In an extensive interview with Vox.com, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka outlines the labor movement’s fight against Fast Track, the flaws in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free trade agreement, the trade relationship between the United States and China and the shortcomings and negative impact on the middle class of the nation’s trade policy.
We’re opposed to Fast Track. It’s too important a decision, and it affects too many lives of too many people for too long to be done in the dark and then plunk something out of the dark, a thousand-page treaty, and say, ‘Vote it up or down with no amendments.’ We think that’s the most undemocratic thing you can do. We think that’s dangerous.
‘It also fails to help create jobs here because it doesn’t have strong rules of origin,’ Trumka says. In other words, Trumka fears that Chinese companies could put factories in a TPP country like Vietnam or ship raw materials to a TPP country for assembly, which would give China the preferential access to U.S. markets provided by the TPP without having to follow the TPP itself.
It [undermines] things like Buy American policies. Say the taxpayers in Minneapolis decide they want to use their money to do something and they want to make it a Minnesota product, [if] that violates this trade agreement, and it can be negated.
[The TPP] fails to address currency manipulation. Currency manipulation…has or will cost us between 2.3 million and 5.8 millionjobs. China leads that group. Twenty countries have been determined to have manipulated their currency. And yet there’s nothing in the agreement to stop it. So all of the benefits they claim we could get from TPP, even if you assume every one of the benefits is right, could be wiped out the next day by a country manipulating its currency, to negate all this.
He also says that the AFL-CIO is not opposed to all trade liberalization; rather, they’re opposed to ones they consider detrimental to workers’ interests: ‘We’re opposed to bad trade deals, not trade deals.’
Legislation granting Fast Track trade authority to President Barack Obama was introduced in the Senate today. In a statement, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:
At a time when workers all over the country are standing up for higher wages, Congress is considering legislation that will speed through corporate-driven trade deals. For decades, we’ve seen how fast-tracked trade deals devastated our communities through lost jobs and eroded public services. We can’t afford another bad deal that lowers wages and outsources jobs.
Call your senators—855-790-8815—and tell them to say no to Fast Track.
Fast Track would make it easier to ram through complicated trade deals without significant oversight from members of Congress or the public, just a simple “Yes” or “No” vote with no amendments allowed on trade agreements such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), who has been a leading voice in the Senate against Fast Track, said:
There’s too much at stake for Congress to be rushing through a bill that would allow more NAFTA-style trade deals. Our manufacturing sector has lost more than 5 million jobs since 1994. While we’ve seen an impressive recovery, the more than 629,000 Ohio jobs tied to the auto industry could be at risk if our trade deals don’t protect against competitors that cheat trade law or manipulate currency. Rushing a trade package through Congress without a healthy debate is not only reckless, but it’s a betrayal to middle class and working families in Ohio.
Trumka called on Congress to reject Fast Track and “maintain its constitutional authority and leverage to improve the TPP and other trade deals.” He added:
Trade deals have wide-ranging impacts and shouldn’t be negotiated behind closed doors and then rubber-stamped. The current Trans-Pacific Partnership deal under discussion would cover 40 percent of the world’s GDP. A deal this big should be debated in a full and open manner like every other piece of legislation.
Today, tens of thousands of Walmart workers, fast-food, retail and other low-wage workers are engaged in a massive, nationwide strike in their fight for $15 an hour, consistent full-time hours and the right to join a union.
Lisa Pietro, a two-year Walmart employee from Winter Haven, Fla., who made just $8.95 an hour before Walmart’s recent increase to a minimum of $9 an hour, said:
I’m proud to be part of a growing movement of moms and dads, brothers and sisters like me, who are standing up for better jobs. A company like Walmart, which brings in $16 billion in annual profits, can afford to provide the pay and hours that our families need. The raise we just won at Walmart shows what working people can accomplish when we stand together.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said:
The voices of Walmart and fast-food workers have shown the power of collective action in standing up to corporate greed and a system that for far too long has only benefited those at the very top.
Since the Black Friday Walmart strikes and the fast-food workers strikes began more than two years ago, the movement for $15 an hour, full-time work and consistent scheduling has grown to include retail workers, home care providers, airport workers, adjunct professors and more and gained support around the globe.
The growing voice of the workers and support from their communities and many lawmakers has pressured employers like Walmart, McDonald’s and others to raise wages some but not nearly close to $15. Said Trumka:
While some wages have been raised, there is much work to be done, and workers will continue to speak out until wages are fair, conditions are improved and every voice is heard in the workplace.
A new study finds that Walmart’s promised raise for its lowest-paid employees to $9 per hour in 2015 and $10 per hour in 2016, will still require large taxpayer subsidies to compensate for the lowness of Walmart’s wages. Meanwhile a new report from the AFL-CIO finds Walmart is seeking to cut its costs for higher-paid, U.S. high-tech workers by recruiting temporary foreign tech workers at lower wages.
Meanwhile a new study from Americans for Tax Fairness finds that Walmart’s promised raise for its lowest-paid employees to $9 per hour in 2015 and $10 per hour in 2016, will still require large taxpayer subsidies to compensate for the lowness of Walmart’s wages.
