This editorial from Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Erie Times, the Altoona Mirror, the Beaver County Times, the Philadelphia Public Record, the Scranton Times-Tribune. Excerpts of his op-ed and that of Dave Fillman, Director of AFSCME Council 13 also appeared on PennLive.
Labor Day is a time to remember and honor the achievements of working people across America. For our country and our Commonwealth, it’s been a long year. Today, we see more opposition from corporate special interests than ever before. Our economy remains skewed in favor of corporations who ship jobs overseas and stash their profits offshore to avoid paying their fair share. Indeed, the rules of our economy have been rigged by the rich and powerful.
Over the last twenty-five years, worker productivity has increased, yet working people have not received a fair return for their work. Economic inequality has risen, as good-paying, family supporting jobs have disappeared. Trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) have failed not only Pennsylvania’s workers but workers all across the United States, Canada, and Mexico.
But working people are fighting back against greed and inequality by joining together. While the labor movement’s preference is to eliminate unfair trade deals like NAFTA in their entirety, politicians in Washington have instead chosen the route of negotiation. As U.S. trade representatives enter the NAFTA renegotiation process, working people and their unions are standing up to rewrite the economic playbook and put workers on a level field.
Pennsylvanians lost more than 330,000 manufacturing jobs since January 1994, that’s more than one-third of industry jobs statewide. Wages have remained stagnant as the cost of living has continued to grow. Young workers see fewer opportunities to have a job with decent wages, good benefits, safe working conditions and a secure retirement than their predecessors.
It’s time for us to rewrite the economic rules in this country. And we can start by renegotiating a NAFTA that works for working people. Just as we worked together to stop the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal that would have delivered yet another blow to workers, we can demand that better protection for working people be the first priority as the United States, Canada and Mexico reconsider NAFTA.
Now, what should such an agreement look like? To start, the renegotiation process should be transparent and open to the public. We cannot afford another back-room deal, brokered in secret, away from the eyes of its key stakeholders, the American people. Working people should have the opportunity to be heard at the table. The failure of the TPP can be traced back to its neglect to include the perspectives and address the concerns of the working people it most directly affected.
A new NAFTA has to place worker protections at the forefront, ensuring that all workers can exercise their fundamental rights and have a voice at work. This new agreement should meet international labor standards, with strong rules and an enforcement mechanism to protect workers’ rights. Working people need trade deals that acknowledge that all workers deserve wages that afford them a decent standard of living for themselves and their families. Anything less is waste of time.
NAFTA opened the door for unfair trade policies and it has resulted in massive trade deficits for the United States. In order to combat this imbalance, we need to strengthen the rules of origin standards and increase the value requirements on manufactured products, especially cars, auto parts, and the standards for steel. We also need to promote the products we make here and support “Buy American” policies by eliminating procurement commitments and promoting responsible bidding standards.
The failure of trade agreements rests with the fact that all too often, their primary concern is focused on the interests of corporate profiteers. This misplacement of priorities has allowed organizations to use public resources and services for profit. A new NAFTA should protect transit, postal, water, sanitation and other services by expanding the public services exception. In addition, the renegotiation of the agreement should include a new provision, a commitment to long-term investment in our infrastructure.
In 1993, Americans were told that NAFTA would create hundreds of thousands of good jobs, instead, it has coincided with the downfall of an economy that was filled with opportunity for working people. Right now, across Pennsylvania and the United States, Americans are joining together to demand change. We want an economy that works for us. We want the freedom to join together in a union and have a voice on the job. We want to be heard by our elected leaders, and we want our needs to be their first concern when it comes to making the rules. This Labor Day we remember and honor the accomplishments of working people, but we also know that there is so much more work to be done.