BY CHERYL SLAVIN
The Communication Workers of America Locals 1107 (Rockland) and 1103 (Westchester) have joined a growing number of other unions, consumer organizations, media watchdogs and politicians on both sides of the aisle in opposing a controversial trade agreement, as well as the fast track legislation necessary for its passage without Congressional debate or inquiry.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is a trade agreement currently being negotiated between the United States and 11 other trade partners that ring the Pacific Ocean. The negotiations have been ongoing for about five years. The main proponents of the agreement come primarily from within the international banking industry, multinational software companies, owners of international intellectual property copyrights, and large manufacturing corporations.
According to the TPP opponents, such multinational firms would be the only ones to benefit from the provisions of the agreement, which they allege, among other things, facilitates out-sourcing of American jobs, permits multinational and foreign corporations to challenge U.S. laws before foreign tribunals and prohibits the current U.S. policy of preferential treatment for American companies. As one observer pointed out, “although it is called a ‘free trade’ agreement, the TPP is not mainly about trade.” Rather, it provides a framework which might broaden the influence of U.S. labor and environment policy abroad, while allotting generous concessions to its trading partners in such areas as intellectual property and human rights.
Unions such as CWA Local 1107 oppose the TPP precisely because of those concessions. A fact sheet on its website names, among other objections, the off-shoring of at least 130,000 U.S. jobs, the erosion of labor and environmental protections and food safety standards, and the damage to collective bargaining rights by competition with an unregulated, extremely low wage foreign workforce.
Moreover, Joe Mayhew, Secretary/Treasurer of Local 1103 in Westchester, notes that in addition to the danger of losing American jobs and American contract preferences, the TPP would permit foreign corporations to challenge any U.S. law abroad, whether trade related or not, so long as the corporation contends that the law constitutes a “trade barrier” which presents an “adverse impact” not just on current revenue, but on “expected future profits” as well.
Michael Forman, United States Trade representative and head the U.S. trade delegation, has had his objectivity questioned due prior ties he has had to these groups. For example, he received millions of dollars in retirement bonuses when he left CitiGroup to work for the government. Other members of the delegation have similar ties.
President Obama’s most recent nomination to the delegation, Robert Holleyman, had previously been a lobbyist for the Business Software Alliance, a trade group for software companies like IBM. Some of the TPP’s current provisions resurrect portions of the failed controversial bill regulating internet service providers (SOPA), which Holleyman and the BSA had actively promoted.
The trade delegation and by extension the Obama administration also have taken flak for allegedly failing to inform Congress about the progress of the negotiations. Only recently have members of Congress been shown drafts of the agreement; drafts have also been leaked to the public and media outlets. Over 600 trade industry “advisors,” however, have been given access to the drafts and allowed the opportunity to comment.
Adding to the controversy, the Administration is seeking to have the TPP approval “fast tracked” via the passage of a “trade promotion authority bill.” This legislative device eliminates any open debate or input into the trade agreement; Congress would only be able to vote up or down on the agreement as presented.
Opposition against fast tracking, however, appears to have united Democrats and Republicans across the board. Sander Levin, House Democrat from Michigan, withdrew from the fast track negotiations, and the White House has yet to appoint a Democratic co-sponsor for the bill. About 150 Democrats and 50 Republicans have signed letters opposing fast tracking legislation and demanding open debate on the trade agreement. House Republican Walter James recently stated, “When it comes to fast track, members of Congress from across the political spectrum are united against it.” Both Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid have also come out against it.
The unions back this position. Fast tracking a trade agreement that would have serious consequences for U.S. workers, manufacturers and service providers is not in the nation’s best interests, they contend. And once signed, the TPP would be forever—there is currently no expiration date, and no separation clause. In the coming days, Mayhew adds, his union will continue to work with elected officials as well as members of the public to raise awareness about TPP as well as advocate against it.
“We need to protect American jobs and American sovereignty,” he said, “as well as preserve America’s commitment to environmental, labor, and human rights protections.”