-year-old side labor rights agreement in the last trade pact, with Colombia. Miller, after trips to and investigations in Colombia, says that side pact is unenforced.
"Labor rights are now government-to-government" in trade pacts, "while corporate rights get to go over the top of governments" to outside enforcement, Cohen added. "There are some 500 cases of enforcement of multi-nationals' rights."
The lawmakers demand that enforceable labor rights, including job safety laws, minimum wage laws, anti-discrimination laws, outlawing pregnancy discrimination, barring use of unpaid slave labor - including prison labor - and implementing other human rights must be in the TPP text. And they must be enforceable and enforced, Miller warned.
"We need results that benefit American workers and make human rights and labor rights essential," Miller added. "Cheap labor abroad leads to unsafe imports at home - and that displaces workers at home," said DeLauro. And without worker rights, she added, TPP is dead. "If these concerns are not properly addressed, this deal will not pass Congress."