Unions take campaign against trade deals to Capitol Hill

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 04, 2015 5:56 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Trade unions stepped up their campaign against legislation to streamline the passage of trade deals through the U.S. Congress on Wednesday, appealing to lawmakers to oppose the plan.

Nearly 400 union members and allies descended on Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers on the so-called fast track legislation that would allow Congress to set negotiating objectives for trade deals in exchange for a yes-or-no vote, without amendments.

Democratic Representative Rosa DeLauro, one of those coordinating opposition to trade on the Hill, said past deals had increased deficits and cost good paying jobs.

"As you are going office to office today, don't take 'no' for an answer," she told union members, to cheers and clapping.

Association of Flight Attendants International President Sarah Nelson said it was hard to gauge the impact of trade deals such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership because details would not be made public until they were finalized.

"We are concerned especially about fast track, because we know that if you don't even see the provisions in that agreement, there is going to be something bad for labor," she said.

Leaders of the umbrella AFL-CIO and more than 60 individual unions wrote to lawmakers on March 2 urging them to oppose fast track, which is seen as key to securing good offers from trading partners.

U.S. officials are working hard to win Democrat support for fast track and the broader trade agenda, arguing that tough labor standards in the TPP will improve the lot of workers overseas, and that lowering trade barriers creates opportunities for U.S. producers and workers.

Republicans, who have a majority in Congress, also want Democratic support to pass the legislation, which faces opposition from some conservatives as well and is likely to end in a close vote.

In its annual report on the trade agenda, the U.S. Trade Representative's office said exports supported more than 11 million jobs, which paid up to 18 percent more than jobs not related to exports.

The report laid out arguments for supporting the TPP, including a table showing how the deal, which is near completion, would compare with past trade agreements on workers' rights.

"Trade policy has an important role to play in raising wages and living standards for the middle class," the report said.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes. Editing by Andre Grenon)