U.S. Labor Movement Pushes Back On New Trade Deal For U.S, Mexico And Canada

Jun 20, 2019
Originally published on June 20, 2019 10:10 pm
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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

President Trump is pushing Democrats in Congress to back a new trade deal for the U.S., Canada and Mexico. The USMCA, as it's called, would replace the North American Free Trade Agreement - NAFTA. And Trump met with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau today, talking it up.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: It's really great for everybody. And unions - it's great for unions. I mean, I - we have tremendous union support too.

KELLY: But the U.S. labor movement is also stepping up pressure to prevent passage of the deal unless major changes are made. NPR's Don Gonyea reports from Michigan.

DON GONYEA, BYLINE: With Democrats in the majority in the U.S. House, labor finds itself with increased clout when it comes to the proposed U.S.-Canada-Mexico trade agreement. To that end, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka has been on the road this week in Pennsylvania and Ohio and Michigan, holding town halls with union members. Last night, in a union hall just south of Detroit, he looked back to the 2016 campaign and the way candidate Trump spoke to working-class voters.

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RICHARD TRUMKA: Now, President Trump campaigned on a new NAFTA. And quite frankly, that's one of the big reasons why he got elected.

GONYEA: But the AFL-CIO leader says President Trump has been anything but good for workers, and this new version of NAFTA is a prime example. He says workers need to know what's really in the proposed deal rather than accept Trump's boast that he's kept his promise to dump the old NAFTA.

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TRUMKA: The labor section in the agreement is actually better. But here's the problem. You can't enforce it. There's no way to enforce the agreement. And therefore, it becomes useless.

GONYEA: His take is that it's a problem throughout the deal. He says he has assurances from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that she won't hold a vote until significant fixes are made. Last night's Detroit-area town hall was attended by more than 200 people from a wide variety of unions. In 2016, Trump did not win the union vote, but he did significantly better with those voters than previous GOP nominees. Still, there was no visible Trump support in the room, and the questions to Trumka included some wondering why the AFL-CIO is even willing to work with the White House to try to fix this deal. Pete Landon is a retired teamster.

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PETE LANDON: I came today hoping that I would hear something new in terms of what our strategy is going forward.

GONYEA: Landon says he's lost faith in Democrats being a reliable ally on these issues. He has an even stronger recommendation to union leaders.

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LANDON: Let's dump NAFTA. Let's have that as the slogan like TPP, not let's adjust it. Let's refine it. Let's renew it.

GONYEA: But plenty of others in the crowd were encouraged to see the union launching this public campaign to counter what corporate interests are already doing to get the USMCA passed. And even though Trumka himself seemed intent on mostly avoiding politics on this tour, especially the race for the Democratic presidential nomination, politics did come up. There was this awkward moment when one union member addressed Trumka, flubbing his name in the process.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Good evening, brother Trump.

TRUMKA: Good evening - Trumka.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: Trump...

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GONYEA: The questioner was mortified by his mistake but went on to talk about how the really important thing is for Democrats to win back the U.S. Senate and the presidency. Trumka responded by saying he's not concerned about candidates right now; that he's focused on issues like this trade deal.

Don Gonyea, NPR News, Detroit. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.