Unions fight to save jobs as vote on TPP fast track authority draws near

On March 4, about 10 days after Congress returned from a week-long recess, more than 400 union members participated in a grassroots lobbying effort to convince their Senators and Representatives to oppose fast track authority for ratifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a new trade deal being negotiated in secret.

While lawmakers were in recess, they also were visited by union members and other concerned citizens who urged them to say no to fast track authority for TPP.

Union members are opposing TPP, said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO because it will “mean fewer jobs, lower wages, and a declining middle class.”

The US and eleven trading partners in the Pacific Rim have been negotiating the TPP for about five years.

Supporters refer to TPP as a trade deal, but, according to Larry Cohen, president of the Communication Workers of America (CWA),  TPP is less about setting the parameters for free trade and more about “protecting the interests of big business at the expense of workers, and those who care about the environment, global health care, human rights, consumer safety, and balanced trade and manufacturing revival.”

While most of the details about TPP have been kept secret, the few details that have been leaked have been a source of concern.

In a February 25 opinion piece appearing in the Washington Post, Sen. Elizabeth Warren was particularly critical of one of the terms of the treaty that has been made public.

TPP like other trade deals contains a section that establishes Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) procedures, which allow corporations to sue a nation, if that nation’s laws or regulations might lessen future profits.

“Agreeing to ISDS in this enormous new treaty would tilt the playing field in the United States further in favor of big multinational corporations,” writes Sen. Warren. “Worse, it would undermine U.S. sovereignty.”

Warren said that ISDS clauses in other trade treaties have resulted in challenges to other countries’ laws that established a minimum wage, protected the environment from nuclear reactor meltdowns, and required tobacco companies to warn consumers about the health risks of smoking.

While union members who participated in the March 4 grassroots lobbying effort share Sen. Warren’s concerns, their main message to lawmakers was that TPP will eliminate jobs and lower wages.

The Obama Administration has been saying that TPP will create 650,000 jobs over the next ten years, but more than 60 union leaders who signed a letter to lawmakers opposing TPP said that instead of looking at rosy predictions, the lawmakers need to look at the track record of previous trade deals.

Trade deals like NAFTA have been sold as being job creators, said the letter, “but they don’t create jobs; instead, they make it easier for firms to invest offshore.”

For example, NAFTA, the 1993 trade deal involving the US, Mexico, and Canada, cost the US 685,000 jobs between 1993 and 2010, the 2012 trade deal with Korea has cost the US 60,000 jobs.

TPP could be even worse. Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute writes that research has shown that trade deals like NAFTA have created large trade deficits for the US, that is, they have resulted in a higher ratio of imports to exports.

Higher trade deficits mean the loss of jobs in the US, and, according to Scott, TPP will increase the US’ already large trade deficit.

“New data released this month show that the US trade deficit with the countries in the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership increased to an unexpectedly large $265.1 billion in 2014. . . This increase is further proof that U.S. workers don’t need another job-killing trade deal, which would undoubtedly grow the trade deficit even more.”

During the February congressional recess, CWA members met with lawmakers. At one of these meeting, Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas brought along the leader of US’ TPP negotiating team, Michael Froman, who has justified TPP by saying that it will create 650,000 jobs.

At the meeting, which was attended by CWA members as well as members of Public Citizen and the Sierra Club, Claude Cummings, CWA Region 6 vice president, called out Froman for making that claim and pointed to a Washington Post Fact Check article that said that the job creating claims for TPP were the result of “fishy math.”

The March 4 grassroots lobbying effort came as the TPP negotiations appear to be wrapping up.

When the final version is complete, President Obama will ask Congress to grant itself fast track authority to ratify the bill.

If it does so, then Congress will vote on the treaty without a chance to thoroughly review the pact or make amendments to it.

With so many jobs at stake, and the fact that fewer jobs will drive down wages, unions are asking lawmakers to give themselves more time to review the treaty by denying itself fast track authority.

In their letter to lawmakers, union leaders said that fast track is undemocratic and urged lawmakers to bring the terms of the treaty “out from behind closed doors.”

“If you stand for higher wages, more jobs, and greater opportunities for America’s hard working families, you will oppose fast track,” concludes the union letter.

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