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Unions Hate Fast-Track So Much, Even Worker Protections Are Worth Sacrificing

Unions are praising House Democrats for killing a program meant to help workers negatively impacted by international trade Friday in an effort to damage another measure that could grant President Barack Obama unilateral trade powers.

“In rejecting the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) portion of the trade package this afternoon, a resounding bipartisan majority of lawmakers agreed that workers don’t want to be retrained for a new career,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a statement. “They want to keep the good middle-class jobs they have now. Despite the fact the House also approved the fast track portion of the package doesn’t change that. The House considered the same joint legislation that the Senate passed last month and said no.”

Fast-track, also known as Trade Promotion Authority, has largely divided Democrats, with the president in support and many Democratic lawmakers against. If passed, the president would have the ability to submit a finalized trade deal to Congress that could not be amended or filibustered and would require a straight up or down vote. In order to become law, the House fast-track measure must match the Senate version but without the renewal of the worker protection program, known TAA, it does not.

“For now, though, we congratulate lawmakers for seeing through the rhetoric and deciding to side with the people over the powerful,” Hoffa concluded. “The future for Americans workers isn’t better with fast track. Real job security comes from rejecting this measure.”

Without TAA the House and Senate would either have to go to conference to come up with a matching measure or the House will have to bring TAA back up for another vote. Until both the Senate and House have matching fast-track measures, opponents will remain successful in stalling its implementation. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka credited Democratic Rep. Nancy Pelosi for helping to lead the opposition on the House floor.

“Nancy Pelosi has always fought for working families and today her leadership on the trade package vote was instrumental in the House voting against another bad trade deal,” Trumka declared in a statement. “She stood up against corporate interests and as always put first the people who are too often left out of trade agreement discussions. I applaud Rep. Pelosi’s bravery and leadership on this and look forward to working with her on good trade bills.”

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. TAA, which is expected to expire in September, is designed to helped American workers who are negatively impacted by global trade by providing job training and income support.

Unions have been at the forefront of opposing the president on both his trade deal and being granted fast-track authority, from rallies at the U.S. Capital, television and newspaper ads, to threats of freezing political contributions to politicians that support it. Despite their willingness to kill TAA to undermine fast-track, organized labor has a history of supporting the program.

“For Years The TAA Program Has Been A Lifeline For Working People Trying To Get The Skills Necessary To Change Careers After Their Lives Have Been Turned Upside Down,” Trumka told Think Progress back in 2011.

“TAA programs, which enjoyed bipartisan support in the past, provide aid and training to workers who lose their jobs or see their hours or wages reduced due to unfair trade deals and increased imports,” James Parks wrote on the AFL-CIO Now Blog around the same time. Along with strong union support, Democrats unanimous approved to renew TAA in 2011.

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