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Unions Are Pissed Republicans Used Firefighters To Pass Fast-Track

Unions are denouncing Republican lawmakers for using a firefighter retirement bill to get a highly contested trade measure passedThursday after it stalled out in the House last week.

“Workers’ resolve is firmer than ever,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement. “We will fight at every level and in every way to protect American workers and our economy by rejecting Fast Track and this corporate trade deal.”

Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast-track, has become the main point of tension between President Barack Obama and many within his own party, including labor unions. If passed, the president could submit a finalized trade deal to Congress that would require a straight up- or down-vote, with no chance for amendment or filibuster. The policy, however, has also become one of the rare areas Obama and Republican lawmakers have been able to come together.

“It’s clear that the Republican leadership will do anything to grease the wheels for job-killing trade agreements,” Leo W. Gerard, the president of the United Steelworkers, said in a statement. “In order to pass legislation through the House, they loaded fast track onto a bill to ensure the integrity of pensions for firefighters.”

Last week fast-track stalled in the House, but congressional leaders were eventually able to move it forward. The main problem supporters faced is that the House version of the measure, which was passed Friday, did not match the Senate version. For the measures to match, the House had to renew a worker protection program, known Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which it was unable to do.

“In what has become the standard operating procedure for this Congress, political maneuvering has yet again been used to pass legislation that could not stand on its own merit,” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa also noted.

To work around last week’s failure, supporters attached a standalone version of fast-track to the Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act which enables federal firefighters to access their retirement savings once they reach retirement age. With only 28 Democrats voting for the measure, it passed primarily with Republican support.

“By stripping out any form of Trade Adjustment Assistance from the package, House leadership is leaving working families vulnerable to the inevitable job loss that will accompany bad trade deals like TPP,” Hoffa continued.

The standalone version of fast-track will now go to the Senate for a vote. If the Senate passes fast-track again, this time without TAA, it will go onto the president where it will most likely be signed into law.

“Our opponents will do anything to advance corporate trade deals,” former CWA President Larry Cohen said in a statement. “Fast Track faces more hurdles in the Senate and House, all opportunities for us to fight for fair trade and a global economy where worker and citizen rights matter.”

The main issue for opponents is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which Obama is currently negotiating with 11 other Pacific nations. Fast-Track would allow the president to much more easily pass the trade deal which opponents claim will benefit corporations and special interests at the expense of working Americans and the environment.

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