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With New NAFTA Recommendations, Labor Leaders Outline ‘Bold, Necessary’ Changes to Trade

During a teleconference on Monday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka, joined by USW President Leo Girard and CWA President Christopher Shelton, announced the AFL-CIO’s comprehensive recommendations for reworking NAFTA to benefit working people. Pointing to staggering job losses and flat wage growth, Trumka minced no words in calling current U.S. trade policy “a bipartisan disaster,” with NAFTA being a particularly egregious failure.

Donald Trump has been highly critical of NAFTA in the past, constantly decrying it on the campaign trail and appealing to the millions of working people whose livelihoods have been affected by the deal. “It’s no secret working people voted for Trump,” said Shelton, “largely because of the promises he made [on NAFTA].” Now that he is in office, labor leaders expect him to make good on those promises to rework the deal, or face the consequences.

If [the new deal] further rigs the rules for the wealthiest few, we will fight him,” Trumka warned. “And if he breaks his promise, workers will never forget it.”

In addition to the recommendations outlined by the AFL-CIO, Edward Wytkind, President of Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO, released a statement calling for stronger protections for the transportation workforce, including prohibiting bus and truck traffic from Mexico that violates U.S. safety rules and requiring participating nations to make minimum investments in infrastructure.

Our trade agreements should be designed to put money in the pockets of America’s working families, not large, multi-national corporations or foreign governments,” said Wytkind.

However, leaders have made clear that the goal of this new framework is not to pit workers in different countries against each other. When asked whether there was a middle ground for protecting both U.S. and Mexican workers, Trumka answered, “Mexican and Canadian workers are not our enemy. It’s the trade agreements that are our enemy.”

Both Girard and Shelton agreed that trade agreements should not put workers against each other. Girard said in a closing statement,“It’s not one country’s workers against another’s, it’s all workers rising together.”  Shelton advocated for policies that raise wages and encourage collective bargaining specifically in Mexico.

One thing is certain: a few small tweaks will not fix NAFTA. The recommendations put forth by labor leaders are far-reaching, comprehensive and necessary in order to protect working people from further devastation. And labor leaders have made clear that they will not sit quietly if the administration’s changes are insufficient.

This is bigger than trade itself; it’s about the system of democracy,” said Trumka. “We’re gonna fight and fight hard so that workers can have a fair shot.”

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About Rachel Mussenden

Rachel Mussenden is a writer and former communications fellow at Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
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