Working people are the backbone of our state. That’s why Michigan is a place where we can make almost anything — from cars and trucks, to cereal and wind turbines. But for far too long, pro-corporate trade deals like the North America Free Trade Agreement have made it harder and harder for Michigan workers to compete.
Over the past few decades, Michigan has lost tens of thousands of good-paying jobs to countries like China and Mexico. We have some of the best workers in the world, but we’re never going to win a race to the bottom when we’re forced to compete against workers who earn pennies on the dollar.
It doesn’t have to be this way.
Last week Sen. Debbie Stabenow helped introduce a Better Deal on Trade and Jobs — a new agenda that puts American workers and small business first, ahead of corporate special interests.
This proposal would help level the playing field for Michigan by cracking down on foreign countries that manipulate trade rules, and penalize wealthy corporations that send American jobs overseas.
It includes long-overdue policy reforms that will create more good-paying jobs for Michigan workers by:
■Renegotiating NAFTA with working people at the table, requiring strong and enforceable labor standards, and expanding market access for American exports.
■Strengthening Buy America provisions to require taxpayer dollars be spent on American companies and jobs for all federal public works and infrastructure projects.
■Creating an Outsourcing Tax to punish companies that are leaving the U.S. behind and sending American jobs and factories to foreign countries — while creating new tax incentives for companies that do the right thing and bring jobs back to America.
■Penalizing federal contractors that outsource manufacturing and call center jobs by requiring federal agencies to consider a company’s record of outsourcing for three years prior to an application for a federal contract.
■Cracking down on countries that manipulate their currency to make their products cheaper and American products more expensive.
■Creating a new Independent Trade Prosecutor who would begin rapidly challenging unfair trade practices by foreign countries, like China, without relying on a years-long process with the World Trade Organization.
■Establishing the American Jobs Security Council comprised of independent economic experts to review a potential purchase by a foreign company of an American company and have the authority to stop the deal if it could lead to American job losses.
Stabenow deserves credit for her strong leadership on trade — but it will take a true bipartisan effort to make these policies a reality.
As a candidate, President Donald Trump talked tough on trade issues to win votes from working people, but so far he hasn’t kept his promises to Michigan voters. Trump hasn’t kept his promise to label China a currency manipulator, he hasn’t kept his promise to penalize companies that ship production overseas, and he still hasn’t renegotiated a new pro-worker NAFTA.
It’s time for Trump and Republicans in Washington to lay their cards on the table and let the American people know whose side they’re on. They can either continue to support corporate trade deals that make it easier to ship jobs, factories, and profits overseas, or they can start working with Democrats to help American workers and business compete.
Ron Bieber is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.