AFL-CIO president: Trade deal will 'suck jobs' from U.S.

Breana Noble
The Detroit News
Richard Trumka

Taylor — AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka rallied workers Wednesday to oppose the new trade deal reached between the United States, Mexico and Canada until it is "worthy of the American worker."

"Of course we should trade," Trumka told about 200 workers gathered at the United Autoworkers Region 1A hall in Taylor. "Of course we should do business around the world, but the real challenge is to advance a trade policy that creates shared prosperity for every worker that’s out there, for all of us."

The town hall hosted by the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, the largest federation of unions in the United States, follows visits to Pittsburgh and Cleveland to support continued negotiations for stronger enforcement language in the USMCA deal — a move that clashes with the Trump administration's calls to get the agreement approved. House Democratic leadership have refused to put it up for a vote.

Trumka's town hall follows visits from Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta in May and Vice President Mike Pence in April to promote the trade deal, arguing it addresses "inequalities" from the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement and will lead to the creation of more jobs in the United States.

Both sides agree the new deal has improvements over NAFTA, but the opportunity to negotiate another deal is unlikely to happen in the near future.

"The labor section in the agreement is actually better," Trumka said. "But here’s the problem: You can’t enforce it. There’s no way to enforce the agreement. Therefore, it becomes useless."

The deal seeks to end protectionist labor contracts in Mexico that allow for low wages and government-run "sham unions," Trumka said. But it would have to rewrite hundreds of thousands of contacts in only a few years, which isn't feasible, he said.

"That protectionist contract is going to suck jobs out of this country," he said. "Show us you have the infrastructure and resources that you have to do what you said you were going to do in this agreement."

Trumka also expressed concerns that the deal would allow any of the three North American nations to prevent labor disputes from going to a panel of arbitrators. Additionally, he called for workers to have the power to stop the import of products into a country when a dispute with a business remains unresolved.

Other concerns included increasing the period of exclusivity for drugmakers of new medications from eight years in the United States to 10 years across all three nations, which Trumka said could keep drug prices high.

The trade agreement also increases to 75% from 62.5% the percentage of a car's parts that have to come from the U.S., Canada or Mexico to qualify for duty-free treatment.

"That’s the good news," Trumka said. "The bad news is they changed the way you calculate it, and we don’t know what it means."

The deal also requires 40-45% of automobile parts be made by workers who earn at least $16 an hour by 2023. Vehicles not meeting the requirements would be subject to a 2.5% duty.

But that still worries Ford Motor Co. workers like Vinnie Vizzacceno, the sergeant of arms of UAW Local 245, who makes around $35 per hour.

"That's still less what we make," the 56-year-old plumber and pipefitter from Canton Township said. "And I don't want the automakers thinking they can come here and pay $16 per hour. I'm thinking about the future."

So is Ron Bieber, president of the AFL-CIO in Michigan: "We can't afford another 25 years. Hell, there won't be nothing left in Michigan."

That's why for Trumka and others who listened to him Wednesday, it is now or never.

"We don't know when we'll have another opportunity like this," said Pam Powell of Detroit, a production worker at Ford's Dearborn Truck Plant. "We want to make sure we're being heard."

To do that, Trumka said workers need to support each other and the movement. He also plugged support for a federal bill that nationally would repeal right-to-work measures.

"We can do anything if we stick together," Trumka said. "They try to buy us out, but if we fight together, we will win."