AFL-CIO urges the SEC to examine “unusual” purchase of Navient stocks

In a letter to the Securities Exchange Commission, the AFL-CIO urged the commission to investigate possible insider trading of Navient stock.

Navient collects and services student loans worth $300 billion for more than 12 million borrowers, making it the largest student loan servicer in the US.

The letter from Heather Slavkin Corzo, director of the AFL-CIO’s Office of Investments, says that suspicious trading activity took place on August 31 just hours before the US Department of Education announced a highly favorable decision for Navient.

The day after the announcement was made, Navient stock increased by 4 percent.

On August 31, the Department of Education notified the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) that the department would no longer share information about Navient and other student loan processors with CFPB.

This decision was good news for Navient because in January CFPB filed a suit against Navient for cheating borrowers out of their rights to lower payments in order to boost its profits.

Without information about Navient from the Department of Education, CFPB will have a more difficult time pursuing its claims for millions of dollars in restitution for borrowers affected by Navient’s actions.

After CFPB was notified, hours elapsed before the department’s notification was made public.

During the time between the notification and its announcement, nearly 900,000 shares of Navient stock were purchased in three separate transactions near and after the close of the market.

After the transactions were completed and after the department’s notification was made public, Navient shares jumped from $13.20 a share to $13.75 a share.

A Navient spokesperson denies that Navient had advanced knowledge of the department’s notification.

CFPB’s January suit against Navient alleges that the company failed to provide the most basic information needed by borrowers who qualified for reduced loan payments.

“Navient provided bad information in writing and over the phone, processed payments incorrectly, and failed to act when borrowers complained about problems,” states the CFPB in a media statement about the suit.

“Critically (Navient) systematically made it harder for borrowers to obtain the important right to pay according to what they can afford. These illegal practices made paying back student loans more difficult and costly to certain borrowers,” continues the statement.

These allegations were not the first time that Navient has run afoul of federal regulators.

In 2014, Navient agreed to pay $97 million to settle a charge that it violated the Service Members Civil Rights Act.

The Justice Department charged Navient with overcharging more than 78,000 active duty service members on their student loan payments.

According to the Justice Department, Navient failed to provide service members with the 6 percent interest rate cap to which they were entitled under the law.

Navient agreed to pay $60 million to service members affected by the overcharge, $55,000 in civil penalties, and to request that credit bureaus delete negative information on service members credit histories caused by the overcharges.

The Education Department cooperated with the Justice Department in its investigation of Navient and provided important information that helped the department reach a favorable settlement.

But the times have changed, and under the new leadership of Secretary Betsy DeVos, the Education Department appears to have decided that cooperating with federal regulators to protect student loan borrowers is regulatory overreach.

That’s good news to Navient, its executives, and its large investors who can afford to buy big chunks of stock.

That big chunks of Navient stock were bought during such a narrow window of opportunity raised suspicions by the AFL-CIO, which is an investor in Navient and in the past has worked vigorously to promote good corporate governance at Navient and other companies.

Corzo told Bloomberg that the fortuitous purchases of such a large number of shares at just the right time was “unusual” and added that “insider trading undermines the fairness of financial markets.”

Overtime rule changes to benefit millions of workers

A recent update of overtime rules and regulations by the US Labor Department will mean that at least 4 million US workers who were previously ineligible will now be eligible for overtime pay.

When the updated regulations go into effect on December 1, salaried employees whose annual pay is $47,476 will be paid time and a half when they work more than 40 hours in a week.

Before the overtime regulations were updated, salaried employees had to have annual salaries of $23,600 or less to be eligible for overtime pay.

According to the Labor Department, more than 4 million more US workers will now be eligible; however, the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) says that as many as 12 million people could be affected.

“(The) new overtime protections mark a major victory for working people that will improve the lives of millions of families across America,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL_CIO. “We applaud the Obama Administration heeding the call for action to ensure working people get paid for all the hours we work.”

For years now, the AFL-CIO through its America Needs a Raise campaign has been urging federal, state, and local officials to implement policies that raise workers’ wages.

That effort gained momentum when tens of thousands of workers took to the streets to demand a minimum wage increase to $15 an hour.

That grassroots effort led cities such as Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angles and the states of California and New York to adopt labor standards that raised the minimum wage to $15 an hour over the next five years.

