Four top Dems on trade push Trump agencies for stronger worker rights enforcement

WASHINGTON—Four top Democratic legislators who deal with trade are pushing the Republican Trump administration for stronger enforcement of trading rules. And current “new NAFTA” talks with Mexico are a particular target.

“Vigilant enforcement of international labor rules is a crucial component of any strategy to level the playing field” for U.S. workers, Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Bob Casey, D-Pa., and Reps. Richard Neal, D-Mass., and Bill Pascrell, D-N.J., wrote to Trump Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta on Sept. 17.

“Without enforcement, American workers are forced to compete against imports made with slave or child labor” or by otherwise-exploited workers overseas, said their letter, which also went to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

But they added a large budget cut and a hiring freeze at DOL’s Bureau of International Labor Affairs would cripple enforcement. The bureau provides the data U.S. negotiators can use to enforce international trade rules – including rules governing labor conditions.

The four also faulted the administration for not demanding “ambitious, enforceable commitments” to worker rights and higher wages in the current talks with Mexico and Canada on a “new NAFTA.” Their problem is with Mexico; they didn’t mention Canada.

Mexican worker productivity has grown 80 percent in the 23 years since the current NAFTA – the jobs-losing so-called “free trade” pact labor and workers strongly opposed – was signed. But with few worker rights, Mexican median wages have fallen 20 percent, they added.

“A key contributor to Mexico’s persistently low labor costs is its lack of core labor rights, including with respect to independent unions and its limits on collective bargaining,” they wrote. “Mexico’s serious corruption” will only make matters worse, even for potential U.S. exporters.

Trump administration labor proposals are critical, and must “do more than just exist on paper,” they warned. The U.S. bargainers must gain a detailed Mexican commitment to enforcing worker rights that are included in a new NAFTA.

The U.S. demand for higher Mexican labor standards, better wages and better enforcement must be accompanied by a “carrot,” so to speak, their letter adds: More U.S. financial and technical assistance to Mexico to help establish a better labor environment.

The lawmakers also identified trade and labor enforcement concerns with four other nations. Deadlines for reports on progress are due for Colombia (Oct. 11) and the Dominican Republic (Oct. 5). Those nations’ problems include products made with forced labor and child labor, continued violence and murders of Colombian unionists and “impunity for perpetrators.”

A report on conditions in Peru, discussing “restrictions on freedom of association,” “abusive conditions” in agriculture, ineffective labor law enforcement and problems in textiles and apparel, is three months overdue, the senators told Trump’s two Cabinet members.

And while DOL and Honduras agreed in 2015 to specific deadlines that nation was supposed to meet on labor enforcement, the deadlines have passed, nothing has happened and DOL’s report is overdue, too. Honduran issues include failure to pay the national minimum wage, no labor inspections, anti-union discrimination and extensive use of child labor.

If the Trump administration doesn’t issue the required reports “or merely calls for additional discussions” of working conditions, “It will indicate the administration is unable or unwilling to use available tools to address the impact of substandard worker rights” in those nations “on American workers,” the lawmakers said.

Source: PAI