The AFL-CIO report finds that Walmart has been increasingly submitting applications for H-1B visas. These visas let U.S. companies employ foreign workers. The report criticizes the reasons the company is using the visas: “Walmart is driving down standards in the tech industry in the U.S. by using H-1B visas and contractors excessively. This keeps costs low and allows for IT guest workers to be paid less.” Over the past eight years, Walmart has filed 1,800 petitions for the visas, including a high of 513 in 2014. Numerous other companies also have filed similar petitions for work in Bentonville, Ark., the home of Walmart’s corporate headquarters. Said AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka:
At a time when we face unprecedented levels of inequality and decades of wage stagnation, it is irresponsible to expand access to employment-based temporary work programs that will continue to hold down wages, increase worker vulnerability and reduce social mobility for deserving workers.
The report also reveals how Walmart has quietly backed corporate lobbying groups pushing to expand the program and increase the number of H-1B visas that are available. In the meantime, the number of H-1B applications for IT workers in Bentonville continues to grow—suggesting that local Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) recent graduates lose out on IT jobs.
The study, from Americans for Tax Fairness finds that the $9 per hour standard would still mean that most of those low-wage workers, even working at Walmart’s full-time standard of 34 hours a week, would bring home less than $16,000 a year. Such a low rate would qualify a single worker for at least three government assistance programs. If the worker has one or more children, they would qualify for eight programs.
The 2016 standard of $10 per hour would raise employees’ annual take home pay by less than $2,000, and if the worker with that salary had one or more children, they would still qualify for all eight government assistance programs. Raising wages to a minimum of $15 per hour with a 40-hour workweek, the report finds, would raise the annual take-home pay for the lowest-paid employees to $31,200 a year, which would lift most workers out of the eligibility bracket for government assistance. Based on the last year of profits made by the Walton family, such a raise would still leave the company’s owners with $10 billion in profit (not to mention their massive existing fortunes).
More than 35 people gathered at the Northern Virginia labor office on Monday, March 23, to participate in a 90-minute Common Sense Economics workshop conducted by the AFL-CIO. Among those taking part were representatives from the NAACP, religious social action networks, immigrant rights groups, young people and elected officials, as well as union representatives, including AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.
The workshop was led by Roberta Reardon (former SAG-AFTRA co-president, left in the picture below) and Will Fischer (right in the picture) of the AFL-CIO. The course helped explain in laymen’s terms what is happening to jobs in America and how workers can regain control of the debate regarding living wages, workplace safety and trade agreements. Each participant left with a pledge to conduct similar workshops within their own organizations.
“This session was very valuable as Virginians gear up for fall elections that will include all members of the General Assembly as well as numerous local positions,” noted NOVA Area Labor Federation President Daniel Duncan. “We will be working with all these groups and others to help the middle class fight back.”
In 2015, nearly 5 million American workers might get a pay raise. By joining together to ask for one. Through a union.
Minimum wage hikes, overtime expansion, paid sick leave and other policy improvements are important to raise wages in America. But the best way for workers to get a raise is by asking for one with a collective voice. That’s what workers do—bargain together in unions to improve our lives.
And this is an exceptional moment for raising wages through collective bargaining. More new contracts will be bargained by unions and employers in 2015 than at any other point in modern American labor history.
Autoworkers in Michigan, public workers in Illinois and New Jersey, communication workers at AT&T and Verizon, clerks at Kroger and Foodtown, postal workers, employees of Disneyland and others will negotiate wages and benefits. Government will not dictate the outcome. Workers expressing their collective voice will sit down with management and decide on a fair allocation of the rising profits resulting from the recovery.
Five million workers asking for a raise? Yeah, and it’s about time. All U.S. workers should ask for more. Wages have been stagnant for over a decade. In fact, between 1997 and 2012, the income of those in the bottom 90 percent fell by $2,868, even as workers’ productivity rose. Current data tell the same story. The last two months point to economic recovery and robust job growth, but with virtually no upward effect on wages.
What we are seeing is wage theft on a grand, macroeconomic scale. Workers feel deep frustration in the face of the relentless disparity between productivity and wages. I know, because that’s what they tell me. In every industry, in every state, at every hourly wage level. But workers don’t need any more economic analysis; we want solutions.
That’s why collective bargaining is so important in 2015 and long term. First, income inequality is not just a low-wage worker problem; falling wages are a fact for workers at every pay level up to the top 10 percent. Second, collective bargaining is the primary way to address wage stagnation across the whole economy. Income inequality is not a mysterious phenomenon; it results from the economic rules we have created. It can be solved by changing those rules.
And that solution must recognize the precarious position of workers acting alone. Again, today’s data support this assertion. A January story in The Wall Street Journal reported on a survey of U.S. workers that found while only 8 percent were satisfied with their pay, fewer than half had asked for a raise. The Journal concluded, “When it comes to pay, people are afraid to ask for more.”
Workers should not be afraid to demand what we have earned. Unions and collective bargaining are critical to righting this imbalance. Historically, when unions are strong, wages rise in proportion to profit. And it is not only union members who benefit; there is a spillover effect lifting the pay of all workers. From 1935, when the National Labor Relation Act was passed, to 1980, almost 70 percent of income growth benefited the bottom 90 percent and only 7.1 percent went to the top 1 percent.
