Unions want renegotiated NAFTA to put interests of workers first

In written comments to the US Trade Representative, unions urged the Trump administration to put the interests of workers and the public first when it renegotiates the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

President Trump in April set in motion the process for renegotiating NAFTA.

After that process was set in motion, interested parties had a chance to submit written recommendations for changes to NAFTA.

The deadline for submitting recommendations ended on June 12, and on that day, several unions and the AFL-CIO issued statements outlining their recommendations

The general theme of the recommendations was that NAFTA should be a new kind of trade agreement–one that “prioritizes benefits for working families, not simply benefits for multi-national or global enterprises,” reads a statement from the AFL-CIO.

Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, said that a new NAFTA must be “New Deal” that benefits workers in Canada, Mexico, and the US.

Leaders of other labor organizations made a similar point.

“We must replace this deal written by and for multinational corporations with an agreement that is designed to live up to our values, create jobs, and raise wages for working men and women across North America,” said Chris Shelton, president of the Communication Workers of America.

To make sure that workers receive the benefits of a renegotiated NAFTA, the new agreement must protect workers rights, added Leo Gerard, president of the United Steelworkers.

“Most important among our recommendations,” said Gerard. “Is the need to ensure that internationally-recognized workers’ rights are promoted and also protected through aggressive enforcement provisions. Mexico has become a magnet for foreign investment in sectors like autos and auto parts because workers are not paid fair wages. That must change.”

The AFL-CIO’s recommendations also included changes that would protect the general public against corporate abuses.

“(Our) recommendations include changes to labor and procurement rules, as well as improved consumer protections and new rules to prevent currency misalignment and tax dodging. The improvements are meant to ensure working people receive a fair return on their work and new rules aren’t written to benefit wealthy corporations and CEOs,” reads a statement about its recommendations from the AFL-CIO.

In addition to ensuring that workers benefit from and their rights are protected by a revised NAFTA, unions called for other changes that protect consumers and the environment.

Unions urged the trade representative to eliminate the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) section from NAFTA.

ISDS creates a process allowing investors and corporations from a foreign country to sue a government if the government passes a law or enacts a regulations that might hurt future profits.

ISDS clauses in other trade agreements allowed Phillip Morris, the international tobacco company, to sue Australia for requiring health warnings on cigarette packages and Dow to sue Quebec after the Canadian province passed a law banning certain lawn pesticides because they were a threat to the environment.

ISDS suits aren’t heard in a court of law; instead, they are heard by an arbitration panel composed of trade attorneys.

Hearings before an ISDS tribunal are held in secret and aren’t subject to appeal.

“Giving foreign corporations special rights to challenge our laws outside of our legal system would be a bad deal,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren last year in a Washington Post op-ed piece criticizing the proposed Trans Pacific Partnership treaty.

Other recommedations from the AFL-CIO  include:

  • Democratize the negotiations process
  • Protect consumers by ensuring that pharmacuetical companies can’t use intellectual property rights to “undermine affordable medicine”
  • Strengthen rules of origin language to maximize benefits for workers, farmers, and NAFTA companies and
  • Add strong environmental rules with swift and certain enforcement.

“If President Donald Trump follows our recommendations—if he renegotiates NAFTA, so it’s a real force for higher wages and broadly shared prosperity—we will help him pass it,” said Tumka. “If he uses renegotiation to further rig the rules for the wealthiest few, we will fight him with everything we have. And if President Trump breaks his promise and leaves the worst pieces of NAFTA in place, we will never forget it.”

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