Labor Voices: NAFTA should deal with trucking, labor
As governments continue to grapple with much-needed changes to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), U.S. and Canadian Teamsters have joined together to stand up for workers and push for policy changes that will improve their lives and livelihoods.
While the third round of renegotiations of the trade pact ended last week, the status of many important issues remains in flux, including workers’ rights and cross-border trucking. The Teamsters have also joined civil society groups in calling for the elimination of a controversial dispute settlement mechanism in NAFTA’s investment chapter that allows corporations to sue governments.
At the top of the agenda is fixing the mistake of including long-haul trucking in the original NAFTA. The Teamsters have briefed U.S. and Canadian officials on suggested language that would provide a level playing field, improve truck safety and boost working conditions and wages for Mexican drivers.
This issue must be addressed in these negotiations. Not only do truckers stand to benefit, but American lives are at stake. Old and unsafe trucks put our highways at risk and pollute our air, putting the public’s health in jeopardy. That’s not a price people should pay for bad policy.
The first draft of the proposed U.S. labor chapter, which was tabled last week, is inadequate. As it stands, working and middle class families are better served by the current Canadian proposal, which will improve wages and working conditions in all three NAFTA countries and calls for an end to anti-worker right-to-work laws here.
It is imperative that NAFTA 2.0 gets it right when it comes to workers’ rights. The pact in its current form doesn’t work. Instead, it subordinates their interests to the bottom-line profit motives of multinational corporations, suppresses wages and labor standards, and contributes to rising inequality.
Michigan has seen firsthand the terrible damage trade deals like NAFTA have brought to this country. More than 161,000 Michigan workers have lost their jobs to offshoring, while 300,000 more manufacturing jobs have been lost since the deal took effect. Members of the UAW’s Local 600 in Dearborn were particularly hard-hit. It is estimated NAFTA has cost the U.S. more than a million jobs. That is unacceptable. It is time to replace NAFTA with a new model of trade that puts the interests of North American workers above those of multinational corporations and foreign investors.
Negotiators head back to Washington to continue talks next week, and there is a lot at stake. It is essential that workers’ interests take precedence over the desires of big business, which is merely looking to further boost their bottom lines over making policy changes that put people first. That’s what real change would look like.
The Teamsters are North America’s supply chain union. With members in long-haul trucking and freight rail, air, at ports and in warehouses, as well as members in manufacturing and food processing, this union has a big stake in trade policy reform. We will be monitoring the modernization of a flawed and failed NAFTA, and fighting to make sure that the new NAFTA works for working families.
James Hoffa is president of the Teamsters.
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 Paula Herbart.