The new overtime rule, which the AFL-CIO urged the Obama Administration to adopt as early as 2012, is another government action that will raise wages for workers who most desperately need a raise.

Overtime laws were enacted nearly 80 years ago to ensure that workers were fairly compensated when they worked longer than the standard work week–40 hours.

But like many other laws that are supposed to protect workers, overtime laws over the last 40 years have been weakened.

In 1975 more than 60 percent of salaried workers were covered by overtime laws. Today just 7 percent are.

Among those who will now be eligible for overtime pay are 1.6 million workers in the nation’s retail and grocery stores, where many low-paid employers are classified as management even though, they perform worker duties such as stocking shelves and working cash registers.

“It is not uncommon to see managers (in grocery and retail stores) work 50 to 60 hours per week with no extra pay,” said Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers. “By increasing the overtime threshold we begin to put an end to this unfair practice and see more hours given to people who really want them.”

Salaried workers in the retail industry aren’t the only ones who benefit from the updated regulations.

Postdoctoral research employees at the nation’s universities will now be eligible for overtime pay.

Dennis Williams, president of the United Autoworkers, which represents postdoctoral researchers at some universities said that these professional employees are “underpaid and regularly work more than 40 hours a week.”

“The new threshold will enable many to pay for basic necessities like child care and rent,” said Williams.

Williams also called on the Labor Department to expand coverage “to all academic employees and other workers who are unfairly denied overtime pay.”

EPI reports that the updated rules will benefit a broad range of workers and their family members including, 6.4 million women, 4.2 million parents and 7.3 million children (under age 18), 1.5 million African Americans, 2.0 million Latinos, 3.6 million workers age 25 to 34, 4.5 million millennial, and 3.2 million workers with a high school degree but not more education.

In addition to helping millions of workers, the expansion of overtime coverage will boost the economy that has yet to find solid footing eight years after the end of the Great Recession.

The Wall Street Journal reports that wage stagnation is one of the main reasons that economic growth has been sluggish.

“The U.S. economy, like much of the globe, is stuck in a slow-growth rut. Turmoil overseas and still-weak commodity prices are preventing the manufacturing, trade and energy sectors from supporting growth. That leaves US consumers to boost the expansion. But without accelerating wages, it’s difficult for them to step up spending,” writes Eric Morath in the Journal.

According to the AFL-CIO, expanding overtime coverage will increase take home for people who will spend it and help the economy grow.

“Increasing the salary threshold would increase the take-home pay for workers who become eligible for overtime pay for their extra hours, allowing them to purchase goods and services. Updating the overtime rule would grow the economy much the same way increasing the minimum wage would,” writes Brendan Duke of the Center for American Progress.

Increasing the number of people eligible for overtime is also a step toward reversing the growth of inequality.

“Taking this step to restore overtime is one of the many ways we are beginning to change the rules of our economy that are rigged in favor of Wall Street,” said Trumka. “The fight for even stronger overtime protections and to raise wages for all working people continues.”

Fast track falters in the House, but it’s not dead yet

The day after fast track authority for the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) faltered in the US House of Representatives, opponents of the corporate-friendly trade deal celebrated the victory but tempered their joy with a warning.

“The House of Representatives has done the right thing,” said Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO. “But the fight is not over.”

The House on June 12 voted 302 to 126 to oppose the reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), a measure that was added to the Senate fast track bill in order to win support from wavering Democrats.

TAA reauthorization was the second piece of a two-bill package that the House needed to pass in order to send the Senate version of fast track authority for TPP to President Obama for his signature.

Supporters of fast track authority were disappointed in the June 12 vote but said that they would continue to seek fast track authority for TPP, a massive trade deal between the US and 11 Pacific Rim countries that will further encourage the offshoring of US jobs and make it more difficult for countries that are part of the deal to regulate their environment, protect consumers, and guard the public interest.

House Speaker John Boehner said that another vote on  TAA reauthorization could be taken early this week.

Trumka said that he was proud of the grassroots effort organized by a broad coalition of labor, environmental, civil rights, consumer rights, faith, and social justice groups that made the June 12 vote possible and contrasted that effort to the usual way that business gets done in Washington.

“The debate over fast track so far has been a marvelous contrast to the corporate money and disillusionment that normally mark American politics today,” said Trumka. “This was truly democracy in action – millions of people exercising their free rights to inform their elected representatives.  We should all draw from this experience to help replenish our democracy at every level on every issue.”

