Several national labor unions, led by the United Steelworkers (USW), rallied outside the U.S. Capitol Wednesday to encourage lawmakers to oppose the president on trade.
Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) has been an issue that has crossed party line, finding support and opposition on both sides of the aisle. Also known as Fast-Track, if granted by Congress it would allow the president to make trade deals with a straight up or down vote from Congress, without chance for amendment or filibuster.
Unions fear Fast-Track will allow the president to push through an upcoming trade deal which they argue will unfairly benefit corporations and special interests at the expense of American workers. The trade deal, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), has been negotiated in secret prompting many of the concerns for organized. Though much of the trade deal is still in the dark, details will be made public once it goes up for a vote in Congress, even if Fast-Track passes.
“The White House is negotiating this deal in secret, it could potentially harm American workers,” Todd Lunkin, a USW member, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
Lunkin notes his main concern is that if congress surrenders its power to the president by passing Fast-Track, it cannot ensure American workers are protected.
“I can’t say I am optimistic but I do have hope” he continued. “We have quite a few Republicans on our side and we have the vast majority of Democrats on our side so I am hopeful we can stop TPA.”
“I think for the most part the White House has the worker’s in mind but I think in this case they may just be a little off base as far as we are concerned,” Lunkin concluded.
David McCall, district director for the USW, fears the trade deal won’t include protections against countries manipulating the value of the products they export. Known as dumping, some countries are able to sell their products to other countries far below their value by subsiding them. Opponents argue the practice makes it harder for other countries selling the same product to compete.
“But when it’s unfair trade and people are allowed to dump products into this country that are subsidized by the other government, or when countries manipulate their currency in terms of trade issues, it’s unfair and does not provide a level playing field,” McCall told theDCNF.
“I love President Obama, I think he’s just done great work, I just think he’s wrong on this issue,” McCall added.
The rally also received support from environmental groups who noted they are concerned over how the trade deals will impact the environment.
“We’re very concerned about the Fast-Track approach to the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” David O’Leary, a conservation chair at the Maryland chapter for the Sierra Club, noted to TheDCNF. “The pieces that have leaked out its pretty clear it’s not the right path.”
O’Leary points to the trade deal allowing companies to sue the government for imposing environmental protections as just one of the many leaked details they are concerned about.
“It just seems this is not necessarily a party line vote here,” O’Leary continued. “There’s a bunch of different perspective on this.”
“We’re definitely on the same page as labor on this one,” O’Leary concluded. “We’re going to make sure we’re a unified voice communicating to the administration and members of congress that this is really not acceptable.”
Some lawmakers also attended the rally in order to show their support. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mich.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) along with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Rep. Alan Grayson (D-FL) and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) all detailed why they are urging their colleagues to oppose Fast-Track authority.
“Call on members of Congress, tell them to do the right thing.” Rep. DeLauro told the crowd. “The Congress is a great institution, it is, its strength is in its potential and historically it has done good things.”
Afterwards, Rep. Grayson argued that TPP with the backing of Fast-Track authority will cause even more problems as the 1994 trade agreement known as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).
“I remember that if you had a job; you had healthcare, you had a pension, you could afford to buy a home and you could afford your children’s college education,” Grayson told the crowd. “NAFTA happened, the North American Free Trade Agreement happened, that noble experiment that had turned into a terrible, terrible disaster.”
NAFTA was signed by Canada, Mexico, and the United States to help promote free trade through standard rules. Opponents, however, have argued the deal failed and has hurt American workers.
Despite the opposition from organized labor and Democrat lawmakers, the White House has argued the 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 recently. “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.”
A bill allowing for Fast-Track authority is expected to be introduced this week.
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