• A New Proposal Might Actually Make Unions Happy

    A new proposal from Democratic Rep. Sander Levin could get unions to reconsider their opposition to international trade negotiations.

    Labor unions have positioned themselves as the main opposition to recent international trade talks. Despite support from President Obama, the unions fear agreements like the Trans-Pacific Partnership could hurt workers at home.

    Though it is not yet known if the White House and negotiators will consider the ideas, the recent proposal from Levin is already getting positive reviews from the United Steelworkers.

    Among the most popular of these ideas is to make the trade negotiations more transparent, and for Congress to not grant the president fast-track authority until the details of the trade deal are known.

    Leo W. Gerard, international president of the USW, said in a statement on Monday, “For many months, the congressman has argued that the focus needs to be on the merits of TPP, not on the process for considering these types of agreements.”

    “Rep. Levin has identified numerous factors to help make progress towards resolving the outstanding issues in the TPP,” Gerard noted. “His ideas raise important considerations that must be addressed in a revitalized discussion about the substance of TPP. The issues he raises are among the ones that the USW has been engaged in since the beginning of negotiations.”

    “TPP must be a high-standard agreement,” Gerard argued. “Its current proposals fall short, and Rep. Levin is correct in pushing for necessary improvements at the negotiating table.”

    Gerard continued, “For example, our trading partners must establish effective disciplines against currency manipulation. In addition, Congress must also pass domestic legislation to address this issue. Currency manipulation robs American farmers, workers and businesses of opportunity.”

    “Rep. Levin highlights the difficulties confronting the United States on worker and human rights. This key issue needs to be forcefully and measurably addressed with many of the TPP countries,” Gerard went onto say. “He also raises the issues of transparency and how much more needs to be done to fully and faithfully inform members of Congress, their staffs, cleared advisors and the public.   Despite claims of transparency, the process and product remain relatively opaque, even to cleared advisors.”

    “The congressman is absolutely correct in insisting that we get TPP right before we pass Fast Track legislation,” Gerard argued. “Fast Track only diminishes Congress’ leverage to get a deal that is good for our economy. We need more than an agreement that promotes the foreign policy interests of our allies and the bottom lines of multinational corporations.

    “Unfortunately, the United States Trade Representative (USTR) is not interested in real dialogue and debate, but instead wants to grease the wheels for a ‘take it or leave it’ approach for Congress,” Gerard concluded. “That tactic seriously jeopardizes the growth and economic gains that have been achieved in the past several years.”

    If the White House and negotiators listened to Levin, they might be able to greatly increase their chances of winning over the labor movement. The USW themselves noted prior to Levin’s proposal, “There are many aspects of the TPP that merit grave concern like the rights and privileges given to investors that make it safer for companies to move production overseas to low-wage, human-rights-violating countries like Vietnam.”

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