Collective bargaining is ground zero in the debate about raising wages in America. It should be front and center as Congress considers policy and as presidential candidates announce agendas. Moreover, the results will illuminate the larger issue underpinning chronic wage stagnation: that vibrant worker organizations are key to restoring the balance of economic power in our country.
Even workers who are not yet represented by a union should be encouraged to speak up, especially with a collective voice. No worker should be afraid to ask for a raise, and federal law protects that right. Everyone who works should ask for a raise in 2015. We deserve it, and the health of our economy depends on it.
If you’re not sure what Fast Track is, check out the video above where AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka explains it quite simply. If you need a more in-depth primer, the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers (BCTGM) provides one. Meanwhile, the Communications Workers of America (CWA) is holding meetings across the country to try to convince members of Congress that Fast Track is wrong for the country. And the more we look at what TPP might turn out to be, we find out that it has elements like Investor-State Dispute Settlement or that it won’t require potential members to comply with international labor rights.
If you think this doesn’t sound like what working families or America’s economy need right now, sign the AFL-CIO’s petition opposing Fast Track.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said, “President Obama eloquently and forcefully advocated for working families throughout his State of the Union Address,” last night. He also said:
The president’s focus on raising wages through collective bargaining, better paying jobs, a fairer tax code, fair overtime rules, and expanded access to education and earned leave sent the right message at the right time.
Read the rest of the statement below:
So did his embrace of union apprentices and immigrants who want to achieve the American Dream. The president has again demonstrated his strong commitment to creating an economy that truly works for all working people.
Fighting income inequality is one of the biggest challenges of our time. As Oxfam recently reminded us, the world’s wealth continues to be increasingly concentrated in the hands of a very few. If we are serious about solving this monumental challenge, the size of the solutions must meet the scale of the problem. We must have a similarly vigorous response to the barriers to raising wages: our opposition to fast-tracked trade deals that are giant giveaways to big corporations must be resolute. We can’t face the competitive challenge of China with a trade deal that fails to adequately address currency manipulation, climate change or that gives corporations rights that people don’t have.
Now is the time for politicians to champion a Raising Wages agenda that ties all the pieces of economic and social justice together. America has now heard what the president thinks about this agenda. We thank the president for his passion and his advocacy. We are ready to see what he and Congress will do about it. That is the ultimate standard of accountability.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.) unveiled a new plan today to address the large and growing problem of income inequality that he says, “attacks the chronic problem of stagnant middle-class incomes from both directions: it promotes bigger paychecks and lets workers keep more of what they earn.”
His plan would create or expand tax breaks for child care, apprenticeship programs, middle-class working couples, those who save for retirement and companies that raise workers’ wages, while at the same time scaling back the tax break corporations currently claim for CEO bonuses. Van Hollen said his proposals are fully paid for with a “high-rollers fee” on Wall Street.
We can pay for these new tax benefits for working Americans by changing the ways our current tax code is rigged in favor of those who make money off of money and against those who make money from work.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka praised Van Hollen for “showing the kind of leadership that has become far too rare in Washington, D.C., today. Many of the policy prescriptions he outlined today are part of the blueprint to seriously addressing income inequality.” He also said:
A modest Wall Street speculation tax, or ‘high-roller fee’ as Rep. Van Hollen has proposed, will help curb harmful Wall Street practices and raise billions of dollars annually. These are critical funds that could pay for infrastructure and education to lay the foundation for long-term productivity growth. Additionally, Rep. Van Hollen is absolutely right to deny tax breaks for ridiculous, out of control CEO pay—they don’t need any more handouts.
At the AFL-CIO’s National Summit on Raising Wages last week, President Richard Trumka announced two important new parts of the labor federation’s agenda. This spring, the federation will sponsor Raising Wages summits in four key states. Additionally, the AFL-CIO will organize projects in seven cities to focus on raising wages in those locales.
American workers are beginning to say “enough.” We are beginning to rise up, to come together, to reject the idea that there is nothing we can do about falling wages. We are tired of people talking about inequality as if nothing can be done. The answer is simple—raise the wages of the 90% of Americans whose wages are lower today than they were in 1997. Families don’t need to hear more about income inequality—they need more income.
AFL-CIO’s state labor federations in the first four presidential primary states—Iowa, Nevada, New Hampshire and South Carolina will take place in the spring. These summits will bring together diverse voices to lay out the entire raising wages platform and establish state-based standards of accountability. Trumka talked about the significance of those states: “Raising wages is the single standard by which leadership will be judged. That means accountability, and it starts with something we all understand—presidential politics.”
After working with affiliates and community partners, the AFL-CIO identified the 10 cities for raising wages campaigns where they could have the most significant impact. The cities include Atlanta, Columbus, District of Columbia (Metro), St. Louis, Philadelphia, Minneapolis & St. Paul, Houston, Miami, Dallas and San Diego. In each city, the labor movement will stand together with those already at work and bring important energy, ideas and resources to critical battles.
These new campaigns are the beginning of the federation’s efforts to expand the raising wages agenda.