Unions to make trade pacts an issue in U.S. 2016 campaigns

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 10, 2015 3:23 PM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Unions plan to make lawmakers' support for trade deals and legislation to streamline the passage of trade agreements through Congress an issue in next year's U.S. elections, the head of the country's largest labor federation said on Tuesday.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said unions would keep a tally of how lawmakers voted on upcoming legislation allowing Congress to set negotiating objectives for trade deals in exchange for a yes-or-no vote, without amendments. The labor federation is also keeping an eye on voting on the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.

"Every time there's a loss of jobs because of an agreement like that, we will let people know who voted for and who voted against it," Trumka told reporters.

All House of Representatives seats and one-third of the Senate are up for grabs in 2016, when Americans will also elect a new president.

Trumka said the AFL-CIO would include a question on trade in a questionnaire to be sent to presidential candidates.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would only pass muster with unions if it contained rules against currency manipulation, did not have special protections for foreign investors and went further than the current norms in safeguarding workers' rights, he said.

Union pressure to vote against trade bills is at odds with lobbying from the administration in support of the trade agenda, which officials say will boost opportunities for U.S. producers and workers and lead to stronger worker protections among trading partners.

Nineteen former lawmakers from both parties wrote to Congress on Tuesday urging support for the fast-track bill, including former Senate Majority Leaders Tom Daschle, a Democrat, and Trent Lott, a Republican.

"Uncertainty about economic policy in general is understandable given the hardships faced by Americans during the last decade, but trade agreements in particular have too often taken the blame for what other global forces have wrought," the letter said.

Senate Committee on Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, and the panel's top Democrat, Ron Wyden, said on Tuesday they were still working on details of the fast-track bill. Hatch has said he expects the measure to be introduced in April.

(Reporting by Krista Hughes; Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)