The work toward building the coalition began in 2013 when diverse groups that saw the looming trade deal as threat to jobs, wages, the environment, consumer rights, civil rights, and the public interest decided that they couldn’t defeat the deal by working alone.

Since then, the coalition which includes hundreds of groups with millions of members, began educating and mobilizing their members.

When it became clear that President Obama would seek a vote on fast track this year, their mobilizing kicked into high gear.

Town hall meetings with lawmakers attended by thousands of activists were held; tens of thousands of phone calls to lawmakers were made; demonstrations took place at the Capitol, on Wall Street, and on Main Street.

That effort led to a narrower than expected vote in favor of fast track in the Senate.

In order to win that vote, the Senate Republican leadership had to agree to reauthorize TAA, which provides re-training and other support for workers whose jobs have been shipped abroad because of trade deals.

Democrats have been traditional supporters of TAA, which expires in September. Fast track supporters thought that including TAA reauthorization in the fast track package would help them win enough votes from House Democrats to pass fast track.

But the Senate TAA reauthorization bill was flawed.

Many if not most workers whose jobs are shipped abroad because of TPP won’t get any help because TAA funding is inadequate.

The bill also diverted  $700 million in Medicare funding to pay for TAA, which Medicare supporters feared could snowball and put the popular health care program in jeopardy.

“Using Medicare to fund unrelated programs is a relatively new yet growing trend in Congress that simply must stop,” said Max Richtman, president of the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. “Medicare isn’t Washington’s ATM.”

The TAA reauthorization bill also excluded public sector workers, a large sector of the workforce that may need help if TPP passes because it will encourage the privatization and possible offshoring of more public services.

In 2009, public sector employees were made eligible for TAA benefits after a study by the Congressional Research Service found that 12 percent of public sector jobs in the US are offshorable.

These weaknesses made it easier for opponents to convince enough Democrats to vote down the measure.

The defeat of TAA reauthorization, however, doesn’t mean that fast track is dead.

Fast track supporters may try for another vote in the House, or they may try to work out a compromise in a House-Senate conference committee that revives fast track.

Opponents of fast track are urging those who been active in the fight against fast track to be ready to respond in large numbers to whatever tactic supporters choose to take.

“I don’t think it’s over yet,” said Tim Waters, political director of the United Steelworkers to the Guardian. “They’re  trying to do everything they can to get this back on track.”

“We must fully defeat fast track, so that Congress can work for trade deals that give working families at least as much standing as corporations,” said Chris Shelton, the newly elected president of CWA. “Our broad coalition of Americans — representing millions of union members, environmental activists, immigrant rights advocates, people of faith, students, public health and consumer advocates, community leaders and so many more — will keep up the fight until fast track is defeated.”

Talking union and Moral Monday in North Carolina

The North Carolina NAACP and the state AFL-CIO co-sponsored a Labor Day event aimed at  raising wages and fighting inequality.

The Moral Monday Talking Union Tour began Monday morning in Raleigh, moved to Greensboro at noon, and concluded in the evening in Charlotte where the featured speaker was Rev. William Barber.

Barber, the state NAACP leader, helped create the Moral Mondays movement, which rose to prominence in 2013 when it organized civil disobedience actions to protest a number of laws passed by the North Carolina Legislature and signed by the governor.

Among other things, these laws suppressed voter participation, reduced state support for public education, and prevented workers in low-wage jobs from being eligible for Medicaid.

“If labor and civil rights get together get together the right way, that’s the formula for transforming America,” said Barber at the Charlotte rally. “That’s the formula for transforming the South and the nation.

At the rallies that took place during the tour, workers engaged in various struggles across the state told the crowd about their fights.

A worker a the Mountaire Poultry plant in Lumber Bridge said that workers tired of working for poverty wages and in unsafe working conditions at Mountaire have been trying to organize a union.

After more than 400 workers signed union representation cards, the company launched a campaign of fear and intimidation in hopes of discouraging workers from forming a union, but the workers have continued their organizing drive.

The Mountaire workers have received support from the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1208, which represents workers at the Smithfield Foods in Tarheel.

It took Local 1208 16 years, but it finally won union recognition at Smithfield in 2008.

