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June 22, 2001
By Rep. David Bonior
Putting free trade agreements on a fast track is a top item on the agenda of the President and his corporate allies. Anyone who cares about our jobs, environment, food safety, and human rights has reason to be concerned. Because the kind of trade they're talking about isn't free - at least, not for working families.
Michigan has paid a high price for weak trade agreements. Just look at the results of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Over 46,000 jobs have been lost in Michigan - 25,000 of these in the automobile industry. This scenario is true across the country as factories have relocated in Mexico to take advantage of its cheap labor and lax environmental standards. While trade flows have increased between these two countries and big corporations have reaped the profits, workers in both countries have suffered. Real wages in Mexico have declined 10% since NAFTA.
Here at home, many dislocated workers have not been able to find new jobs in manufacturing. Instead, they have had to take jobs in the service sector that pay an average of 23% less than the jobs they had before. And more than ever, American employers are using the threat of moving operations to Mexico to drive down wages and benefits.
When a factory shuts down in Detroit, Flint, or Saginaw, more than jobs are lost. The local tax base is eroded -- hurting schools, public health, and roads. In more ways than one, weak trade agreements have left our working families and communities behind. That's why I have been so determined in leading the fight for better trade deals.
We have to ensure that trade agreements include enforceable environmental and safety standards. Here, NAFTA also fell short. Many of us remember when 179 children in Michigan became seriously ill in 1997 after eating a school lunch of contaminated strawberries imported from Mexico. Since NAFTA, more Mexican fruits and vegetables and unsafe trucks cross our borders everyday without inspection, endangering our health and safety and the lives of our children.
Now, the President wants to expand NAFTA and he's pushing for "fast track" trade authority. Such authority would allow him to negotiate trade agreements with other nations and force them through Congress with little discussion and no amendments - thus, limiting any voice that the American people could have in trade discussions with other nations.
We need to expand trade with other countries. But I feel strongly that we should use our trade agreements to promote human rights and democracy and improve working conditions around the world, instead of lowering standards. If we give the President fast track authority, we will have no opportunity to push for these protections to be included in trade agreements he negotiates with other nations.
We can craft good trade agreements that include workers' rights, human rights, and environmental protections. An example is the recently-negotiated Jordan trade agreement, which includes these standards. We should approve this agreement and use it as a starting point for future trade agreements in this hemisphere and around the world. Soon, we will have another choice to make as we consider an expansion of NAFTA through the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) agreement. Will we use this agreement to ensure a better future or take another step back like we did with NAFTA?
Expanding trade can work. It can help business and workers.
It can advance democracy and human rights while protecting the
earth. The United States is in a unique position to send the
world a message that trade is about more than the bottom line.
As we debate fast track and future trade agreements, I will be
fighting hard to ensure that we remember the human face of trade
and stand up for our most basic values.
More than a year ago, presidential candidate George W. Bush promised to "safeguard American markets against unfair practices like dumping."
This month, President Bush responded to emergency pleas by steel companies and their employee-unions by initiating a study on whether low-cost foreign steel imports have hurt the U.S. steel industry. On June 5, Bush directed U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick to ask the U.S. International Trade Commission to start an investigation under the 1974 Trade Act. If the commission finds serious harm, Bush could then bring a remedy, including restricting imports or imposing tariffs.
It's the start of an agonizingly slow process to reverse the trend of foreign companies "dumping" steel on the U.S. marketplace, which has already pushed several major U.S. steel companies into bankruptcy and cost the nation 23,000 jobs. Foreign manufacturers, many of them state-owned in Korea and China, continue to manufacture steel despite low worldwide demand, then "dump" their products in the U.S. at prices below the cost it takes to manufacture. The result: U.S. manufacturers simply can't compete.
As we reported last month, the decline in the U.S. steel industry has had a direct impact on Michigan, with the recent closing of the Tilden and Empire iron ore mines in the Upper Peninsula and the loss of construction work in the plants of steel manufacturers.
The crisis has spawned the formation of "Stand up for Steel" and "Stand up for Iron Ore," labor-management groups that are lobbying for the steel-dumping restrictions.
The Wall Street Journal reports that Bush's move, although not a bold one initially, signals a trade stance "that's every bit as protectionist as the Democrats'" and may be a means to woo trade unions. The journal said President Clinton refused to file a trade case against steel-dumping nations, and that probably cost Al Gore the major steel-producing state of West Virigina - and the presidency.
Capping a series of rallies in cities nationwide, Steel Workers descended on Washington in early June to demand government action against subsidized steel imports.
USWA President Leo Gerard, lawmakers from both parties and Steel Workers and family members all described the impact of the imports on themselves, jobs, families and communities.
Their target was Congress, where they want quick action on
anti-dumping measures. "We can't wait" beyond the end
of the year, Gerard said, gesturing to mailbags stacked against
the podium and filled with 500,000 letters for lawmakers.
The J.H. Campbell Generating Complex is operating a little cleaner and greener these days, as the building trades completed extensive environmental upgrades earlier this month at the plant's Unit No. 1 coal-burner.
