Dems turn up heat on eve of trade vote

Fourteen Senate Democrats on Monday urged President Obama to require that stronger labor standards be implemented before a sweeping Asia-Pacific deal takes effect, firing a shot across the bow on the eve of a crucial test vote in the Senate.

The group of lawmakers, nearly all of whom oppose fast-tracking trade agreements, warned U.S. Trade Representative Michael FromanMichael FromanOvernight Finance: GOP faces dilemma on spending bills | CEOs push Congress on tax rules | Trump talks energy Obama administration strikes deal on TPP data storage White House developing legislative strategy to pass Pacific trade deal MORE and Labor Secretary Tom Perez that waiting to improve standards until after the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) is enacted could diminish enforcement of labor protections in those countries.  

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“TPP has been presented as a unique opportunity to measurably improve the lives of workers in all TPP countries, but only holds such promise if countries are required to meet and uphold the agreement’s labor standards before the agreement is implemented,” the senators wrote.

The Democrats signing the letter were Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Sanders: Clinton with a moderate VP would be a 'disaster' The Hill's 12:30 Report MORE (Ohio), Ben CardinBen CardinDems to Clinton: Ignore Trump on past scandals Senate GOP ties Iran sanctions fight to defense bill Lawmakers push to elevate Cyber Command in Senate defense bill MORE (Md.), Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSchumer touts policy victories over Obama administration Puerto Rico debt relief faces serious challenges in Senate Overnight Healthcare: House, Senate on collision course over Zika funding MORE (N.Y.), Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowSenators hope for deal soon on mental health bill The Hill's 12:30 Report Dems: GOP playing from 'Trump textbook' MORE (Mich.), Bob CaseyBob CaseyTen senators ask FCC to delay box plan Lawmakers blast poultry, meat industries over worker injuries GOP chairman sees funding deal soon on medical cures bill MORE Jr. (Pa.), Al FrankenAl FrankenDems press ITT Tech to give students right to sue Consumer internet privacy: Leaving the back door unlocked Senators unveil bill to overhaul apprenticeship programs MORE (Minn.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyDem senators call for sanctions on Congo Honor Frank Lautenberg by protecting our kids Sanders pans chemical safety reform deal MORE (Mass.), Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinSenate panel passes 4.5B defense bill Dem introduces bill to block new government hacking powers The Trail 2016: The campaign that never sleeps MORE (Wis.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Tom UdallTom UdallHonor Frank Lautenberg by protecting our kids House, Senate roll out chemical safety compromise Overnight Energy: Lawmakers closing in on chemical safety deal MORE (N.M.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalDems press ITT Tech to give students right to sue Senate amendments could sink email privacy compromise Groups urge Senate to oppose defense language on for-profit colleges MORE (Conn.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySanders tests Wasserman Schultz Honor Frank Lautenberg by protecting our kids Dems discuss dropping Wasserman Schultz MORE (Ore.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenSanders: Clinton with a moderate VP would be a 'disaster' Verizon, striking unions reach agreement in principle What Bernie needs to do right now MORE (Mass.).

The letter was sent on the eve of a vote in the Senate on Tuesday on whether to proceed to trade promotion authority (TPA) legislation, which would establish the fast-track powers sought by the White House.

The procedural motion will require 60 votes to clear, leaving Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellMitch McConnellIn House GOP, Ryan endorsement of Trump seen as inevitable McConnell: Trump White House will have ‘constraints’ Nearly 400 House bills stuck in Senate limbo MORE (R-Ky.) with little margin for error.

Cardin is the only senator to sign Monday’s letter who has expressed support for granting the fast-track authority, which would only give Congress an up-or-down vote on any trade deals, with no ability to amend them.

The Democratic signatories to Monday’s letter specifically expressed concern about workers’ rights in four countries — Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Mexico.

They argued that if countries like Vietnam are unable to meet the agreement’s labor standards before TPP takes effect, "USTR’s ability to enact change on the ground will severely diminish if not disappear after TPP’s enactment date."

They also said that the TPP needs to incorporate an independent panel with the authority to determine and settle labor compliance problems because previous agreements have proven that government-to-government enforcement of the standards is rare and does not yield timely resolutions of violations.

“American workers are the most productive in the world, but they cannot compete against workers who are paid pennies, denied their right to collectively bargain or are forced to work in unsafe conditions,” the senators wrote.

“The U.S. has maximum leverage to accomplish these objectives during the negotiations and before the agreement takes effect,” they wrote.  

The Democrats called on Froman and Perez to ensure protections around organizing labor unions and collective bargaining. They specifically encouraged Froman, who spent last week in Malaysia, to address child and forced labor in that country.

“If we don’t improve labor standards in TPP countries in a meaningful way, we fail to give American workers the ability to compete,” Brown said in a statement.

“Before we sign a trade deal affecting 40 percent of the world’s GDP, we must put stronger worker protections in place before this trade agreement goes into effect or else we will miss our opportunity to improve labor standards and level the playing field,” he said.
 
The lawmakers said that Malaysia’s labor laws containing long-standing prohibitions on strikes, unions and leadership roles for migrant workers must be changed.

They said that Brunei must pass a minimum wage law to ensure that its labor laws guarantee freedom of association and the right to collectively bargain.

And they said that Mexico must make more progress on its 2012 labor reforms plan.