“Brothers and sisters, we know your down there fighting,” said Barber in a special message for Mountaire workers. “Keep on fighting. What’s going to happen is the same thing that happened at (Smithfield). You will win, but you got to stay together.”

Barber also said that he would soon be in Lumber Bridge to help build support for the union at Mountaire.

The crowd also heard from Devan Durham, who worked at McDonald’s for the minimum wage.

Durham told the crowd that on September 4 he and other low wage workers will be going on strike.

The strike is being organized by  Raise Up, an organization of low-wage workers, who are demanding that the minimum wage be raised to $15 an hour.

Durham pointed out that McDonald’s in Australia pays $15 an hour and still manages to stay in business.

MaryBe McMillan, the state AFL-CIO secretary treasurer said that the growing inequality in the US is not an accident but rather the result of laws and public policy adopted both at the state and federal level.

“Too many people in this country are under paid and under valued,” said McMillan. “What makes this so wrong, what makes this so immoral is (that) it’s no accident that workers are struggling. Policy makers in Raleigh (the state capital) and Washington have passed laws that have driven down wages, weakened workers rights, and gutted out safety net.”

McMillan said that the public discourse that led to the policies that created such great a great gap in wealth has been dominated by corporate interests, but that is about to change.

“We’re going to quit letting corporate America control the narrative,” said McMillan. “Instead of talking about taxes, deficits, and so-called entitlements, we’re going to talk about wages and we’re going to talk about unions.”

McMillan said that dozens of religious leaders expressed their support for unions to their congregations during the state’s first annual Labor Sabbath held on the day before Labor Day.

“If clergy are willing to preach about unions in the most anti-union state in the country, then you know a new day is dawning,” said McMillan.

AFL-CIO reaffirms support for single-payer health care; demands Obamacare fixes

Delegates to the AFL-CIO convention in Los Angles overwhelmingly adopted Resolution 54, which begins by reaffirming the labor federation’s commitment to a single-payer health care system, a commitment that it made at its last convention in 2009.

The Resolution also demands changes to Obamacare that ensure that more part-time workers will be guaranteed employer health care coverage, that union members enrolled in non-profit, multiemployer health plans receive the same subsidies as those enrolled in for-profit plans, that taxes on health plans won by workers through difficult struggle and collective bargaining be eliminated, and that other changes be made to ensure that all workers have access to quality, affordable health care.

During the floor debate on the resolution, Michael Goodwin, president of the Office and Professional Employees International Union made the case for expanding Medicare to include everyone in a single payer health care system.

Speaking of the current system, Goodwin said that whether a person has decent health care often depends on luck and that out of pocket expenses and holes in these plans are increasing.

There’s a two-word solution to these problems, said Goodwin. “Single payer.” The audience responded with applause.

But most of the speeches were about Obamacare’s unintended consequences and their “collateral damage” on workers.

For instance, the law requires employers to provide health care coverage to workers if they average 30 or more hours of work a week. To get around this requirement, some employers are reducing worker hours. Resolution 54 demands a fix to the law that sets the lower limit at an average of 20 hours a week.

Speakers also talked about the Obama Administration’s interpretation of the law that will deny federal tax credits to union members enrolled in non-profit, multiemployer health plans–health plans common for union members who work in construction, retail, transport, and hospitality industries.

A letter written last July by three union leaders to Senate Leader Harry Reid and House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi lays out the unions’ concerns. “Our (multiemployer, non-profit) health plans have been built over decades by working men and women,” reads the letter. “Under the (Affordable Care Act) as interpreted by the Administration, our employees will (be) treated differently and not be eligible for subsidies afforded other citizens. As such, many employees will be relegated to second-class status and shut out of the help the law offers to for-profit insurance plans.”

Even though union members won’t receive subsidies, their non-proft plans will be taxed to help pay for the cost of Obamacare.

Other union health care plans won through collective struggle and hard bargaining also will be subject to the same tax.

Supporters of the tax call these union benefits, “Cadillac” or “gold-plated” health care plans, but Goodwin called them “morally responsible” plans. That is, they provide quality health care at an affordable costs to millions of hard working people in the US.

Unions fear that the lack of subsidies and the imposition of new taxes could drive up the cost and drive down the quality of union health plans, making them no longer viable.

