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January 28, 2015
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Steven P. Vairma

Steve Vairma's Column:

"Trade agreements must contain labor rights"

This year is the 20th anniversary of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but it isn't time for a birthday celebration, at least not for a million U.S. workers who have lost jobs since the trade agreement was enacted two decades ago.

That's why American unions are working to kill so-called "fast track" legislation that eliminates the Constitutional authority of Congress to ensure that provisions of trade agreements are in the best interest of American workers and their families.

Fast track would allow Congress to pass with no debate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), the largest and possibly most destructive internantional trade agreement ever.  In the past, such legislation has sometimes been crafted in secret with "help" from corporate lobbyists.

The World Trade Organization (WTO), a group of trade ministers and heads of state, enforces trade rules.  When NAFTA was implemented by the U.S. Canada and Mexico in 1994, it included side agreements on workers' rights and environmental issues.  They were never enforced by the WTO, and to this day labor, environmental and certain agricultural rights issues have never been addressed in global trade agreements.

And that has become a huge problem for American workers.

"By establishing the principle that U.S. corporations could relocate production elsewhere and sell back into the United States, NAFTA undercut the bargaining power of American workers, which had driven the expansion of the middle class since the end of World War II," says Jeff Faux, founding president of the Economic Policy Institute, a respected Washington think tank on political and economic issues facing working people.

"The result has been 20 years of stagnant wages and the upward redistribution of income, wealth and political power."

Faux says that in addition to killing nearly a million U.S. manufacturing jobs, NAFTA also gave American employers the capability to force workers to accept lower wages by threatening to move operations to Mexico if labor costs weren't lowered.

He also points out that NAFTA has become the template for rules of the emerging global economy, in which benefits flow to capital and the costs to labor, a "doctrine of socialism for capital and free markets for labor."

Union leaders realize that global trade agreements will not go away.  Like it or not, we know America will be involved in the world economy for the foreseeable future, if not forever.

But so-called free trade agreements ought also to be fair trade agreements.  There is nothing fair about the agreements that have been "negotiated" by the United States.

Because workers' rights aren't included in WTO rules, countries are not permitted to withdraw trade preferences from WTO members, even for egregious violations of workers' rights.

If the current congressional debate over fast track broadens the discourse on international trade into the public sector, the WTO may eventually be forced to confront these issues.  It has already been broadened as many disparate groups - including some Tea Party politicans - have joined in opposing fast track.

Nothing is more effective than the glare of public scrutiny in ensuring the interests of all parties - not just the multi national corporations are considered when trade agreements are negotiated.

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Current Campaigns
  • This web page provides information on our fight against fast-track legislation. The measure requires Congress to take only a quick up-or-down vote on secret trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership and does not allow such agreements to be amended. It limits Congress’ constitutionally mandated oversight of such trade deals and lets others decide what’s best for America. The result is fewer good-paying U.S. jobs and unsafe food and products for Americans. Read more to find out why fast track is the wrong track for Teamsters and America.

  • First Student employees’ collective bargaining agreement with the company, which covers more than 21,000 workers, expires on March 31, 2015. Employees at First Student made history when they voted overwhelmingly to ratify a national master agreement on June 1, 2011, and it is time to renegotiate that agreement. Turn to this page to get the latest contract news and updates. The first round of negotiations is scheduled for January 27-28, 2015. The national contract expires March 31, 2015.

  • At the Hunt’s Point Produce Terminal in the Bronx, 1,300 members of Teamsters Local 202 have been working under harsh conditions without a raise several times since the recession. They are asking management for a fair wage – a pay hike of $25 a week. Management is refusing and the workers voted to authorize a strike at 4 p.m. on Jan 18. The workers who feed New York should be able to feed their families.

  • Teamsters are standing together to protect good jobs as Sysco, the country’s largest foodservice provider, attempts to purchase its only national competitor, US Foods. Join our campaign to demand that Sysco and US Foods honor their agreements with 11,500 Teamsters and protect the livelihoods of the men and women who make these companies leaders in the industry. LIKE our Facebook page, here.

  • Taylor Farms workers in Tracy, California are standing up against poverty wages, disrespect and severe violations of their most basic rights. These 900 food processing workers in the Central Valley cut, wash and package salads and other products for the largest supplier of fresh-cut produce in the country. They feed the customers of major grocers, retailers and restaurant chains, including Walmart and McDonald’s.

    With a revenue of $1.8 billion in 2012, Taylor Farms can afford to treat its workers in Tracy with dignity and pay fair wages, just like their Teamster coworkers have at Taylor Farms’ facilities in Salinas, California. But when workers came together to organize with Teamsters Local 601, the company responded mercilessly. It fired, harassed, and punished workers for supporting the union. The company threatened immigrant workers with deportation, hiring an army of union-busters to run a non-stop fear campaign. During an NLRB election for union representation, Taylor Farms deployed a goon squad of supervisors to intimidate workers. The company’s violations were so egregious that the Labor Board impounded ballots while it investigates hundreds of Unfair Labor Practice charges.

    Workers in Tracy, following in the footsteps of labor leader and civil rights icon Cesar Chavez, are taking their fight to the public. The workers’ struggle for a better life for their families is supported by Teamsters in California and nationwide. We are building a movement for respect for the workers who feed America.

    ¡Si Se Puede!

  • Taxi drivers in Washington, D.C. are fed up!

    After years of unfair regulations and lack of respect, we are fighting back by forming the Washington, D.C. Taxi Operators Association. Our association will be backed by Teamsters Local 922 and the 1.4 million-member International Brotherhood of Teamsters.

  • The Teamsters have stood in solidarity with worker struggles in other countries since our founding. With economic globalization, our ability to organize increasingly depends on our ability to build alliances with workers on a global scale.
    More than ever, Teamsters are organizing and bargaining with multi-national companies. A key objective of our Global Strategies Campaign is to build strong alliances with unions around the globe who organize and bargain with common employers. Our focus is on workers in the emerging global supply chains – the infrastructure of globalization.
    Globalization creates new opportunities for international worker solidarity. We seek common cause with workers around the world to build social justice for all workers and the communities in which they live.

  • Teamsters at Republic Services/Allied Waste have stood together in recent years to fight for strong contracts, including going on strike and supporting their fellow striking workers. Workers continue to fight for strong contracts that include retirement security at the second largest solid waste company. This campaign page is dedicated to those ongoing efforts.

  • Welcome to Teamster Organizing!

    You've heard it said that the best defense is a good offense. In the war on workers, Teamster Organizing is on the offensive! We're winning power for workers across industries and across North America. Join us!

Teamsters Local 455
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