Trade Divide Widens Between Unions And White House

Connor D. Wolf | Reporter

The AFL-CIO promised Monday to ramp up opposition to unilateral trade authority which would allow the president to make trade deals without Congress.

“In the month of March alone there has been tremendous activity,” the union declared in a statement. “Actions will continue to ramp up during the week of April 13 leading to a National Day of Action on April 18.”

Though labor unions and the president agree on many policy areas, unions have continuously opposed the White House on trade promotion authority, or fast track. If it’s granted by Congress it will allow the president to make trade deals with other countries without them being amended or filibustered.

“Over the last few months, tens of thousands raised their collective voices in opposition to Fast Track,” the union said. “Over 86,000 calls were made to Members of Congress while over 40,000 people signed onto a national petition to stop Fast Track. Around the country over 400 events were organized in Congressional districts.”

The AFL-CIO detailed how it has worked with grassroots activist and organizations like the Communications Workers of America, Service Employees International Union, Sierra Club, Common Cause and Working America throughout the month of March to make sure Congress doesn’t grant the president such authority.

“The AFL-CIO, community allies and their members including leaders like former Labor Secretary Robert Reich are taking action to stop this legislation,” the AFL-CIO continued.

“Working families have been holding local events, writing their Members of Congress, making phone calls and signing petitions,” the union also noted. “The level of grassroots activity around giving the President fast track authority shows workers’ fear of yet another set of bad trade deals that lower wages and send jobs overseas while undermining labor, health and environmental standards.”

The AFL-CIO promised to go as far as freezing political contributions to lawmakers supporting fast track. Democrats have the most to lose by a political contribution freeze. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, the AFL-CIO Workers’ Voices PAC alone spent $1.1 million dollars in support of Democrats during the 2014 elections while also spending $1 million opposing Republicans.

The AFL-CIO argued that for any trade deal to be fair, it must be transparent, agreed upon by Congress before negotiations, include specific objectives for each trade partner, include an effective check on the executive branch and address shortcomings in current trade enforcement. The union argues that fast track authority undermines these needs.

Though the AFL-CIO has led the way in opposing current trade deals, other unions have also made clear their firm opposition.

“Fast track trade deals mean fewer jobs, lower wages, and a declining middle class,” 64 unions declared in a letter to Congress. “Fast track has been used since the Nixon Administration to advance deals, like NAFTA, that are sold to the American people as job creation measures.”

Despite the opposition from organized labor, the White House has argued current trade negotiations with the backing of fast track authority could vastly benefit American workers and the middle class.

“The President does continue to believe that there should be some bipartisan common ground around Trade Promotion Authority,” White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest told reporters Feb. 10. “That the idea that we can make it easier for the President to negotiate an agreement that he clearly believes would be in the best interest of American workers and American middle-class families and American businesses is something that Congress should support.”

“And so he’s certainly going to be a part of making that case to Democrats and Republicans on the Hill,” Earnest continued. “And it certainly is going to be the responsibility of members of the Republican leadership who share the President’s view of the benefit of some of these policies — that they’re going to have to spend some time making the case to their own members about why they should support Trade Promotion Authority as well.”

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