Opinion: New NAFTA is a start, but bringing back jobs will require more

Rory Gamble

Overhauling the North American Free Trade Act may have been a start, but the work has just begun.

We will need to be diligent to make sure Mexico fully implements its labor law reforms and puts an end to company unions and sham contracts. We will be there every step of the way to try to ensure all parties to the agreement live up to their part of the bargain.

After all, if working conditions truly improve in Mexico, then wages will rise, and companies will be less eager to abandon our country. Only time will tell if revised NAFTA will make a real difference.

UAW members opposed NAFTA when it was crafted over 25 years ago because they feared it would lead to the closing of manufacturing plants all over our country and the moving of hundreds of thousands of good U.S. jobs to Mexico. Our worst nightmares became reality. To this day, motor vehicle manufacturers continue to make big bets on manufacturing in Mexico as almost every major automaker has plans to increase capacity. In 2018, our auto trade deficit was nearly $61 billion while the auto parts imbalance was over $29 billion. By all indications, the deficit will be even greater in 2019.

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

NAFTA allowed corporations to ship jobs to Mexico, where phony unions under sham contract suppressed workers’ rights. This in turn led to pressure on American workers because of those low wages and standards. Mexican workers who fight back often face intimidation and violence. This state of affairs cannot continue if we are going to have a strong manufacturing sector with good paying jobs. For these reasons, we welcomed renegotiation of NAFTA (also known as USMCA, the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement).

Throughout the negotiations, the UAW advocated for changes that put workers and not multinational corporations in the driver’s seat. Now that the deal has been ratified, time will tell if it will make a real difference for workers in North America. Even under the best of circumstances, this deal will certainly not bring factories back from Mexico.

Sens. Sherrod Brown, Debbie Stabenow and Gary Peters, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and many other elected leaders fought to make USMCA an agreement with new enforcement tools that might hold corporations who violate workers’ rights accountable.

But it will take a lasting commitment from the U.S. and Mexican governments to ensure that workers can negotiate for higher wages and better working conditions under USMCA.

This deal is not a silver bullet. In reality, even the best of trade deals alone will not put us on the right course. We need our elected leaders to do much more across the board, such as passing the PRO Act, a bill that ensures all workers have a voice on the job here at home and ending the 2017 tax laws that rewards U.S. companies for shipping jobs abroad with tax loopholes.

Rory Gamble

That simply is unacceptable.

So, as we embark on the 2020 election year, with politicians of all parties talking about auto workers and bringing jobs back, remember to ask a few key questions. 

● Will we enforce the new NAFTA and make it stick? 

● Will we end tax laws that encourage investment in Mexico, not here at home? 

● Will we make it easier for workers to organize and have a real voice in the workplace?

At the UAW we recognize the fight to bring jobs back home has only just begun.

Rory Gamble is the acting president of UAW.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers Acting President Rory Gamble, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Ron Bieber and Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart.