Democrats work to bring labor on board trade deal

Democrats work to bring labor on board trade deal
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Labor unions voicing skepticism about the updated North American trade agreement are becoming a final obstacle to the deal that House Democrats and the White House are seeking to iron out.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and other labor leaders want to make sure that Mexico enforces new labor standards under the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Free Trade Agreement (USMCA), and that there is a strong system of recourse if Mexico does not.

Without such enforcement, Democrats and labor unions aligned with them worry Mexico will have an unfair advantage to compete with American companies.


Trumka met with freshman Democrats on Capitol Hill on Tuesday at the invitation of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US Judd Gregg: Biden — a path to the presidency, or not Trump asserts his power over Republicans MORE (D-Calif.), and lawmakers working on the agreement insisted unions and their party leadership is on the same page.

“My takeaway from that meeting is, there is no daylight between Rich Trumka and Nancy Pelosi and there's no daylight between the labor movement and the Democratic Caucus on this,” said Rep. Andy LevinAndrew (Andy) LevinHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Warren, Levin introduce legislation for federal contact tracing program Johns Hopkins offering free class in how to become a contact tracer MORE (D-Mich.) a freshman and former labor organizer who was at the meeting.

Democrats are effectively trying to negotiate terms of a deal with the White House while they also work on a separate front to bring their allies in organized labor on board.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpFauci says his meetings with Trump have 'dramatically decreased' McEnany criticizes DC mayor for not imposing earlier curfew amid protests Stopping Israel's annexation is a US national security interest MORE is ringing the alarm bell, arguing unions could scuttle an emerging deal.

Speaking to Fox on Friday morning, Trump said that Trumka had played Pelosi “like a fiddle.”

“I predict she won’t do USMCA because Richard Trumka — who's a good guy, but a big union guy, only cares about a union — Richard Trumka has her mortified," he said.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump tweets as tensions escalate across US This week: Senate reconvenes as protests roil nation amid pandemic For city parks: Pass the Great American Outdoors Act now MORE (R-Ky.) echoed that, saying Wednesday that “Democrats are considering outsourcing their judgment to Big Labor special interests — who, to my recollection, have not supported a single major trade deal in living memory.”


Trumka and Congressional Democrats have closed ranks, insisting that their values are aligned.

“We have shared values,” Pelosi told The Hill when asked about bringing labor on board. “If we don’t have enforcement, we ain’t got nothing, except a nice conversation.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support House Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments House Democrats' bill would create a second round of direct coronavirus relief payments MORE (D-Mass.) acknowledged that Democrats were working to get labor behind the agreement, saying he wasn’t sure if a deal could pass otherwise.

Separately, he said Democrats and the White House had worked out roughly half of five outstanding points in a Thursday meeting.

Pelosi has repeatedly said that Democrats want to get to yes on the deal, which would hand Trump a major accomplishment. In recent weeks negotiators raised hopes that they could strike a deal and pass it through Congress before the new year.

But on Monday, just days after Pelosi said a deal with the White House seemed “imminent,” Trumka gave a speech vowing to keep the pressure up in the final stretch.

“I know from experience this can be one of the most dangerous points in a negotiation. An agreement is in sight so you fold on core issues in order to get across the finish line. I will not allow that to happen,” he said.

Pelosi invited him the following morning to meet with the freshman Democrats, many of whom won elections in blue-collar districts that voted for Trump in 2016.

Progressive lawmakers with close labor ties want Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to shows he can enforce sweeping labor reforms passed earlier this year.

That's put López Obrador in an uncomfortable position, as he had hoped his rhetoric as a traditional left-wing politician would render him a natural ally of progressives in the United States.

With a stagnant economy and a rising murder rate, López Obrador has made USMCA a priority both for its potential to provide him with economic stability and a political win. Mexican Ambassador Marta Bárcena has stepped up visits to Democratic offices in a bid to sell lawmakers on the merits of Mexico’s new labor reform package.

Mexican officials have visited 128 representatives and 38 senators since López Obrador’s inauguration in December, according to official Mexican government data obtained by The Hill.

Progressives have raised doubt about whether Mexico’s labor reforms will pass constitutional review if challenged in the courts, and whether López Obrador's schedule to review collective bargaining agreements is realistic, among other issues.

López Obrador has vowed to review tens of thousands of the agreements over the next four years, but has resisted progressive calls to deliver 500 reviews as proof of concept before Congress takes a vote on the USMCA.

The agreements in question cover working conditions for Mexican laborers in a variety of industries, but were for the most part negotiated with little to no input from workers, and most independent observers say they are grossly skewed to benefit union leaders and employers.

López Obrador has made “democratization of unions” the core component of his labor reform, meaning workers would have fair and open elections to pick their union leaders.

Progressives are encouraged but are demanding to see results written into a final agreement.

“Before any proposed deal comes up for a vote in Congress, critical changes must be made to strengthen the labor and environmental provisions and address the giveaways to Big Pharma,” Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) co-chairs Reps. Mark PocanMark William PocanHouse punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate House cancels planned Thursday vote on FISA Pelosi pulls vote on FISA bill after Trump veto threat MORE (D-Wis.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalExpanding tax credit for businesses retaining workers gains bipartisan support House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate Democrats press OSHA official on issuing an Emergency Temporary Standard MORE (D-Wash.) said in a statement Friday.
On Thursday, Pelosi said that the timeline for passing the deal might stretch into 2020. Neal has said that a deal with labor is within reach, and that he wasn’t sure the USMCA could pass the House without it.

Former Rep. Joe CrowleyJoseph (Joe) CrowleyOcasio-Cortez challenger drops out of GOP primary Ocasio-Cortez, Schiff team up to boost youth voter turnout Schumer says he's focused on job when asked about possible Ocasio-Cortez primary challenge MORE, an honorary co-chairman of the “Pass USMCA Coalition,” said that while labor was in important constituency, he could imagine Democrats moving ahead without Trumka’s sign-off if need be.

“There have been trade deals that did not have the support of organized labor. That’s not unprecedented. That doesn’t mean that the Speaker and Democratic caucus aren’t working with organized labor,” he said.

“I don’t want to in any way shape or form put words in the speaker’s mouth, but what I would say is that I don’t recollect when organized labor has ever supported a trade agreement,” he added.