Jan 8, 2010 – BCN51:CONCORD: MILLER, GARAMENDI, LABOR LEADERS ADVOCATE FOR FAIR TRADE ACT CONCORD (BCN)
Congressmen George Miller and John Garamendi held a news conference in Concord today to drum up support for a new trade bill they say will bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S. and improve working conditionsfor people in developing countries.
The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment Act, also known as the TRADE Act of 2009, seeks to reform and re-evaluate international free trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement, the Central American Free Trade Agreement and the World Trade Agreement.
The proposed bill has support from 135 members of Congress. It needs 218 to pass the House, Garamendi, D-Walnut Creek, said.
The proposed bill would require countries that negotiate trade agreements with the United States to enforce laws to protect workers rights, including the right to collective bargaining, and to eliminate forced labor and child labor.
It would require countries to develop and enforce core labor laws, including minimum wages, hours of work and occupational safety and health standards.
The bill would also require countries to recognize the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and enforce protection of fundamental human rights.
Under the new bill, trade agreements would also include protections of intellectual property and, for agricultural products, agreements would ensure stable market returns for farmers and adequate and affordable food supplies.
Trade agreements would also have to include protections for the environment and product safety standards.
The act would require the Comptroller General of the United States to review trade agreements every two years.
Lynne McBride, executive director of the California Farmers’ Union, said she believes the proposed legislation would level the global playing field for farmers and ranchers in the U.S.
Right now, “our competitors are not required to meet the same health, safety and labor standards as we are,” McBride said.
She said the proposed legislation would ensure that farmers would be able to compete fairly on the global market.
“Cheap labor policies have failed to deliver,” Gary Allen with the International Association of Machinists said.
He said that in the last decade, the U.S. has lost more than 5 million manufacturing jobs, even high-skill manufacturing jobs, and the country currently has the greatest polarization of wealth since before the Great Depression.
Art Pulaski, chief officer of the California Labor Federation, which represents 2.1 million workers throughout the state, said that when the current free trade agreements were passed, workers were promised better wages and better working conditions.
“What happened? Our wages flattened out – if we were lucky. Many lost their jobs.”
“The promise made to American workers that our wages would get better was a lie,” Pulaski said. “We need this law that corrects the injustice of free trade.”
“If we are going to get America back on its feet, it is going to have to be done with the resurgence of American manufacturing,” Garamendi said.
He said leaders in the U.S. needed to re-set trade agreements and provide for equalization across nations.
Miller, D-Martinez, said the current trade agreements have created a lot of sub-poverty jobs in the United States and abroad.
“These trade agreements: I didn’t vote for any of them,” Miller said. “They were wrong then and they’re wrong now.”
“This is about our jobs, this is about our families. It’s about how we’re going to turn this economy around,” Miller said.
Opponents of the bill, however, say that if it passes it could cut the United States off from the global market.
Retired Congressman Jim Kolbe, R-Ariz., a longtime advocate for free trade, said that the FAIR Trade Act of 2009 is “basically anti-trade — designed to stop imports as much as possible.”
He said the proposed bill would not bring manufacturing jobs back to the U.S.
“You don’t bring manufacturing jobs back into the U.S. by increasing prices. That’s the same as cutting your pay,” Kolbe said.
He said that free trade agreements give the U.S. the ability to compete on the global market and that countries need to be able to export the products they can produce most competitively.
“There’s a reason we ship manufacturing jobs overseas,” Kolbe said. He said workers in developing countries are better at manufacturing products such as textiles while in the U.S., “we have the brain power and the infrastructure to develop software, for example.”
Copyright 2010 by Bay City News, Inc.