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Mr. President, it is you who is wrong about Fast Track, TPP


(May 11, 2015) — With all due respect, Mr. President, it is you who is wrong on Fast Track and the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP).

obama-fast-trackThis past Friday both you and I were in Oregon. Ironically, you to promote Fast Track and the TPP and me to help welcome labor representatives from three states to a discussion on workforce training embodied in the new Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA), as well as the impacts on workers and their families dislocated due to trade policies.

At a press event at Nike headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., you accused all those who opposed Fast Track and TPP as “just wrong” and that their arguments were just based on “making stuff up.”

After presenting the opposition argument as a “trade or no change” straw man, you concluded by saying: “The fact is, some folks are just opposed to trade deals out of principle, a reflexive principle. And what I tell them is, ‘you know what? If you are opposed to these smart, progressive trade deals, then that means you must be satisfied with the status quo’.”

Again no disrespect intended, but this argument is demeaning and embarrassing.

The majority of our members and those of our allies in the environmental, social justice, faith, and human rights communities are opposed to Fast Track and the TPP because of the accumulated experience of 25 years of trade deals that have not only failed to live up to expectations, but have led to extensive job loss at home with significant offshoring of U.S. jobs, the inability to enforce labor, human rights or environmental standards, and increasing income inequality. Hardly a reflexive principle.

fast-track-johnson-guentherTruth be told we would love to break with the status quo. A smart, progressive thing to do would be to put Fast Track on hold and make the TPP transparent — let the public see the text of the TPP. I suspect that everyday people, who have borne the brunt of past bad trade deals, might have some pause over the creation of a non-democratic corporate-dominated Investor State Dispute Resolution Tribunal making decisions regarding public policy versus liability for potential future lost corporate profits. Now if so many of us have this wrong, then open up the TPP text so we can all see.

Former Labor Secretary, Robert Reich, characterizes the TPP as a “massive corporate giveaway” and Fast Track as a means to speed this largess through Congress. We have neither seen nor heard anything that convinces us that Reich is not correct in his assessment.

While workers spent Friday and Saturday in a labor hall in Portland talking about how best to protect dislocated workers, you held your press event at Nike headquarters because the company suggested that with passage of the TPP they would create about 10,000 jobs in the U.S. over the next decade. Mr. President, not only are the optics of this bad, given that more than 95% of the workforce producing Nike’s sneakers are employed overseas, but what proof exists that Nike “isn’t just making this stuff up.”

Finally, you have accused those who oppose Fast Track and TPP of “standing in the way of a modern competitive economy.” This is, just wrong. Neither Fast Track nor TPP addresses currency manipulation. Without an agreement on currency regulation a country’s export advantage due to lowering of tariffs can be instantaneously wiped out. And with no effective ways of enforcing labor or environmental standards where is the upside to this?

Mr. President, we believe that a modern competitive economy is one in which there is a tax system in place that does not incentivize the off-shoring of U.S. jobs, where there is an industrial policy where there is a real “just transition” process for workers, families and communities that have suffered economic dislocation, and where trade agreements are based on agreed upon starting principles, objectives and goals.


If it ever was, it is no longer true that “what is good for G.M., Boeing or Microsoft, is good for the country.” Extreme income inequality in the face of exaggerated corporate executive salaries and profits suggest that “we are not making this stuff up.”

Jeff Johnson is President of the Washington State Labor Council, AFL-CIO, the largest labor organization in the Evergreen State, representing the interests of more than 500 local unions and 400,000 rank-and-file union members.

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