Williams: Fast track hurts working families
About 20 million working people in this country need good jobs and an economy to rebuild the middle class. A threat to that growth and stability for many Americans is what is before Congress right now: fast track negotiating authority for trade agreements.
Fast track trade promotion, also known as TPA, means fewer jobs, lower wages and a declining middle class, a stark contrast to what the country needs and what hard-working families deserve. It will likely be introduced in Congress this spring and a trade agreement that includes over 40 percent of the world’s GDP could be before Congress in the fall. If TPA passes, Instead of fully weighing the merits of an agreement and proposing changes, Congress would eliminate its own ability to strike a better deal for the American people because fast track only allows an up-or-down vote on trade agreements.
No doubt that as we become more entrenched in the global economy, we need rules and regulations that deliver parity and a level playing field for the countries and economies involved. That is why we have to get it right with how we construct, monitor and approve these deals. If not, we put American jobs at risk and further destabilize the kind of growth and economic development that would create good jobs.
Also, fast track will make it easier to send American jobs overseas, and will undermine our wages by forcing Americans to potentially compete with working people in other countries who make as little as 56 cents an hour.
We’ve seen previous fast track trade policies that have cost more than 1 million jobs and contributed to the closing of more than 60,000 factories. Remember NAFTA, fast track’s proudest accomplishment? In the 21 years since it went into effect with its fast track trade promotion touted as an economic protector, we’ve seen trade deficits with other nations, flattened wages and millions of jobs lost. During that time, the winners have been Wall Street investors and the wealthy while labor is forced to compete against working people in other countries that don’t have U.S.-level wage, health and safety, environmental or labor standards. In countries such as Mexico, supporters said NAFTA would lift Mexican laborers out of poverty and their rising wages would help prevent unfair competition for jobs with working people in the U.S. But that hasn’t happened. Those working in Mexico have no real ability to improve their wages. Many of their labor agreements are so-called “protection agreements” that safeguard only the interests of the employer.
When trade deals are crafted by private interests and not our elected officials in Congress, the results are balanced toward profiteering. It gives trade advisers a blank check to negotiate trade deals without mandatory U.S. job creation, middle-class strengthening or Buy American policy protection. How many U.S. jobs could we have saved if Congress had the authority to change NAFTA?
Fast track is undemocratic. It takes constitutional responsibility for trade negotiations from Congress and puts it into the hands of lobbyists. Trade deals written by lobbyists without any congressional oversight prevent our elected representatives from getting a fair agreement for all Americans. Working families who just want a piece of the American dream will be vulnerable and victims of an unaccountable and unacceptable international trade policy.
Any way you cut it, fast track jeopardizes American jobs. Is that good policy? No. Is that something that should be debated openly? Yes. Is that something that helps working families? No.
Dennis Williams is president of the United Auto Workers.
Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.