AFL-CIO’s Trumka laughs at Trump’s suggestion unions love new trade deal

  • June 18, 2019

President Donald Trump has repeatedly said unions are supportive of the new North American trade pact, as he ramps up his push for Congress to approve the deal this summer. But the head of America’s largest labor organization thinks Trump’s claim is laughable.

“Maybe he’s talking about the unions in some other country?” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told POLITICO, laughing at Trump’s suggestion that unions are “in favor” of the deal his administration negotiated with Mexico and Canada to replace NAFTA.

“I don’t have a clue” where Trump gets that from, Trumka said, “because we’re pretty united.” Unions in the U.S., he warned, will not support the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement in its current form.

The AFL-CIO and other major unions like United Automobile Workers have said the USMCA features some improvements for workers compared with NAFTA, but the Trump administration still has work to do to earn their backing.

And while ratification of the USMCA is Trump’s top legislative priority this year, getting the deal approved in the Democrat-controlled House could hinge on the administration’s ability to address the shared concerns of House Democrats and organized labor, such as securing changes to bolster enforcement of the pact.

Trumka emphasized that labor unions want to support USMCA, but he cautioned the administration to allow time for negotiations with House Democrats to play out.

“We still have a lot of work to do and rushing this thing or trying to push it through to a vote will backfire, because if people were forced to vote on the current text, they would have to vote ‘no,'” Trumka said in an interview Monday, ahead of a three-day NAFTA town hall series the AFL-CIO is hosting in Pennsylvania, Ohio and Michigan.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democrats have made clear that the administration must make changes to the deal’s provisions on enforcement, labor, the environment, and drug pricing before a final vote can be held. Last week, Pelosi appointed nine House Democrats to four committees that will negotiate proposed changes on those topics with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer.

Lighthizer has been active in courting congressional support for the deal. He has expressed a desire to get the pact approved with backing from a large number of Democrats and held numerous meetings with Democratic lawmakers in an effort to listen to their concerns.

The U.S. trade chief has repeatedly told Democrats he does not want to send Congress legislation to implement the trade deal until Pelosi gives her blessing.

But in recent weeks, House Democrats and insiders tracking the deal increasingly believe that other administration officials are growing impatient and want to move more quickly by sending the bill to Capitol Hill without Pelosi’s support.

“There are people in the Trump administration that are trying to rush this thing through and I think it’s a terrible, foolish strategy because it will blow up in their face,” Trumka said. “I think the reasonable people in the Trump administration know it’s more important to get this right than to do it tomorrow.”

If the administration decides to make a pressure play, Pelosi could short-circuit consideration of the deal by removing it from the so-called fast-track procedure Congress agreed to under the Trade Promotion Authority legislation. That process allows the deal to be approved in an up-or-down vote by a simple majority in both chambers, in an effort to provide for speedier approval of trade deals.