D. Taylor, president of UNITE HERE, seemed to sum up the general feeling among delegates about Obamacare.

“I think it’s great that millions upon millions of Americans are going to get health care for the first time,” said Taylor. “I like the fact that Obamacare does what our union plans have done for a long time–no pre-existing conditions, etc.”

But then he paused for emphasis and added, “But action needs to happen in order to fix Obamacare.”

He also said that, union members should not accept the excuse that the Administration doesn’t have the power to change the law.

Taylor said that the Administration extended the deadline for businesses to provide health care coverage, changed the rules on mandating contraception coverage, and agreed to a special deal for Capitol Hill staff all on its own.

If the Administration can change the law for other groups, it can do the same for labor, the most ardent proponent of real health care reform, said Taylor

Taylor urged the AFL-CIO and member unions to build a campaign that puts pressure on the White House and Congress to fix Obamacare.

Terry O’Sullivan, president of the Laborers International Union of North America said that he supported fixing Obamacare, but if the fixes weren’t made, then the AFL-CIO should support repeal of the law.

Kathryn Donahue of National Nurses United spoke in opposition Resolution 54.

“Resolution 54 is problematic because it allows our health care system to be held hostage to greedy, highly profitable health insurance industry,” said Donahue, “A market based approach has no place in health care” and she advocated a single-payer, Medicare for all approach instead.

ILWU cuts ties with the AFL-CIO

In a letter with the subject line entitled, “ILWU Disaffiliation,” the union’s president Robert McEllrath expressed “regret but resolve” when he told Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO, that the ILWU had “to cut formal ties with the AFL-CIO.”

McEllrath, who before the disaffiliation was an AFL-CIO vice-president, said that the ILWU was withdrawing from the AFL-CIO because the labor federation’s national leadership had done little to stop other affiliated unions from sabotaging the ILWU bargaining strength. McEllrath also said that Trumka and the AFL-CIO leadership were too quick to seek political compromises that undermined working class power.

McEllrath said that AFL-CIO unions have crossed picket lines established by the ILWU during lockouts and strikes, and accused some unions of mounting a coordinated effort to take away jobs that historically have been done by ILWU members.

In a report to ILWU members, McEllrath cited some specific examples.

Members of IBEW Local 48 and AFSCME Council 28 in Vancouver, Washington continue to cross picket lines at grain elevators owned by Mitsui-United Grain, which since February has locked out ILWU members.

The unions that cross the ILWU picket lines in Vancouver justify their actions by saying that they both had contracts that barred them from respecting picket lines.

But McEllrath notes that if labor is to get and keep the leverage it needs to win fair pay and good working conditions, labor solidarity must stand above else including the sanctity of the contact, and he cited Guiding Principle Number 4 of the ILWU’s Ten Guiding Principles adopted by the union in 1953, which says,

“To help any worker in distress” must be a daily guide in the life of every trade union and its individual members. Labor solidarity means just that. Unions have to accept the fact that the solidarity of labor stands above all else, including even the so-called sanctity of the contract. We cannot adopt for ourselves the policies of union leaders who insist that because they have a contract, their members are compelled to perform work even behind a picket line. Every picket line must be respected as though it were our own.

McEllrath said that the ILWU has for 60 years resisted attempts by its employers to get the union to drop contract language that protects ILWU members’ right to honor other unions’ picket lines.

In addition to crossing the Vancouver picket line, other AFL-CIO unions have tried to take work that the ILWU says should be ILWU work. While the number of jobs affected by this jurisdictional dispute is small, the consequence could be huge in the future as more of the work on the docks is mechanized, and  job descriptions of longshore work change.

In his letter to Trumka, McEllrath also expressed exasperation at the AFL-CIO eagerness to compromise with the Obama Administration on issues of vital interest to the working class.

He cited the AFL-CIO’s acceptance of President Obama’s compromise on immigration issues.

The AFL-CIO and the ILWU have historically supported comprehensive immigration reform with a clear path to citizenship that protects undocumented workers from firings, deportations, and the denial of their rights. However, the immigration bill you recently asked us to support imposes extremely long waiting periods on the path to citizenship and favors workers with higher education and profitability to corporations, as opposed to the undocumented workers such as janitors and farm workers who would greatly benefit from the protections granted by legalization.

McEllrath also said that the ILWU has “become increasingly frustrated with the federation’s moderate, overly compromising policy positions on such important matters as labor law reform, health care reform, and international labor issues.”

