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Labor Voices: Priorities in the New Year

James Hoffa

The start of a new year is a time for everyone to take stock of what is important. And the Teamsters are doing the same.

This union is devoted to standing up for the interests of members. That means representing them on the issues that matter so they can provide for their families. It is critical Teamsters remind lawmakers not to forget their concerns.

One of the top topics of 2018 for workers and this union will be crafting a revamped North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that beefs up labor rights across the continent. With trade negotiators from the U.S., Canada and Mexico set to meet in Montreal later this month, it is imperative that a new NAFTA 2.0 support the efforts of those who tirelessly toil each day.

To that end, wage and labor standards must be raised in Mexico to ensure that hardworking Americans and Canadians can compete in the marketplace. That would go a long way toward curbing inequities that have allowed hundreds of thousands of jobs to flow to the continent’s southernmost country since the original NAFTA was enacted 23 years ago.

As it stands, there are a fair amount of unionized Mexican workers already. But many are represented by shady unions with ties to employers that together work to hold down wages and coddle big business. Manufacturers new to Mexico often exacerbate the problem by then agreeing to these “protection contracts” even before a single worker has been hired.

In mid-November, two striking Mexican workers employed by a Canadian mining company at a gold mine in southern Mexico were murdered, highlighting the sorry state of labor affairs in Mexico. The victims of the crime, which occurred while trade officials discussed NAFTA during round five of talks in Mexico City, were targeted for being members of an independent union.

But there are other struggles that we must challenge as well. Here in Michigan, it is imperative that worker allies stand up against efforts to roll back the state’s prevailing wage law, which ensures those who help build the necessary infrastructure that spurs economic growth receive fair pay for their work.

Unions are not taking those efforts to place a measure on the ballot this year to repeal the law lying down. After all, paying contractors’ union-level wages for state-funded construction projects helps build the middle class and ensures quality work through the use of well-trained employees. And it doesn’t reward companies just for paying their workers less.

This proposal is nothing more than a vicious attack on hardworking Michiganians that would cut wages for thousands of families. At a time when citizens want more good-paying jobs, how is curbing this more than five-decade-old law on the books help? In short, it won’t.

Similarly, Michigan workers have had enough with the state’s low wage floor. While minimum wage rose to $9.25 an hour on Jan. 1, the 35-cent increase does not keep up with the cost of living. That’s why lawmakers should listen to union-backed advocates who are pushing to increase the minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2022. While being a union member is best due to the excellent benefits, if a worker isn’t in one, they still deserve respect on the job.

It’s time for federal and state elected officials to look out for the needs of their constituents who put them in office. Workers deserve a fair shake in 2018.

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.