Growing and strengthening west Michigan's middle class
GRAND RAPIDS April 23, 2015– The entire labor movement, including the Kent-Ionia Labor Council, is squarely against the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track legislation (S. 995/H.R. 1890)– better know as “Fast Track”– and is doing everything in its power right now to kill this bill.
The AFL-CIO has set a goal of 200,000 calls to Congress from union members, family and friends. The number you need to call is located in the graphic to the right.
But the questions that many rank-and-file members are now asking are: Why? And how will trade legislation affect my union and me?
We have all your questions answered (sometimes before you even thought to ask them), from the AFL-CIO:
Fast Track is a policy that gives the executive branch the opportunity to negotiate—out of public view—as many trade agreements as it can during a given time period and send them to Congress, which may then only vote yes or no on the agreement: it may not amend the agreement or its “implementing bill,” nor may it send the agreement back to the executive branch with instructions for improvement.
Working people know the danger of such a process: no trade deal, no matter how bad, has ever been defeated under Fast Track procedures! So the minute the negotiators have the Fast Track ticket in their hands, they know they are free to agree to provisions that will send jobs overseas, reduce the bargaining power of workers, jeopardize important environmental or health and safety regulations and give global corporations even more influence over our economy (and our trading partners’ economies, too).
Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994, workers across North America—including in Mexico—have experienced downward pressure on wages and a tougher organizing environment. Unscrupulous employers in the United States, Canada and Mexico have played workers against each other, threatening to move jobs to another country if the workers didn’t accept pay and benefit cuts. The result, 20 years later, is an unbalanced system in which profits soar even as workers take home a diminishing share of national income. In 2012, the U.S. goods trade deficit was $730 billion. Trade policies adopted under Fast Track have cost us millions of jobs, have contributed to more than 60,000 factories shutting down and have exacerbated rising income inequality here in the United States and around the globe.
NO. There is no existing Fast Track law. The last Fast Track law—the one used to negotiate and advance the Colombia and Korea trade agreements—expired in 2007. Any trade bill moving forward should focus on creating trade deals that work for workers. That means: reducing our trade deficits, improving the ability of workers to organize and bargain for better wages and working conditions and implementing trade and economic policies that help countries raise their standards of living for all. Because Fast Track creates a closed process in which the public has little ability to influence the outcome, no Fast Track bill will improve the absence of such a law—we need a new approach requiring a democratic, accountable negotiating process.
NO. The trade negotiating objectives in the bill advance the deregulatory agenda that has already harmed working families and make no improvements in labor and environmental standards over the “May 10,” 2007, level (the provisions achieved in the Bush-era Peru agreement). These “May 10” provisions were supposed to be a mere stepping stone to more robust protections that would level the playing field and help ensure workers the right to freely organize and bargain. The bill includes no trade negotiating objectives on job creation, trade deficit reduction, protecting “Buy American” policies or even rules of origin (to promote the export of goods “Made in America”). It even includes objectives that would interfere with the ability to provide affordable, life-saving medicines. In short, the trade negotiating objectives are an outsourcer’s wish list but leave America’s working families behind.
Not really. Although there is a new subsection on currency manipulation, the objective does not, by its own terms, call for enforceable standards. “Reporting” or “cooperation” would be enough to satisfy the terms of the negotiating objective, leaving sole authority to address currency manipulation with the executive branch that has refused, year after year, to even name China as a currency manipulator.
Unfortunately, and due in large part to prior Fast Track legislation, congressional standards for trade deals are not very high at all. NAFTA was passed with weak and unenforceable labor and environmental side deals, and the World Trade Organization (WTO) had no labor or environmental standards at all. The most recent trade deals to become law included a deal with Colombia, a country in which nearly 3,000 labor leaders and activists have been assassinated since 1986, and Korea—a country with which we have an increasingly lopsided trade deficit. Under the very low standards of the Korea deal, cars that contain only 35% Korean content can enter the United States duty-free. To really have “high standards” trade deals, the American public must have more say—and that means no Fast Track.
NO. The bill provides little opportunity to reject bad deals—and leaves the president in control of drafting the implementing bill. Hatch-Wyden-Ryan creates no formal process requiring Congress or any independent body to evaluate the deal to ensure that it will have a positive impact on the U.S. trade balance, create good, family-wage jobs or ensure that state and local governments can continue to protect their residents’ water, air and other natural resources. Even when a deal fails to meet the bill’s negotiating objectives—the trade agreement can still benefit from Fast Track’s “no amendments/little debate” privileges. The bill only requires that the president “make progress in achieving the purposes, policies, priorities and objectives of” the bill. And even if a member of Congress files a resolution of disapproval, stating that progress was not made, that resolution can be permanently bottled up by a single committee in either the House or the Senate, ensuring that Fast Track privileges apply to a bad deal.
NO. The bill continues to expose U.S. laws and regulations to challenges by other countries—the United States already has lost a challenge to its anti-smoking policies and has had to revise its country of origin meat labeling and dolphin protection policies to comply with trade obligations. Even worse, the bill continues to provide extraordinary legal rights and privileges to foreign investors (known as investor-to-state dispute settlement or ISDS)—rights and privileges that home-grown businesses do not share. Multinational corporations have used similar provisions in other agreements to attack anti-smoking laws (in Australia), clean air (in Peru) and water (in Canada) policies, land use decisions (in Mexico) and even a minimum wage increase (in Egypt)! What will they attack next?
According to the bill’s own promotional material, the bill will promote “U.S. participation in global value chains and ensure that trade agreements reflect the increasingly interrelated and multi-sectoral nature of trade and investment activity.” U.S.-based workers already have felt the impacts of such global integration for years. Without strict rules and responsibilities for global corporations operating outside the United States (none of which are included in the bill), these “value chains” are just fancy words for offshoring production to places with weak labor and environmental laws and enforcement. The result has been a race to the bottom in terms of wages, benefits, working conditions and pollution. And it will continue to be so until trade deals ensure that corporations are responsible for labor, environmental and health and safety violations anywhere in their supply chain. This Fast Track bill doesn’t do that.
In short, the Hatch-Wyden-Ryan Fast Track bill doesn’t live up to its promises. It is a license to continue the same failed trade and economic policies that have left working people behind for the past 20 years. America’s workers are sick and tired of trade policy made by and for the 1%—trade policy that does nothing more than shrink our paychecks and make it less likely that our children can climb the ladder of success.