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The Final Line, Union’s Last Word Before Fast-Track Vote

The AFL-CIO made one final plea against Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) Friday as the House discusses whether to grant President Barack Obama unilateral trade authority.

“Members of Congress have an important decision to make today when they cast their votes on Trade Promotion Authority (TPA),” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “They have the opportunity to stand up for the working people who voted them into office, and not cave to the corporate interests that have far too much influence on the American economy.”

TPA, also known as fast-track, has created a divide between the president and many on the left, including labor unions. If passed, the president could submit a finalized trade deal to Congress that could not be amended or filibustered and would only need a straight up or down vote.

“When working people send Members to Congress it is their hope that they will honor that trust and act in their best interests.  That means supporting fair wages, safe working conditions and a real opportunity to compete in the global economy,” Trumka continued. “But passage of TPA would do the opposite.”

Fast-track would allow the president to much more easily pass his trade agenda, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which unions claim will benefit corporations and special interests at the expense of working Americans and the environment.

“It would lead to another bad trade deal that will cost American jobs,” he also noted. “Deals like this are why voters are frustrated and think that Washington is broken.  But we can do better than this.”

Though leaders throughout the labor movement have opposed the trade deal and fast-track, the AFL-CIO has been at the forefront of the opposition. In the last week, the union conducted an all out media assault against the measure from television and newspaper ads to rallies. The union and its supporters have even gone as far as to personally attack some lawmakers. Some Democrats, though still opposing the trade deal, have noted concern that organized labor has been going too far in its opposition.

“By defeating TPA Congress can send a message that our government belongs not to the highest corporate bidders but to the working people who make our country run,” Trumka concluded.

Back in April, Republicans Sen. Orrin Hatch and Rep. Paul Ryan, along with Democrat Sen. Ron Wyden, introduced the bill to grant the president fast-track authority. After some back and forth, the bill was able to pass the Senate in May before going to the House, where it will soon be decided. It is likely, if the House passes it, the president will sign it into law.

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 argued. “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 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, current unions may very well be granted access to millions of new workers from countries they previously did not.

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