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Unions Give Grave Warning To Senators That Support Fast-Track

With the Senate moving Tuesday to vote a second time on whether to grant President Barack Obama unilateral trade powers, unions warn there will be consequences for lawmakers that support it.

“This vote won’t stop us,” Chris Shelton, president of the Communications Workers of America (CWA), said in a statement. “CWA members, union members and activists from nearly every progressive group will continue to join together and fight, to build independent political power for working people.”

Trade Promotion Authority, also known as fast-track, has been the primary point of tension among the president and many within his own party, including labor unions. With the Senate voting 60-37 on a procedural vote to cut off debate and move toward a final vote Wednesday,  the measure is becoming far less likely to be stopped.

“We will hold members of Congress accountable for this vote,” Shelton continued. “We’ll stand with those members of Congress who supported our communities, and for those who opposed the broadest coalition of Americans ever, we will find and support candidates who will stand with working families. That’s how we’ll take on the corporate Democrats who oppose a working family agenda.”

Though the Senate already approved fast-track back in May, the House was unable to pass a matching measure because opponents were able to stop the renewal of the worker protection program known as Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). For fast-track to become law, the House and Senate versions must match.

“The last time the Senate considered fast track legislation, it approved a version that at least included Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) that would provide support for the thousands of U.S. workers likely to lose jobs because of trade deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP),” Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said in a statement. “But this time, there is no such provision and there is certainly no guarantee that House Speaker John Boehner will take up TAA again.”

To work around the failure to pass TAA, 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 which they sent onto the Senate for approval. The move to use an unrelated bill only made unions more angry.

Marc Perrone, president of the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), made his case in a letter sent to the Senate shortly before the the procedural vote to cut off debate.

“Make no mistake, your constituents, our members, and the American people will remember who stood against this trade deal and who did not,” Perrone said in the letter. “For the sake of the better America we must all believe in, please do what is right for the hard-working families you have sworn to serve and vote no on fast track.”

If fast-track passes, 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 main issue for critics is fast-track will make it much easier to pass the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which Obama is currently negotiating with 11 other Pacific nations. Opponents claim the trade deal will benefit corporations and special interests at the expense of working Americans and the environment.

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