It's Time to Take a Stand for Workers on TPP

Leo W. Gerard USW President Emeriti

By Leo Gerard, International President, United Steelworkers; James P. Hoffa, General President, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, and Dennis Williams, President, United Auto Workers

We serve as representatives of American organized workers on the Advisory Committee for Trade Policy and Negotiations (ACTPN) and together have stated that the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a bum deal we cannot support.

By registering our dissent to the ACTPN report that endorses the agreement, the Teamsters, the United Steelworkers and the United Auto Workers are letting Congress and the public know this deal fails everyday Americans and must be rejected by our elected representatives. The TPP is simply the latest in a long line of terrible trade pacts that ship jobs overseas and lower wages at home. At a time of outrageous economic inequality and stagnate wages, TPP is the last thing we should do.

Despite the efforts of supporters to frame this 12-nation Pacific Rim agreement as the gold standard and one that would stick up for the interests of millions of workers in the U.S. and abroad, the TPP fails on all accounts. Now that the text is no longer secret, many are seeing the agreement does not hold up under scrutiny.

Take, for instance, labor rights. While those promoting the trade deal said it would advance workers in member nations and allow the formation of unions, the actual language in the agreement offers only false promises of progress. In fact, countries with abysmal labor standards will have to do little, if anything, to comply with the commitments of the TPP's labor chapter. A country may have to adopt a minimum wage, but even one penny an hour would be sufficient to meet the requirements of the TPP.

That, in turn, would negatively impact domestic manufacturing. U.S. workers can't compete with foreign workers toiling away in unsafe conditions and only making pennies a day, as is the case in countries like Vietnam. Simply put, this trade deal is designed to support the global supply chains of multinational companies through continued outsourcing of production and offshoring of jobs.

Enforcement is another failure of the trade deal. There are no integrated enforcement measures, even though the existing protocols are woefully insufficient. This should be a major concern for Congress. Lawmakers must refuse to consider the TPP or any other trade deals without more enforcement resources. American workers need a system that ensures unfair trade practices will be dealt with forcefully.

And as time passes, the problem will only get worse if TPP is enacted. A provision included in the document will allow other nations to sign onto the deal, extending its negative effects even further. China, South Korea, Indonesia, Philippines and Thailand are just some of the potential entrants. TPP is the template for the future and its devastating effects could grow dramatically over time. It already includes 40 percent of the global economy.

Rules of origin language in the TPP will take us backwards. These rules, which mandate how much content in automobiles and parts must come from TPP countries to get preferential trade treatment, would actually allow China or other countries outside of the TPP to provide a majority of the content. For purposes of the TPP, Made- in-America could mean more than half of the car's value comes from China. That's simply unacceptable.

Currency manipulation will not be combatted in a meaningful way, practically ensuring this unfair, jobs- killing trade practice will continue. The U.S. trade deficit, already sky-high with many of our trading partners, will grow substantially under the TPP, because it does nothing to stop nations from tampering with their currency valuation to make the imports they ship cheaper, and the exports coming into their nations more expensive. That will only exacerbate the loss of American jobs if Congress approves TPP.

While elected officials often use hyperbole to talk about so-called critical votes they make, this is one time they won't be. The lives of millions of Americans will beadversely affected if those on Capitol Hill ultimately vote to approve the TPP. That's why we and our coalition partners are speaking out forcefully against this deal. And it's why lawmakers must side with their constituents over corporate interests when they ultimately consider the trade agreement next year.

Leo W. Gerard also is a member of the AFL-CIO Executive Committee and chairs the labor federation’s Public Policy Committee. President Barack Obama appointed him to the President’s Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiation and the President's Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee 2.0. He serves as co-chairman of the BlueGreen Alliance and on the boards of Campaign for America’s Future and the Economic Policy Institute.  He is a member of the executive committee for IndustriALL Global Labor federation and was instrumental in creating Workers Uniting, the first global union. Follow @USWBlogger