Law and Politics

Unions Picket Meeks to Stop ‘NAFTA on Steroids’

December 2, 2013
By Steven Wishnia

Denouncing Rep. Gregory Meeks’ support of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, about 90 union members and environmental activists picketed the Queens Democrat’s Jamaica Avenue offices Nov. 25. “He never saw a trade deal he didn’t like,” said Chris Shelton, vice president of Communications Workers of America District 1, who said the agreement would lead to jobs being sent overseas and the environment being destroyed.

The TPP—often described as “NAFTA on steroids”—is a proposed agreement among 12 nations, including the U.S., Japan, Mexico, Malaysia, and Vietnam. Others, including China, may join later. Negotiations have been secret, but according to Public Citizen’s analysis of leaked drafts, the deal would grant foreign corporations compensation for loss of “expected future profits” caused by health, labor, or environmental laws or regulations. It would prohibit the federal, state, or local governments from having “buy American” policies, and ban other countries from doing the same. It would also override local bans on fracking for natural gas, Stephanie Low of the Sierra Club told the rally.

Edgar Romney, secretary-treasurer of Workers United, the SEIU-affiliated garment workers’ union, says that the deal would be even worse than the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement, which “devastated” needle-trades jobs in the U.S. “As much as we support the President, he’s definitely wrong on this issue.”

President Barack Obama has asked for “fast-track” authority, in which Congress could only vote yes or no on the TPP, without the power to make amendments. That has drawn opposition from members of both parties. On Nov. 13, 151 House Democrats, including 18 from New York State, signed a letter circulated by Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT), criticizing “the continued lack of adequate congressional consultation.” The day before, 29 House Republicans, including Michael Grimm of Staten Island, signed one of two letters saying they would oppose fast-track.

Meeks is one of three New York House Democrats who have not signed the DeLauro letter, along with Charles Rangel of Manhattan and Joseph Crowley of Queens. Rangel has expressed some concerns about the agreement favoring Japan’s auto industry. Crowley’s failure to oppose the TPP surprises some union leaders, as he is often pro-labor. “We don’t know where he stands,” said Shelton.

Meeks, on the other hand, is a longtime supporter of free-trade deals. In 2005, he and Rangel were among the 15 Democrats who voted for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. Last month, he and three other House members launched the Friends of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Caucus, which argues that the agreement will create jobs here.

 “It produces Walmart jobs,” says Jim Conigliaro, director of International Association of Machinists District 15. Unions who endorse congressmembers who support these deals, he added, are “telling them it’s OK to turn their backs on working families.”

“The only ones who make out in this deal are multinationals and other countries. Not the people of other countries, because they don’t pay them anything,” says Shelton. As for the argument that manufacturing in lower-wage countries benefits Americans by bringing them cheaper goods, he says, “If you don’t have a job, you can’t buy cheap. You can’t buy at all.”

November 30, 2013

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