As DelBene backs Fast Track, trade talking points belie reality


(June 3, 2015) — Yesterday, Congresswoman Suzan DelBene (D-1st) called to let me know that she was about to tell me something I didn’t want to hear. She has decided to vote for “Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority legislation.

Her part of the conversation was similar to what I heard from Washington’s Democratic Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Reps. Rick Larsen (D-2nd) and Derek Kilmer (D-6th): We are a trade-dependent state. Presidents need to have the ability to negotiate trade agreements without being encumbered by congressional amendments so that they can negotiate the best deals. The labor and environmental standards built into the TPA are better than those of the past. The president deserves our trust, and though we disagree on this issue we need to keep the lines of communication open because there are so many other important issues that we need to work on together.

I appreciated the calls, and the face-to-face meeting I had with Rep. Kilmer. I also appreciate the fact that there are many other issues coming up upon which it will be important for us to exchange views.

However, I am profoundly disappointed that we disagree on an issue of such grave importance to working people and our communities. And I am profoundly disappointed that our visions of reality for working people in Washington state and our country are so very different.

The reality that I see is:

► Pretty words about labor standards and environmental protections on paper do not add up to enforcement of those standards or protections. We have never had actual enforcement of labor and environmental standards from our trade agreements, including the standards established with the Bush Administration’s “May 10 accord” of 2007 that was supposed make sure trade deals have language that guarantee workers’ right to organize, ban child labor and prohibit forced labor in trading-partner countries. In fact, as you read this, the Obama Administration is working behind the scenes to soften anti-slavery language in the Fast Track bill so Malaysia, a notorious hub of human trafficking, can be signatory to the next trade deal.

► Words don’t protect workers or the environment, actions do. Where is the action plan on enforcing labor, human rights, and environmental standards? What, other than the intentions of the president, gives us any degree of confidence that this trade deal will actually include enforceable standards? I am reminded of the saying that “the road to hell is paved with good intentions.” I want to see the road to actual enforcement. Show us the plan that guarantees effective enforcement.

► CEOs and shareholders will likely benefit from trade, but the vast majority of workers, particularly in the manufacturing sector, will continue to suffer from trade-related job displacement, loss of income and benefits, and loss of revenue to their communities.

► Four hundred workers from the Simpson Mill in Shelton have lost their jobs — and the federal government has officially certified those job cuts as trade-related — and will likely never regain their lost wages and benefits. Their community will suffer from lost tax revenues and reduced public services as the number of kids needing free and reduced lunches increases in the Shelton School District. In this community, the middle class will continue to vanish before our eyes.

► Aerospace supply-sector jobs may increase, but for the most part, these jobs are no longer family-wage jobs. And the truth is that, more likely than not, many of these companies will export their operations and production overseas.

► When there are no enforceable protections against currency manipulation, gains from the reduction of tariff barriers are elusive. Allowing our “trading partners” to deliberately undervalue their currency cheats American workers and companies instead of allowing us to compete on a level playing field.

► Increasing the potential for exports while maintaining domestic tax policies that incentivize the offshoring of U.S. jobs only exacerbates the exporting of American jobs.

► The Senate-approved Fast Track bill steals $700 million from Medicare to help fund Trade Adjustment Assistance for the laid-off workers victimized by these trade deals. This is unconscionable. Shame on our U.S. Senators for using an essential program that Americans pay for their entire working lives as their piggy bank. We should be expanding the Medicare program and the earned benefits this program provides, not making its finances more precarious to fund unrelated costs. The Senate has set a horrible precedent.

► Allowing a non-elected, corporate tribunal to evaluate investor-to-state disputes should send shivers down everyone’s spines. Corporations have continually made a mess out of the global economy by demanding lower taxes and government austerity that shreds or eliminates social programs and safety nets designed for the public good. There is no sane reason why we should give them any standing in the evaluation of public policy and the common interest.

► Given China’s deep integration into trade and the supply chains of the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) countries, it is nonsensical to believe that signing the TPP agreement will lessen China’s economic influence on the world economy. China can reap the benefits of TPP by sending parts to TPP countries for final assembly and export, without having to meet TPP standards for the production of those parts.

► There is no effective off-ramp in the TPA. If we agree to the trade agreement, we are stuck with it.

► If TPA passes the House, then TPP will likely pass Congress. Given the widespread popular distrust of TPP and its corporate backers, what political advantage will accrue to Democrats who vote for TPA? I suspect that if TPA and TPP pass, the White House will similarly pass from Democrats to Republicans, and our ability to address the crises of extreme income inequality and climate disruption will become even more difficult.

► While all presidents since John F. Kennedy have had Trade Promotion Authority, no president during that time has been confronted with this level of extreme income inequality and the economic, environmental, and health crises caused by climate change. This isn’t about trusting presidents with trade promotion authority. Our attention needs to be laser-focused on creating a democratic dialogue and plan about how we are going to raise wages for all working people, develop a broadly shared prosperity, and lower carbon emissions so that we can sustain our planet for the long run. If TPA doesn’t address our ability to do these things, or actually makes these problems worse, then TPA has outlived its usefulness.

The truth as I see it is that this vote on TPA and TPP far outweighs any other vote before Congress through 2016. There is nothing that will pass Congress through 2016 that will counterbalance the long-term consequences of the TPA and TPP for American workers and our communities.

A truly fair trade agreement would not require such secrecy nor would it require a Democratic President exerting so much pressure on members of his own party to vote for something most of them know is not in the best interests of the American people.

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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