Public Sector Unions Lobby Lawmakers vs. Third “Free Trade” Pact

WASHINGTON (PAI)–Leaders of at least 40 public sector unions from around the world, including the Teamsters, the Teachers, and AFSCME, lobbied U.S. lawmakers on Sept. 17 to dump a little-known – but dangerous – potential third “free trade” treaty that threatens public workers’ jobs and the quality of services they provide to constituents and taxpayers nationwide.


The leaders of Public Services International, hosted by Teamsters President James Hoffa for their 3-day meeting in D.C., told senators the proposed Trade In Services Agreement (TISA) would open up government services and contracting to huge outsourcing worldwide.


Such outsourcing would threaten workers’ jobs and also reduce the quality of services to those nations’ constituents, the union leaders told lawmakers.


The key meeting was with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore.  His panel handles all trade legislation, including Democratic President Barack Obama’s dead – for now – plan for so-called “fast track” trade authority.  Fast track lets the president shove through other “free trade” pacts without any changes and without worker rights.


The TISA pact, still being negotiated, is one of three pacts Obama seeks to ink.  The others are with the European Union and the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership with 12 other Pacific Rim nations – including repressive regimes with ill-paid workers, like Vietnam.


“Trade agreements such as TISA, TPP and others will have a detrimental impact on public sector jobs and services in the U.S. and across the world,” Hoffa told the other union leaders in a keynote address on Sept. 16.  “The Teamsters and the other unions at this summit oppose trade deals that threaten service sector workers, just as we always have for workers who produce goods that families rely on.”


The Teamsters took that message, plus opposition to fast track, to Congress and will continue to do so through the lame-duck post-election session later this year, he added.


“The new wave of trade agreements are about far more than trade,” warned Rosa


Pavanelli, General Secretary of Public Services International.  “They enshrine the power of corporations in ways only loosely related to trade. They…promote privatization and restrict governments’ right to regulate.” PSI’s members took that message to lawmakers, too.


Pavanelli said the 2007-08 financial crash’s “catastrophic results” – the Great Recession that cost millions of U.S. workers their jobs, their homes and their pensions  – showed what would happen when a service industry, in that case the financial sector, is allowed to run amok.


“From global warming to the Rana Plaza disaster, up to the Ebola pandemic, our world is confronted with national and global challenges highlighting the tragic consequences of failing to make and enforce decent rules for the benefit of all in our societies,” she said.


Teachers President Randi Weingarten lobbied lawmakers on trade pacts’ undercutting of U.S. workers, state and local governments and national sovereignty.


“AFT isn’t against trade or trade agreements, but we need to ensure these agreements will not weaken the democratic process, the ability to have shared and growing prosperity for all, and the will of the community, including the voice of the front-line worker,” she said.  “They must be negotiated with transparency and knowing both the benefits and costs.


“Education company Pearson, with its track record of prohibiting teachers from talking about its assessments and its low-cost private schools in underdeveloped countries, shows why these agreements must not put profit over public good.  Trade agreements should be seen as beneficial to all parties, especially for the schools and students who attend them.”


To bolster the case against TISA, PSI released a report at the conference detailing the harmful impacts of unregulated trade in services, and who benefits: Multinational corporations.


In The Really Good Friends Of Trans-National Corporations Agreement – her name for TISA – Ellen Gould of the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives said TISA would be trash national business regulation, including worker protections.  Her report is on PSI’s website.


“Treating democratic laws and regulations of elected governments, designed to protect the public interest, as barriers to trade is a fundamental misconception of the role of government,” Gould found.  “Laws and regulations to protect workers, consumers, small business and the environment exist because the market does not produce these outcomes.


“The power to regulate is also essential to provide fair competition for business and allows countries, cities and regions to pursue economic and cultural development.  TISA, being negotiated in secret, is among the alarming new wave of trade and investment agreements founded on legally binding powers that institutionalise the rights of transnational investors and prohibit government actions in a wide range of areas only incidentally related to trade.”


Hoffa agreed.  “It will be the same for service workers as it is for the manufacturing workers – the bosses get their NAFTA and their CAFTA and the workers get the SHAFTA,” he said. With TPP, the European Union pact and TISA “looming,  there is reason for real concern.”