Column: Make NAFTA work for Michigan

Ron Bieber

Working people in Michigan have the skills to compete with anyone in the world, but we need a level playing field. Pro-corporate trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement have been a total trainwreck for Michigan, destroying tens of thousands of good-paying jobs.

We need to rewrite NAFTA the right way — making it easier to export Michigan products instead of Michigan jobs. That means negotiating a new trade agreement through a transparent and democratic process, where working people have a seat at the table. We need strong labor rules with an independent enforcer and strong penalties when countries break the rules, and when corporations don’t pay their fair share of taxes. We need to crack down on currency manipulation, and strengthen rules of origin to protect our automakers and parts suppliers. And we need strong Buy American policies to support job creation here at home.

Last year, President Donald Trump looked Michigan voters straight in the eye and promised he would renegotiate NAFTA during his first 100 days in office. Well, it’s been almost 200 days, and so far he hasn’t kept that promise. Trump has spent more time on the golf course than at the NAFTA negotiating table.

Meanwhile, Sen. Debbie Stabenow has gone to bat for Michigan’s working families. Ten days after Trump took office, Sen. Stabenow introduced the Bring Jobs Home Act, which ends a loophole that gives tax breaks to corporations that ship American jobs overseas, and creates a new tax cut for U.S. companies to move jobs and business activity from another country back to America. That’s exactly the kind of leadership we need to help Michigan compete.

For a state like ours, fighting for fair trade policies should be a bipartisan issue. But instead, Republican members of our congressional delegation have repeatedly voted for bad trade deals. Just two years ago, U.S. Reps. Dave Trott, Mike Bishop, and Tim Walberg each voted for legislation to fast track the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which even President Trump said was “another disaster pushed by special interests.”

In Lansing, the contrast is just as clear. On one side we have Sen. Curtis Hertel Jr. and Rep. Henry Yanez, who recently introduced resolutions calling on Trump to renegotiate NAFTA with strong provisions to protect Michigan jobs and manufacturers.

On the other side we have Gov. Rick Snyder — who has been a vocal supporter of free trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea — and Attorney General Bill Schuette, who voted against Buy American provisions for transportation projects while serving in Congress, which makes it easier to use cheap steel imported from China and jeopardizes safety on critical public infrastructure projects.

It’s pretty simple. Republican elected officials like Snyder, Schuette, Trott, Bishop, and Walberg support pro-corporate trade deals because that’s what their wealthy corporate donors want. And while Trump talked a good game on trade during the campaign, he hasn’t kept his promises to working families. When it comes to trade policies like NAFTA, actions speak louder than words.

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.