The largest portion of the $100 million project involved the installation of a new electrostatic precipitator building, and a great deal of work was also devoted to installing fuel-handling equipment that allows the plant to burn environmentally friendlier Western coal. A third goal that was accomplished involved converting the plant's control room and sensors on the equipment it monitors from analog to digital.
"It was a four-month outage, and we employed more than
a thousand construction workers," said Dennis McKee, community
affairs director with the Campbell complex. "We accomplished
all of our goals."
MARQUETTE - "Dorm food" - the barely palatable stuff
indigestion is made of for many college students - won't be a
problem at Northern Michigan University.
SAGINAW - A tour last month of the new Covenant Health Care facility allowed Plumbers and Steam Fitters Local 85 and the Bay Area Association of Michigan Mechanical Contractors to put their best foot forward to promote their industry.
On hand were architects, engineers, owners, high school teachers and students, who received a first-hand look at a project that showcases the best in health-care industry piping systems - and the people who install it.
In the Local 85 jurisdiction, the knowledge to build such vital mechanical systems in health care facilities comes from union training centers in Saginaw in Traverse City, which spends $450,000 every year on training - without a dime of money coming from any governmental source. "We have been constantly upgrading our skills and our training centers to make sure we're on the cutting edge of technology," said Mark Lee, business manager of Local 85. "And we're very proud of our independence."
Covenant Health Care recently completed an expansion and consolidation
program that resulted in a 700-bed facility, room for inpatient
and outpatient clinics, and an emergency room capable of serving
5,000 patients a month.
Young people on the tour were also given information about careers in the piping industry.
"What all this means is that when you choose a contractor
who employs Local 85 people, you are assured of getting the best-trained,
most professional people in the industry," Lee said.
LACASA of Livingston County, a haven for victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and child abuse, will have more room to do its good work, thanks in part to the timely generosity of building trades unions, contractors, and contractor associations.
On June 13, LACASA staff accepted a $20,000 check from union leaders and contractor association reps toward construction of an expanded shelter, which will place all the haven's operations under one roof. Deborah Felder-Smith, LACASA's executive director, said the current shelter is in a 150-year-old historic home that doesn't provide sufficient room or privacy for guests and has inadequate security.
"The demand for our services over the last three years is up 75 percent," Felder-Smith said, "and our users cross all of society and economic lines. It's vital that we expand our operations, and this $20,000 came at the right time and helps us tremendously."
The $20,000 contribution came at a critical time for LACASA. Felder-Smith said the money came just in time for the haven to meet a fundraising deadline in order to get a $400,000 grant. As a result, LACASA's total goal of $2.1 million has been met, and construction is expected to begin in the next few weeks.
"We operate under the slogan, 'good for you, good for your family, good for your community,'" said IBEW Local 58 Business Manager Jeff Radjewski, "and we donated to this project because they obviously do a lot of good in the community."
Added IBEW Local 252 Business Manager Greg Stephens: "We helped out because we have members who live in Livingston County, and we feel it's a good thing and we're happy to be a part of it."
The expanded facility will be built off the rear of LACASA's existing administrative offices in Howell. MBM Fabricators and Erectors, which employs Iron Workers Local 25 members, is donating steel for the project. The Greater Michigan Plumbing and Mechanical Contractors Association and the National Electrical Contractors Association-Michigan Chapter also contributed money.
PMCA Executive Associate Diane Calmeyn said she and PMCA President Sandra Miller have done volunteer work at the shelter for a number of years. "This is something that is very close to our hearts," she said.
National Electrical Contractors Association-Michigan Chapter Executive Director Mike Crawford said the chapter's contribution to the project "shows how much we value and support community involvement."
Laborers strengthen organizing efforts
He said 90 organizers will be added to the Laborers' regional training staff of more than 200. Total spending on organizing will top $18.5 million this year.
"Our members' livelihoods directly depend on the strength of our presence in every industry in which we represent workers," O'Sullivan said. Increased spending in 2001, he said, "will ensure that we can help even more workers who desperately need union representation."
Last year LIUNA organized 19,200 new members.
Michigan unions solid in heavy-highway work
The labor market analysis by the Building Trades Department's Heavy and Highway Division covered $58.8 billion worth of work during the years 1997 to 2000.
In the terms of the number of projects, another study found nonunion contractors won 55 percent of all U.S. projects during that time, compared to 45 percent for union employers.
Michigan is once again near the top of the heap when it comes to union penetration. Our state ranked tied for third with Illinois with 96 percent of heavy and highway work going union. Ohio (99 percent) and Rhode Island (100 percent) were tops.
In Alabama, Delaware, Mississippi, Nebraska and Vermont, union
heavy and highway share was zero during those four years.
Businesses await friendlier NLRB
Jay Krupin of the Washington D.C. law firm Krupin-O'Brien said he is waiting for the right time to file cases aimed at challenging precedents established by NLRB majority-appointees of the Clinton Administration.
One issue that's likely to arise, the Journal said, is whether businesses can ban unions from using workplace e-mail systems to organize workers.
The makeup of the NLRB is a huge concern to working men and
women. Decisions by the NLRB are often the first legal step in
all manner of settling worker and management grievances, and
getting off on the wrong foot can lead to losses in organizing,
pay and safety disputes.