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: Carson, Warren battle at hearing | Rumored consumer bureau pick meets Trump | Trump takes credit for Amazon hirings | A big loss for Soros US launches trade case against China over aluminum subsidies Trade with China important to US economy, report 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.
The Democrats signing the letter were Sens. Sherrod BrownSherrod BrownTrump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' Four takeaways from Carson's confirmation hearing Carson: Don’t ‘pull the rug out’ on ObamaCare without replacement MORE (Ohio), Ben CardinBen CardinSenate heading toward late-night marathon session Rocky start for Trump's State Department nominee Schumer: If Trump agrees Russia behind hacking, let's boost sanctions MORE (Md.), Charles SchumerCharles SchumerSchumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal Sanders, Dems defend ObamaCare at Michigan rally Lawmakers condemn Trump for attack on John Lewis MORE (N.Y.), Debbie StabenowDebbie StabenowSanders, Dems defend ObamaCare at Michigan rally Dems push for outside witnesses at Mnuchin hearing Live coverage: The Senate's 'vote-a-rama' MORE (Mich.), Bob CaseyBob CaseyLive coverage: The Senate's 'vote-a-rama' Warren, Dems lay out goalposts ahead of Trump press conference Senate Dems blast House GOP over ethics moves MORE Jr. (Pa.), Al FrankenAl FrankenWHIP LIST: How many Dems will back Sessions? Franken to oppose Sessions FCC takes aim at AT&T, Verizon over 'zero-rating' services MORE (Minn.), Ed MarkeyEd MarkeyWHIP LIST: How many Dems will back Sessions? Confirm Inga Bernstein for the District of Massachusetts FCC takes aim at AT&T, Verizon over 'zero-rating' services MORE (Mass.), Tammy BaldwinTammy BaldwinTrump, House GOP could clash over 'Buy America' WHIP LIST: How many Dems will back Sessions? Trump’s infrastructure plan: What we know MORE (Wis.), Gary Peters (Mich.), Tom UdallTom UdallSenate takes first step toward repealing ObamaCare Tillerson discloses assets worth up to 0M Dems seek more vetting for Trump nominees before hearings MORE (N.M.), Richard BlumenthalRichard BlumenthalTakata will plead guilty, pay B in faulty airbag probe Corrected — Lawmakers: Trump can't stop investigation of Clinton email case Overnight Defense: Mattis cruises through confirmation hearing MORE (Conn.), Brian Schatz (Hawaii), Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleySenate easily approves waiver for Trump's Pentagon chief Dem senator: 'Very good chance’ we save ObamaCare Live coverage: Tillerson's hearing for State MORE (Ore.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenDems push for outside witnesses at Mnuchin hearing Schumer: GOP 'filling the swamp' by targeting ethics chief Confirm Inga Bernstein for the District of Massachusetts 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 McConnellJuan Williams: Race, Obama and Trump Schumer puts GOP on notice over ObamaCare repeal Right renews push for term limits as Trump takes power 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.