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Fast-Track Bypasses Debate In The Senate, To The Dismay Of Unions

Union leaders are voicing their utter disappointment with Senate Republican for choosing Thursday to bypass debate on a bill which could grant the president unilateral trade powers.

“Despite this legislative setback, however, the war is far from over,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a statement.

Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), also known as fast-track, has created a wedge between President Barack Obama and many on the left, including labor unions. If passed, the president could submit a finalized trade deal to Congress which could not be amended or filibustered and would only need a straight up or down vote.

“We will continue this battle in the House of Representatives, where we know opposition to fast track is strong,” Hoffa continued. “A bipartisan collection of lawmakers in the House understand it makes no sense to give a quick up-or-down vote to bad trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that will only ship jobs overseas and lower wages in the U.S.”

The fast-track bill was introduced last month by Republicans Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Paul Ryan along with Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden. Senate Democrats were able to successfully block it but the next day, a second vote resulted in opposite results. Now Republicans in the Senate, with the support of some Democrats, have skipped debate altogether so the bill can move to a final vote.

“The limited discussion just this week in the Senate showed the serious concerns that surround Fast Track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” a press release from the Communications Workers of America stated. “Senators should not give away their right to amend a trade deal that has been negotiated in secrecy and is virtually complete.”

“There is strong opposition in the House to moving forward on Fast Track,” the press release continued. “Currently, the Democratic opposition in the House is overwhelming, and rejection there remains a real possibility.”

Unions, along with other opponents, have claimed the passage of TPP with the assistance of fast-track will inevitably benefit corporations and special interests at the expense of working Americans and the environment. Supporters, however, have argued the opposite will occur.

“And I want to thank the bipartisan group of senators who took a big step forward this morning on the trade agenda that is consistent with strong labor standards, strong environmental standards,” the president said during a cabinet meeting.

“[It] is going to open up access to markets that too often are closed even as these other countries are selling goods here in the United States,” he continued. “It’s an agenda that’s good for U.S. businesses, but most importantly, good for American workers.”

Despite the adamant opposition among organized labor, Obama has promised the trade deal would include provisions that benefit unions. As Obama noted in a recent speech at Nike, the deal protect workers’ freedom to form unions in countries that previously did not have such protections.

“So when you look at a country like Vietnam, under this agreement, Vietnam would actually, for the first time, have to raise its labor standards,” Obama claimed. “It would even have to protect workers’ freedom to form unions — for the very first time.”

In the “Labor and the Environment” section, the TPA bill itself dictates that any trade deal that comes about through it, whether it’s TPP or not, must adopt and maintain measures implementing internationally recognized core labor standards. If true, and Obama is right in saying some of these labor agreements include the right to organize, current unions may very well be granted access to millions of new workers from countries they previously did not.

If fast-track makes it through the Senate, it will move to the House of Representatives for yet another vote.

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