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Labor Unions Announce Opposition to Korea Trade Deal

Korea.Rally.large In the latest development regarding the Korea trade deal, four major labor unions announced their opposition to President Obama's supposed revised trade agreement with South Korea.

AFL-CIO's President Richard Trumka stated:

"[T]he labor movement has consistently and for many years argued that the investment and government procurement provisions in the Korea deal will encourage offshoring. And despite the progress made in improving the labor chapter in 2007, it is clear that in both the United States and South Korea, workers continue to face repeated challenges to their exercise of fundamental human rights on the job - especially freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively… So long as these agreements fall short of protecting the broad interests of American workers and their counterparts around the world in these uncertain economic times, we will oppose them."

The United Steelworkers of America (USW), Commercial Workers of America (CWA), and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) all beg to differ as well. Each union released a statement opposing the passage of the Korea FTA.

The Steelworkers admonished the deal for lacking improvements in all the key areas, noting particularly what we’ve said before: the Korea FTA will increase our trade deficit. The union pointed to our recent study on American exports to FTA and non-FTA countries:

“the provisions that have been agreed to fall far short of the proposals the USW identified as the minimum approach necessary to secure the union’s support… At any time, but certainly at this time, as our nation's economy and our workers continue to wrestle with economic problems, we must not risk our future for ideological goals. As a recent study shows, the rate of U.S. exports to current FTA partners lags behind that of countries where we have no FTA in place. Promises made by previous Administrations as to the enormous benefits of free trade agreements have simply not come to pass for American workers. Indeed, our trade deficit continues to sap our nation's economic strength and the existing FTAs have not provided the benefits that were promised…. [the recent changes] remain insufficient and are damaging to manufacturing sectors where our members work. There are many other provisions in the proposed FTA that the USW and others in organized labor specifically identified as needing improvement, but these concerns were not addressed in these talks… [the FTA] does not merit USW support, and we will oppose its passage.”

Along with the USW’s resistance to the Korea trade deal, both the CWA and the Machinists union highlighted the importance of replacing our current trade policy. IAM’s president Tom Buffenbarger put it eloquently: “This Bush-era agreement fails to even remotely satisfy the concerns of recession ravaged U.S. workers. The last thing the U.S. economy needs is another flawed trade agreement built on the disastrous framework of NAFTA.”

The Machinists statement also said:

“The current deal falls woefully short of addressing fundamental objections that have been repeatedly raised by the IAM. Among other things, the labor chapter fails to make any improvements on the inadequate Bush labor standards which were implemented in the Peru agreement over three years ago. It also preserves objectionable language regarding the investor to state dispute mechanism and contains troubling language concerning government procurement that could result in even more offshoring of U.S. jobs…

Not surprisingly, the same corporations that shipped thousands of U.S. jobs to other countries are now spinning Alice-in Wonderland tales about how this agreement will create jobs here at home. Given our past experience with NAFTA and other trade agreements and the current state of the U.S. economy, the nation can hardly afford to fall for this ruse again.

The IAM, which led the peaceful WTO protests in Seattle over ten years ago, is no stranger to fighting for fair trade. The IAM will never back away from our commitment to ensure that all trade agreements work for U.S. workers, our communities and for workers all over the world.

The American public understands the terrible toll our failed trade policies have taken on our economy. Now it is up to Congress to reject this NAFTA-styled trade agreement. We congratulate those in Congress who have already spoken out against this agreement and we encourage others to work with them to defeat implementing legislation.”

The Communications Workers, for their part, said:

“This agreement gives investment and legal protections to large multi-national corporations which shift jobs offshore in search of the lowest labor and environmental costs and highest profits. With no counter balance, multi-national corporations whipsaw workers and nations to prevent and eliminate bargaining rights. KORUS, as negotiated, does not create an economic and collective bargaining rights framework to support the aspirations of US and Korean workers.

Our current economic climate simply cannot support a trade agreement that does not address U.S. workers’ rights and will cost more U.S. jobs. Further, the Korean union movement strongly opposes the agreement. So long as KORUS falls short of protecting the broad interests of American and Korean workers in these uncertain economic times, we will oppose it.”

Additionally, Chairman George Miller (D-Calif.) of the House Education and Labor Committee said that the Korea FTA was not “worthy of support” and “we simply cannot afford another NAFTA-style agreement.” He went on:

“the rights granted foreign investors are far too broad and allow foreign corporations to skirt the rule of American law, such as for health and environmental protections, and American courts by using private arbitration panels to demand compensation from US taxpayers for upholding our own labor standards and other essential regulations. I am also concerned that the treaty limits regulation of financial services and does not preserve our ability to follow Buy American policies that support American manufacturing jobs.

The growing labor opposition will hopefully serve as a wake up call for Obama. 

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