Let’s be honest: there have been times when labor unions and environmentalists have disagreed. This is no secret, and it’s become one of those larger-than-itself DC truthisms. But over the past few years, that’s changed dramatically. Labor unions played a crucial role in last year’s historic People’s Climate March, and a lot of them have taken vocal stands against disastrous tar sands pipelines like Keystone XL. Climate activists have in turn leaned into the Fight for 15, and stood by striking refinery workers across the country as they demand better conditions.

It’s a new alliance, but it’s a strong one, because what we want is fundamentally the same: a fairer, more equitable world that knocks enormous corporations down a few notches and lifts up the rest of us. Now, there’s another fight brewing in the halls of Capitol Hill that’s bringing the crew back together again.


There’s no shortage of reasons why someone might oppose the Obama administration’s proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership. For one thing, the massive boondoggle of a trade deal was negotiated in secret, behind closed doors. For another, the bill’s content was mostly written by lobbyists for huge corporations. Then there’s the fact that the actual text is still a mystery to most people: right now, the TPP bill is sitting in a windowless room on Capitol Hill that only members of Congress can enter, without staff or notes or phones.

You’d be hard-pressed to find any time in history when that kind of opaque, secretive process has ever helped anyone besides the uber-wealthy -- and this time’s no exception. From what we’ve seen of the TPP, we’re against it, labor unions and environmentalists alike, because it would mean disaster for the issues that both of our movements care about. It’s a giveaway to corporations that tilts the playing field against workers even more, razing basic labor rights. The deal would also worsen climate change, full stop, because TPP makes it easier for massive fossil fuel corporations to pull climate-destroying carbon pollution out of the ground.

For US workers, the proposed deal offers a double-whammy: NAFTA-style terms would give special benefits to companies that relocate investments and jobs, posing greater risk that companies will send work overseas. And by giving companies more incentives to offshore jobs, workers here will face a race to the bottom on wages, benefits and collective bargaining rights as they have to compete with workers in low-wage, no-rights countries. This wouldn’t just affect manufacturing jobs; call center and other service sector jobs that can be done remotely would be at risk as well.  

TPP’s impact on climate change is just as bad. At the G7 summit just this week, world leaders agreed that solving the climate crisis means getting our world to 100 percent renewable energy -- which means weaning ourselves off of fossil fuels entirely. TPP would essentially prohibit that, because of two specific clauses:

1.      A clause eliminating actual reviews of fracked gas export facilities, essentially rubber-stamping multibillion dollar liquid gas terminals that would contribute substantially to climate change.

2.      The Investor-State Dispute Settlement clause, which gives multinational corporations the power to sue any of the 12 member countries if there’s a law that costs the company money. For example, if D.C. finally acts to put the Powder River Basin coal deposit off limits for mining -- TPP would allow Peabody Energy to throw a legal tantrum that costs our government millions and millions of dollars.

Picture those kinds of tantrums, waged by all the big fossil fuel companies at governments least resourced to deal with them, and you can see that this deal means more carbon will come out of the ground. ISDS doesn’t just apply to environmental laws. Under NAFTA and other trade deals, multinationals can and have sued governments in special tribunals to demand compensation for labor, health and other regulations that hurt their future profits. Countries must chose between paying out huge sums or overturning the will of the people to protect corporate earnings.

Those are just a few of many reasons why TPP has brought together labor and environmental groups, alongside a huge coalition across the political spectrum in opposition. The truth is: we can do better. We need, and will come to work together towards an economic agenda that puts people and the planet first. So today, we’re standing up to say, "No more trade deals for the 1 percent!" Today the House votes today on fast-tracking the deal, cutting off any chance of amendments once its contents are public. We're calling on our representatives to listen to the voice of the people and vote no.

Boeve is the executive director of 350.org, a global campaign to fight climate change. Figueroa is president of 32BJ Service Employees International Union, the largest property services union in the United States.