Displaced Workers Call for Trade and Immigration Reform

For Immediate Release
Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Local Labor Leaders and Displaced Workers Call for Trade and Immigration Reform, Quality Job Creation
New Study Finds Trade-Related Job Loss on the Rise and a Significant Factor in Oregon’s High Unemployment Rate

SPRINGFIELD, OR — Displaced workers, union leaders, as well as immigrant rights and fair trade advocates will gather at 12pm on Tue., July 6, at Woodworker’s Hall in Springfield, the meeting place of the Lane County Labor Council, to release a new analysis of U.S. Labor Department data indicating the significance of trade-related job loss in Oregon’s high unemployment rate. Over the past four quarters, Oregon lost 10,000 jobs as the result of trade policies, which is more than one quarter of total jobs losses during that period.

The data also show a disturbing trend, with Oregon having more trade-related job lossesin 2009 than any other year on record. The first quarter of this year does not look much better. According to the report, four companies in Springfield and two in Eugene were certified under the Trade Adjustment Assistance program in 2009.

Data for the new study released by the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign came from the U.S. Department of Labor’s Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program. The TAA program provides extended unemployment and job retraining benefits for workers whose jobs are certified by the Department as having been lost due to trade, either through direct offshoring or displacement by imports. Because TAA is difficult to pursue and qualify for, and many workers never even find out about it, the data provides only a conservative estimate of the true number of jobs lost due to trade. Changes in eligibility for the TAA program effected in mid-2009 also suggest that the previous years’ trade-related job losses were actually higher than the data set shows. Read the full report online at:https://www.citizenstrade.org/ctc/oregon/files/2010/06/JobLossReport.pdf

Ed Gunderson lost his job to the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in 2003. Gunderson was the last U.S. employee of Plastmo, Inc., a small vinyl manufacturer formerly located in Springfield, which moved all of its jobs to its facility in Canada. Having helped two coworkers, most of whom were displaced in 1998, qualify for TAA, Gunderson himself was left empty-handed. He has since become a volunteer Secretary of the Lane Branch of Industrial Workers of the World.”We are told by our government that the wars we are involved in are to protect the American Way of Life and preserve the ‘American Dream,’ yet we allow and even encourage business owners to move production and services out of the country, said Gunderson. “This is economic war against American workers, and the government sanctions it through NAFTA and other treaties, destroying the livelihoods of thousands if not millions of workers.”

The Lane County Fair Trade Campaign (LCFTC), a local alliance, is continuing to press Sen. Ron Wyden, who sits on a key committee in Congress, to support trade the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act. Congressman Peter DeFazio and Sen. Jeff Merkley already support the bill.

In June, the alliance held a forum explaining how the TRADE Act would re-empower local communities at home and abroad in terms of food security. But “the TRADE Act would affect far more than food,” said Samantha Chirillo, Organizer of the LCFTC alliance. “As comprehensive trade reform legislation currently pending in Congress, it would help level the playing field for local employers by establishing strong new labor, environmental and consumer safety standards in future and existing trade agreements.”

The LCFTC also points to the TRADE Act as a model for new trade agreements, like the one with South Korea that is currently being moved forward by the Obama Administration and Congress.

“Most blue collar jobs are gone as the result corporations pursuing cheaper labor overseas,” said Wes Shirley, External Relations Committee Chair, Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, Local #3544. “Now we’re seeing service sector jobs, including IT, leave, as well.Job loss from free trade has chipped away at our economy to the extent that it’s literally crumbling. Virtually no one is unaffected by NAFTA-like trade agreements that have made everything and everyone cheap and expendable.”

Guadalupe Quinn, Immigrant Rights Advocacy Program Coordinator with Amigos, points out that trade adjustment assistance is not an option for immigrants to the U.S., who are first forced out of their own country by the poverty inflicted by unfair “free trade,” and then become displaced. “More importantly,” says Quinn, “forced migration has driven down farm workers’ wages in the United States – and indirectly, all wages – as relatively cheap immigrant labor competes in the domestic labor market. While some resent recent immigrants, our economy has become depend on immigrant labor.” Quinn noted that the UFW have launched a “Take Our Jobs” campaign in California to encourage more public involvement in local food production.

“In addition to the TRADE Act, we need comprehensive immigration reform, including citizenship for the 12 million documented immigrants now in the United States, and protection of worker civil rights and liberties,” insists Quinn.LCFTC and ESSN/Jobs with Justice alliances support comprehensive immigration reform.

John Evans,Co-Chair of Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network/Jobs with Justice, says “It’s clear from this dismal report that we need to pass the TRADE Act. But we also need the creation of living-wage jobs that build long-term community resilience, rather than through attracting big businesses or implementing short-term fixes.” ESSN/Jobs with Justice is currently working for better labor standards at the local level, in part through ESSN’s Community Standards Campaign to increase wages for City of Eugene employees.

Speaking at the news conference will be Ed Gunderson, NAFTA victim and volunteer Secretary, Lane Branch of Industrial Workers of the World; Linda Peterson, President of AFSCME Local #3214 and Board Member of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign; Guadalupe Quinn, Immigrant Rights Advocacy Program Coordinator, Amigos; John Evans, Co-Chair of Eugene-Springfield Solidarity Network/Jobs with Justice; local union member James Jacobson; Wes Shirley, External Relations Committee Chair, Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation, Local #3544; and Samantha Chirillo, Lane County Organizer of the Oregon Fair Trade Campaign. All groups mentioned are involved in the Lane County Fair Trade Campaign.

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