The AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor federation, will support the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, marking the first time in nearly two decades that the labor group has endorsed a trade deal.
“Make no mistake, we demanded a trade deal that benefits workers and fought every single day to negotiate that deal; and now we have secured an agreement that working people can proudly support,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said in a statement.
The labor group’s endorsement makes it likely that a vote on the NAFTA replacement deal will clear Congress. Upon taking control of the House in 2018, Democrats demanded changes to the 25-year-old agreement after it was renegotiated by the Trump administration. The revised deal will strengthen the deal’s enforcement of labor and environment rules.
The last trade deal the AFL-CIO endorsed was the U.S.-Jordan Free Trade Agreement in 2001.
“The USMCA is far from perfect. It alone is not a solution for outsourcing, inequality or climate change. Successfully tackling these issues requires a full-court press of economic policies that empower workers, including the repeal of tax cuts which reward companies for shipping our jobs overseas,” Trumka said.
Politico is reporting that AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka will brief his executive council this afternoon on proposed changes to the new North American trade agreement, offering the latest sign that a compromise deal is in its final stages.
Two union officials with knowledge of the plans confirmed to POLITICO that the briefing will take place via conference call this afternoon. It comes after U.S. and Mexican negotiators spent last week and part of the weekend negotiating changes to the pact’s labor, enforcement, and other provisions to satisfy demands from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leaders.
POLITICO reported on Saturday that the U.S. and Mexico had resolved the major outstanding issues and were checking with all parties to see if further changes were needed.
Trumka told POLITICO this morning that a deal has “not yet” been finalized, “regardless of what’s said.”
Democrats have for months been working closely with Trumka in an attempt to reach a deal that organized labor can support — or at least will not openly oppose. An endorsement from the AFL-CIO, the country’s largest labor union, is likely to garner enough support for the USMCA from congressional Democrats to pass the deal in the House.
“We have pushed them hard and have done quite well,” Trumka said in an email to the Washington Post this morning.
“I do think that it would be a good idea if labor and the AFL-CIO and trade staff here in the House and the USTR would get together during the next 10 or 12 days,” Neal told reporters Wednesday after a meeting with the nine-member USMCA working group, which he leads, and Lighthizer. “I think that would be very helpful while we’re back in the district.”
House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal is calling for U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and his staff to engage directly with organized labor officials in an attempt to reach a compromise over labor and enforcement aspects of USMCA.
The comments highlight how outstanding differences over the pact’s labor standards, as well as enforcement of those standards, has emerged as one of the biggest remaining obstacles to House Democrats reaching a deal with Lighthizer. The two sides have been negotiating for months on changes to the deal in a handful of areas, including environmental aspects and drug pricing provisions.
Neither the AFL-CIO nor USTR immediately responded to requests for comment about whether they would be open to such a meeting or whether any plans are already in the works.
AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka was at the Capitol this week for meetings, first with Neal and Speaker Nancy Pelosi and later with the Congressional Progressive Caucus. Neal called the meeting with Trumka “very helpful,” adding: “The differences continue to narrow, and I remain optimistic.”
“I think everyone would acknowledge that Trumka is key,” added John Larson (D-Conn.), a member of the working group. “But I would say that while he’s not there yet, he certainly has been very positive about a number of the issues that they continue to discuss.”
One remaining concern among Democrats and Trumka is ensuring that Mexico fully implements its promised labor reforms. Neal added that Democrats also want to see USMCA end up strong enough on the labor front that it becomes a template for future trade deals.
Neal emphasized that the Democratic baseline is getting the commitments outlined in what’s known as the May 10 agreement to be “copper-fastened” in USMCA. The May 10 agreement, named for the day in 2007 that it was signed, requires countries to enforce a series of internationally recognized labor standards, including collective bargaining rights.
House members are scheduled to take a one-week recess starting Friday and will not return to Capitol Hill until Nov. 12. Neal said he made himself amenable to Lighthizer and would be available next week to continue discussions.
He also said he will be traveling to Canada next week to meet with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss USMCA. Neal similarly led a delegation to Mexico City last month to discuss the pact with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador.
The weeklong break and calls for more labor meetings suggest that a deal between Lighthizer and House Democrats is unlikely to happen until closer to mid-November.
“Every week it looks like the end of the tunnel is here,” Larson said, “and then it gets a little bit further.”