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 PelosiOvernight Health Care: Justices won't fast-track ObamaCare case before election | New virus spreads from China to US | Collins challenger picks up Planned Parenthood endorsement Why Senate Republicans should eagerly call witnesses to testify Trump health chief: 'Not a need' for ObamaCare replacement plan right now 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) LevinOn The Money: House approves Trump USMCA deal in bipartisan vote | Senate sends .4T spending bill to Trump's desk | Why budget watchdogs are howling over the spending deal Democrats get the health care fight they want with prescription drug bill House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices 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 TrumpRouhani says Iran will never seek nuclear weapons Trump downplays seriousness of injuries in Iran attack after US soldiers treated for concussions Trump says Bloomberg is 'wasting his money' on 2020 campaign 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 McConnellTrump admin releases trove of documents on Ukrainian military aid The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clashes, concessions What to watch for on Day 2 of Senate impeachment trial 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 NealHouse revives agenda after impeachment storm Conservative groups aim to sink bipartisan fix to 'surprise' medical bills Treasury watchdog to investigate Trump opportunity zone program 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 PocanThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive House revives agenda after impeachment storm MORE (D-Wis.) and Pramila JayapalPramila JayapalThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Donald Trump' if the US doesn't elect a progressive House revives agenda after impeachment storm 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 defends decision not to pay dues to House Democratic campaign arm Hill.TV's Krystal Ball says Ocasio-Cortez has become a force in Democratic Party Ocasio-Cortez: 'In any other country Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party' 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.