Lawmakers, Unions, Challenge Trump To Rewrite NAFTA In Favor Of Workers

Backed by a wide array of unions, led by the Steelworkers, the Teamsters and the AFL-CIO, a group of House Democrats formally challenged Republican President Donald Trump to completely rewrite NAFTA, the controversial 23-year-old U.S.-Canada-Mexico “free trade” pact, in favor of workers, not multinational corporations.

In a non-binding resolution introduced Feb. 16, the legislators, led by Reps. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., and Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., laid out the pro-worker principles any new NAFTA should uphold. By and large, they repeat the pro-worker principles the same group – plus AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka – unveiled for a new NAFTA on Jan. 3.

Those include abolition of the secret trade court, called the Investor State Dispute System, now in NAFTA and other trade pacts, and writing strong enforceable labor rights into a new NAFTA’s text, and enforcing them.

They also include keeping Buy America provisions free from company challenges, putting in strong rules of origin for imported cars and parts, and requiring foreign trucks to comply with U.S. truck safety and driver licensing laws.

That last requirement would restrict creaky Mexican trucks and ill-trained, tired drivers to within 20 miles of the U.S.-Mexico border, a key cause of the Teamsters. NAFTA lets Mexican trucks roll nationwide.

“You campaigned for ‘the forgotten Americans,’ so it’s time to step up and follow through for American workers,” said Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Ill., whose district in Chicago’s Southwest Side and suburbs is heavily blue-collar, including a big Ford plant.

The lawmakers’ resolution is prompted by Trump’s comments earlier in February, after meeting Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, that NAFTA only needs “tweaking,” not a wholesale rewrite.  “It needs more than tweaking,” said DeLauro, who led the successful fight inside Congress against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “free trade” pact.

“By any meaningful measure, NAFTA was a failure” for workers in all three countries, AFL-CIO trade specialist Celeste Drake explained. “It didn’t raise wages in Mexico, Canada or the U.S. It shuttered factories, it devastated communities and it prevented unions.”

NAFTA’s promises “were creation of hundreds of thousands of jobs for Americans,” DeFazio said. “Instead, we saw hundreds of thousands of jobs exported across the border, to (Mexico) where unions are not allowed to organize, where wages are low and where there are no environmental regulations.”  Calculations put job losses at between 685,000 and 1 million.

The lawmakers’ resolution “provides a roadmap” for Trump “to follow if” he “truly wants to fix this broken trade agreement,” said Teamsters President Jim Hoffa in a statement distributed at the press conference.  The resolution calls for talks to start by June 1.

“’Free trade’ agreements like NAFTA have undermined our manufacturing industry for decades, sending millions of jobs overseas. It is long past time to negotiate fair trade agreements that protect working families and provide good jobs here,” Hoffa added.

“The biggest mistake is ISDS” which lets firms use secret trade courts to override U.S. laws, including job safety laws, minimum wage laws and Buy American laws, DeFazio said. And another NAFTA provision automatically lets Canada “challenge U.S. sovereignty” in court. Canadian lumber firms use that to open the way for lumber imports, he noted. The imports threaten U.S. jobs in the Pacific Northwest, including Carpenters’ jobs.

The lawmakers and the unionists emphasized they’re not against trade, but they are against lopsided trade pacts that hurt workers and help only multinational corporations.

“The resolution lays out an affirmative trade agenda and vision,” Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., said.

NAFTA has been such a disaster that Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., whose district is home to the Detroit 3 car companies, said that, taking corollary losses into account, NAFTA has cost a net of five million jobs in 23 years. 

A Public Citizen analysis of official U.S.-Mexico trade data since NAFTA, produced at the press conference, shows the manufacturing trade deficit with Mexico was $90 billion in 2015, the latest figures available. The year NAFTA passed, 1993, the U.S. ran a $2.6 billion manufacturing trade surplus with Mexico.

“Since NAFTA passed, we’ve seen factories shuttered, people lose their jobs and people lose their hope,” as a result, Dingell added.

Rep. Rick Nolan, DFL-Minn., whose district includes the Iron Range – which provides raw ore for many U.S. factory products, including cars – praised unions for establishing the U.S. middle class, and for fighting NAFTA. He suggested it helps promote union decline.

After establishment of the American Dream, “along came NAFTA,” Nolan said. “It was devastating.”

DeFazio also reminded Trump the GOP majority doesn’t want to renegotiate the so-called “free trade” pacts, NAFTA included. “If he wants to change trade policy, he’ll have to work with us, because he’ll be fought tooth and nail” by Republican leaders, DeFazio said.

But Drake admitted “there’s a risk” that if Trump renegotiates NAFTA, “it’ll be in the wrong direction, just to benefit multinationals and big corporations.”

“If he does, we’ll fight it just as hard as we fought against the TPP,” she warned.