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Caterpillar employees flood Capitol with trade letters

A major U.S.-based machinery manufacturer made its pro-trade point nearly 25,000 times this week.

Caterpillar CEO Doug Oberhelman on Tuesday asked his company’s employees to send letters to Congress and the White House in support of trade legislation now moving through the Senate. After two days, a deluge of 24,728 letters were sent by the firm's employees, the company told The Hill.

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Executives at Caterpillar, which conducts business worldwide, have been outspoken in their support for trade agreements they argue would increase U.S. exports and economic growth.

The letters sent this week called on lawmakers to back contentious trade promotion authority (TPA), also known as fast-track, and a reauthorization of the Export-Import Bank, which could shut down if Congress doesn’t act by the end of June.

Caterpillar’s efforts to get its employees involved in the push for expanded global trade is indicative of the broader lobbying effort by the business community to get TPA across the finish line.

That lobbying push is met with equally ferocious opposition from labor unions such as the AFL-CIO, which has been fighting to kill the kill fast-track legislation.

Unions have dug deep in asking their workers to participate in everything from rallies in Washington to protests in congressional districts where Democrats are in support of trade or holding their cards close to the vest.

On Thursday, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called the White House’s argument for trade “horse waste.”

In an interview at The Washington Post, Trumka argued that “if the president wins this fight, Democrats will end up in the minority on Capitol Hill for the next decade.

He called expanded trade and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) the "wrong legacy" for President Obama to seek. 

Oberhelman of Caterpillar made his call to employees on Tuesday ahead of the Senate’s first procedural trade vote, which failed. But a Wednesday agreement between Republicans and Democrats revived the legislation.

Fast-track would smooth passage of any trade deals that reach Capitol Hill, including the TPP, which is being negotiated with 11 other nations from Latin America to the Asia-Pacific region.

The Senate passed two of its four bills on Thursday and agreed to move to the fast-track and trade assistance bills in a separate vote. Debate and votes are slated to continue next week, ahead of the Memorial Day recess.