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Union head Trumka: Better trade deal needed

YOUNGSTOWN — National AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka believes the North American Free Trade Agreement is bad for labor, and the revised proposal isn’t much better.

“The major concern we have is the enforcement. This agreement as it’s currently constituted can’t be enforced,” Trumka said Tuesday. “There’s actually three levels of enforcement we are concerned with.”

The United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), also referred to by some as NAFTA 2.0, also doesn’t stop jobs and investment from being sucked from the U.S. as long as workers in Mexico continue to earn artificially low rock-bottom wages and provides a monopoly for the pharmaceutical industry, Trumka said.

He was at the Youngstown Historical Center of Industry and Labor to lead a roundtable discussion with at least 20 local union leaders on the need to demand a better agreement. It was among several in a multi-state trip with other stops happening in Cleveland, Akron, Toledo, Pittsburgh and Detroit.

The Mexican government has agreed to change the country’s labor laws and pledged to within four years create a new court system for labor, a new labor department and employ and train inspectors to enforce the labor laws, but worry surrounds the promises, Trumka said, over Mexico’s ability to fulfill the pledge.

“Because if they don’t enforce their labor laws, the old wage model will prevail, and they will continue to suck jobs out of the United States and continue to suck investment out of the United States,” Trumka said. “So we are waiting to see what the infrastructure is, what the resources are.”

The proposal also would install a 10-year waiting period in the pharmaceutical industry before companies can begin to produce — or even begin research on — a generic alternative to a name brand drug, Trumka said.

“They have a 10-year continent-wide monopoly on drugs, which will cause drug prices to raise up. We think that is ridiculous. Drug prices are too high now,” Trumka said.

Dave Green, president of United Auto Workers 1112, placed the local automotive industry job loss squarely at the feet of NAFTA. There were at least 300,000 UAW / General Motors workers in the U.S. when he began with the company; there is now less than 48,000. He also noted the 15,000 jobs gone with Delphi’s departure.

“These were good-paying jobs; they didn’t come easy. People worked hard, but they got a fair day’s work for a fair day’s pay. And if it wasn’t for this (expletive), those jobs would still be here, a good portion of those jobs … I hope everybody walks out of here today and recognizes this does affect you and this will affect every working person in this country,” Green said.

The Trump administration on May 30 started the process for submitting a bill to Congress to implement the trade deal with Canada and Mexico. The procedural step included submission of a draft statement of administrative action and final legal text of the agreement as it now stands.

United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said the move does not begin a countdown for a vote, but it would ensure Congress had sufficient time to consider approving USMCA before the August recess, “if leadership deems that appropriate.”

Supporters say the proposal is good for Ohio, which last year exported $21 billion and $6.8 billion to Canada and Mexico, said Jane Timken, chairwoman of the Ohio Republican Party. The amounts are more than 51 percent of the state’s total exports.

For the U.S., Timken said the deal would add more than $68.2 billion to the economy, bring more than 176,000 new jobs and increase gross domestic product growth and grow U.S. exports.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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