He expressed disappointment that the AFL-CIO had urged member unions to support the Affordable Healthcare Act after a tax on union health care plans was inserted into it. When running for election in 2008, President Obama had told unions that he would oppose such a tax.

Despite the withdrawal, McEllrath said that the ILWU will continue “to provide whatever aid and support we can for our fellow trade unionists and workers everywhere. We are committed to working in solidarity with all unions and labor groups, including the federation and its affiliates, for the advancement of workers, worker rights, and progressive issues everywhere.”

Unions: trade agreement with Europe may help US and EU workers

Leaders of the US and European Union are considering a new trade agreement that would in many cases eliminate tariffs, lower non-tariff barriers, and make the flow of capital between the two shores of the Atlantic even easier than it is now.

Corporations, banks, and political leaders on both sides are eager to strike a deal, and negotiations on a US-EU free trade agreement, could begin as early as this summer.

Some US labor leaders, who have  opposed similar trade deals, are saying that such an agreement if done right could help both US and EU workers.

According to a statement on the AFL-CIO blog, “If negotiated with the goal of increasing employment and well-being for working families, a US-EU (free trade agreement) could positively affect that trade imbalance and create jobs in the US by increasing net exports.  Unfortunately, experience has shown that despite rosy predictions. . .  export and job growth, promised gains from NAFTA-style trade agreements generally fail to pan out.”

“An agreement done right could help sustain and expand the middle class and provide economic opportunity for hundreds of millions of people,” said Leo Gerard, international president of the United Steelworkers. But Gerard also cautioned that following the pattern set by NAFTA “would be a recipe for disaster.”

Supporters of past trade deals have promised that they would create jobs, but as Robert E. Scott of the Economic Policy Institute points out, these have turned out to be empty promises.

According to Scott, the problem with these deals is that they do little to reduce the US trade deficit–our excess of imports over exports.

Exports complement domestic production and produce more jobs; imports, on the other hand, supplant domestic production offsetting any new jobs created by more imports.

Past deals, in some cases, have exacerbated the trade deficit. According to Scott before NAFTA, the US had a small trade surplus with Mexico. By 2010, the US trade deficit with Mexico had grown to $97.2 billion, which displaced 682,000 jobs.

The Korea trade pact which went into effect in 2012 was supposed to help lift the US economy out its doldrums. President Obama said that exports resulting from the deal would result in a net increase of 70,000 jobs.

But according to Scott, “That agreement took effect on March 15, 2012, and yet U.S. exports to Korea fell last year, and the trade deficit increased, meaning that Korea trade reduced demand for domestically produced goods in 2012 and cost the US jobs.”

Union leaders think that the right trade deal with Europe could reduce the US trade deficit.

For one thing, both trading partners have similar labor markets, so there wouldn’t be as much incentive to move production overseas, which not only costs workers jobs but also increases the trade deficit.

Moreover, Europe unlike other US trading partners has higher labor standards than the US, and if the goal of the proposed trade pact is to reduce inequalities that hamper trade, one solution might be to equalize labor standards to reduce the difference in labor costs.

Business would want to lower EU labor standards to make them more like the ones in the US, but some labor leaders think that they might have enough leverage to use the new pact to improve US labor standards and thus improve wages, job security, and health and safety.

“At a minimum any (trade) agreement should expand on existing EU mechanisms that provide for information disclosure and consultation between workers and trans-national enterprises, strengthen regulations concerning workplace health and safety, adopt the strongest protections on the testing and control of toxic chemicals, and include best practice regulations concerning contingent workers among other crucial issues,” said Gerard.

But Scott cautions that there will be many obstacles to overcome before a trade deal can help European and US workers. These trade deals are ” essentially a long menu of giveaways and protections to various corporate sectors yet leave genuinely crucial issues . . . off the table,” he writes.

Despite the significant barriers that need to be overcome, Gerard and other labor leaders are guardedly hopeful that a trade pact with Europe could benefit workers.

“Negotiations with the EU do provide a real opportunity to ensure that workers on both sides of the Atlantic could finally benefit from a free trade agreement if their interests are properly addressed,” said Gerard. . . . “How an agreement addresses the rights of workers vis-a-vis their employers as well as regulations and standards for workers at their workplace must be of paramount importance as this negotiation goes forward.”