Top Labor Boss Talks Politics, Trade

  • April 23, 2019

Top Labor Boss Talks Politics, Trade   

The two articles shared here are provided to CUE as part of our subscription with POLITICO PRO.  The article on the new AFL-CIO political candidate endorsement process was written by Ian Kullgren.  The article on labor standards reform in Mexico was written by Doug Palmer.

AFL-CIO president details new endorsement process for 2020

The AFL-CIO will require Democratic candidates to get their hands dirty if they wish to receive an endorsement from the nation’s largest labor federation in 2020, president Richard Trumka said today.

Trumka, speaking to the Economic Club of Washington, detailed a new endorsement system that will involve candidates working with union members for several hours in order to receive an invitation to a larger forum later this year.

“We’re asking candidates to come out and actually work on the job with our members for half a day,” Trumka said.

Those who do will then meet with a panel of workers to take questions.

“If they do that,” Trumka said, “then we will invite them to a forum later in the year, probably in mid-September this year, where workers will ask questions and be able to do follow up.”

The new system speaks to the more cautious approach unions are taking after 2016, when portions of their membership who supported Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) felt burned by early union endorsements of Hillary Clinton.

The AFL-CIO, by contrast, didn’t endorse Clinton until June 2016, after the contest was essentially over. In 2020, Trumka suggested that the labor federation may not endorse a candidate at all in 2020.

“I guess it’s possible that we would not endorse a candidate,” Trumka said. “No matter how I answer that question it’s going to get misconstrued.”

Trumka: AFL-CIO needs proof Mexico will eliminate ‘sham union’ contracts

Union workers will need proof that Mexico will follow through on a promise to hold votes to potentially eliminate about 700,000 collective bargaining agreements before backing President Donald Trump’s new U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the head of the largest U.S. labor group said Tuesday.

“They have four years to eliminate all 700,000 protectionist contracts,” Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO said during an on-stage interview at the Economics Club of Washington. “That’s about 175,000 a year, and we haven’t seen them having the ability to do that.”

Trumka’s statement shows the problem Trump continues to have in persuading Democratic members of Congress to support his new trade deal.

In one positive for labor, the U.S. International Trade Commission’s recently estimated that the USMCA’s provisions could increase wages in Mexico by 17.2 percent.

“The agreement, if enforced, would strengthen labor standards and rights, including those related to collective bargaining in Mexico, which would promote higher wages and better labor conditions in that country,” the ITC said.

Trumka said Mexico needs to demonstrate they have the “infrastructure” in place to conduct those votes on the 700,000 collective bargaining agreements before the AFL-CIO can support the USMCA.

Mexico’s existing union contracts were negotiated by “sham unions that were actually part of the government,” Trumka said. “The sham union would go in with the government, negotiate an inferior low-wage contract, and workers didn’t even know they had a contract or were part of a union.”

The Trump administration says it has worked hard to address the AFL-CIO’s concerns in the new pact.

“What Mexico is doing on labor reforms is really revolutionary,” a senior U.S. trade officials told reporters last week. “Mexico’s agreed to go back and have verified secret ballot votes on all 700,000 existing collective bargaining agreements in their country. That’s not a small thing.”

The congressionally mandated ITC report also details many ways that the USMCA is an improvement over the 25-year-old NAFTA, which relegated labors provisions to an unenforceable side agreement.

In contrast, “USMCA labor provisions are subject to the same dispute settlement mechanism as other provisions in the agreement,” the ITC said.

USMCA also prohibits the three countries from eliminating or weakening their existing labor regulations to attract more investment and trade, the ITC said.

Union workers need proof on the ground that Mexico is capable of following through on that promise, starting with the adoption of new labor legislation, Trumka said.

The union chief said he would resist any appeal from the Trump administration to trust that they would take care of his concerns after USMCA is approved by Congress.

“I was born at night, but not last night,” Trumka said.