Lawmakers, Pride at Work to Show Obama Trade Rep: Enforceable Worker Rights Must Be in Trans-Pacific Trade Pact Text

WASHINGTON (PAI)–Top House Democrats and Pride at Work, the AFL-CIO’s constituency group for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender workers, are again demanding that Obama administration U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman to insure enforceable worker rights are in the text of the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade pact.

            And that’s especially important, Pride at Work representative Jerame Davis said on July 9.  He pointed out that one nation in the TPP talks, the Sultanate of Brunei, has become notorious for its new legal code, which lawmakers have told the Obama administration  “legalizes violence against LGBT people and religious minorities.”

            Reps. George Miller, D-Calif., Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., Loretta Sanchez, D-Calif., Mark Pocan, D-Wis., and others joined Slade at the TPP press conference.  Sanchez, a Teamster, also cited anti-labor stands of another TPP nation, Vietnam, which refuses to allow independent unions, among other abuses.  Thousands of Vietnamese-Americans are among her constituents.  Pocan,  a Painter, is also one of the handful of openly gay lawmakers.

            The group called the press conference as Froman wrapped up the latest TPP bargaining sessions, which lasted about a week, in Ottawa, Ont.  The TPP includes the U.S. and 11 other “Pacific Rim” nations.  It is also the latest controversial “free trade” pact Obama is trying to push through Congress. 

            DeLauro, known for her ability to round up, deliver and count votes among her colleagues, called TPP a “non-starter.”

            “The sad fact of the matter is that this pact will roll back regulation, it would roll back environmental standards and the laws that protect the safety of the drugs we take, the food we eat and the toys we give to our children,” she said.  “And it would create binding policies in many areas so Congress and state legislatures would be thwarted from mitigating the pact’s damage in the future.”

            Like other such pacts over the last several decades, TPP lacks enforceable worker rights and would cost U.S. jobs, workers and unions contend. TPP would also give corporations the right to challenge and override U.S. state and local laws – everything from job safety and health to Buy American statutes – if those laws “restrict” profits in some way.

            “TPP is light-years away from being a good deal for working families here in America and for other TPP countries,” said Miller, the top Democrat on the Education and the Workforce Committee. “The TPP must protect American workers and families and ensure workers in other trade pact countries that they are not subject to violations of basic rights.”

            “We must do everything possible to prevent the American marketplace from being flooded with imports manufactured by workers laboring without human dignity and individual rights,” the lawmakers, led by Miller and DeLauro, recently wrote to Froman. 

 “The administration must refrain from validating such woefully inadequate labor norms and the final agreement should be withheld until these countries embrace the need to reform their labor laws and move aggressively to implement them.”

            And 153 House Democrats, led by Miller, Pocan, Sanchez and DeLauro, recently wrote Obama’s Secretary of State, John Kerry, saying Brunei’s abuses in particular should not get silent acquiescence and approval through passage of the TPP.

            Both letters drew support from more than three-fourths of the House Democratic Caucus, indicating widespread opposition to the TPP from Obama’s own party.  That means if he wants to jam it through Congress this year, he’ll have to rely on House Republicans – and at least two dozen of them oppose TPP also, because they don’t want to give the president, whom they hate, any legislative victories.

            “Whether one is talking about American jobs, labor conditions, human rights, food safety, health care or the environment, the Trans-Pacific Partnership is a big loser for workers across the globe,” the Teamsters said in a statement supporting the TPP protest.

            Meanwhile,  union allies in Public Citizen’s Trade Watch – and 110 other organizations worldwide – are sounding an alarm over a second, and so far less controversial, “free trade” pact Obama is negotiating, with Europe.  That pact is less controversial because most European Union nations have higher worker rights standards and protections than the U.S.  But Trade Watch has a big problem with the U.S.-Europe pact’s provisions on chemicals.

            “European Union and U.S. trade policy should not be geared toward advancing the chemical industry’s agenda at the expense of public health and the environment – but that appears to be exactly what is currently underway” in the European pact talks, their letter to Froman and Europe’s top trade negotiator says. The National Council on Occupational Safety and Health also signed the letter.

            “The presence of toxic chemicals in our food, our homes, our workplaces, and our bodies is a threat to present and future generations, with staggering cost for society and individuals,” their letter warns.

            Trade Watch Director Lori Wallach said chemical manufacturers “apparently persuaded” Froman and the European bargainer that chemical safety rules are a trade barrier, which firms could then, under the proposed pact, override

            “The so-called trade deal…could continue public exposure to hazardous substances in unsafe workplaces, toxic lakes and rivers, and tainted food and toys. If the U.S. and EU governments want to have any hope of stemming the controversy surrounding this proposed pact, they must reverse course and keep our chemical safety protections out of their closed-door “trade” negotiations,” she added.

            Secret talks about trade deals – with Europe, Asia or anyone else – “are inexcusable and inconsistent with the principles of a modern democracy,” the letter concludes.