UAW expresses hope for NAFTA replacement; stops short of endorsement

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — The United Auto Workers said Wednesday it is hopeful the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement agreed to by President Donald Trump and U.S. House Democrats will "stop some of the bleeding of U.S. jobs," but the union stopped short of endorsing the trade pact.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., announced the deal between President Trump and her Democrat-controlled chamber on the new trade pact Tuesday, saying:  "It's a victory for America's workers. It's one that we take great pride in advancing." 

The UAW offered a much more measured take Wednesday. 

“UAW members have opposed NAFTA since its inception a quarter century ago because they feared it would lead to the closing of countless manufacturing plants throughout our country and the moving of hundreds of thousands of good U.S. jobs to Mexico," the union said in a statement. "Time has unfortunately proven UAW members right and it is for this very reason we welcomed the renegotiation of NAFTA (also known as USMCA) and pushed for more to be done.

"While the final text of the agreement has not been made available for review, we already know that USMCA Is highly unlikely to bring factories back from Mexico, as some have promised," the UAW statement continued. "It will hopefully stop some of the bleeding of U.S. jobs and UAW members will vigilantly monitor enforcement of the agreement to make sure multinational corporations treat their workers right." 

The UAW is is doubtful that the NAFTA replacement announced Tuesday will cause auto plants to close in Mexico

The fine points of the trade deal, known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement — or USMCA — were still unknown on Wednesday morning. But prior drafts of the agreement stipulate that 75% the proportion of a car's parts must originate from one of the three countries to qualify for duty-free treatment, up from 62.5% under current NAFTA rules. In addition, 40-45% of an auto's content must be made by workers earning at least $16 per hour. Vehicles not meeting the requirements would be subject to a 2.5% duty.

The labor provisions are an attempt to boost U.S. production, but it remains to be seen if carmakers that have gravitated to lower wages in Mexico will decide if they can profitably return production stateside. 

Democratic leaders gave no indication on Tuesday that the auto provisions were a part of contentious negotiations that stretched for over year. 

Automakers signaled support for the agreement, and at least one major labor union, the AFL-CIO, quickly endorsed the revamped trade pact. 

Support was far from unanimous across the labor movement, even before the UAW weighed in.

Robert Martinez Jr., International President of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, said any acceptable deal must address the outsourcing of jobs to Mexico.

"Unfortunately, we are not aware of provisions in the newly negotiated agreement that effectively address this matter," said Martinez, "especially when it comes to aerospace and other manufacturing sectors."

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Twitter: @Keith_Laing