Congress will kick off 2014 by likely considering legislation that would allow bum trade deals to speed through Capitol Hill with little debate and no amendments. The Teamsters and others have been vocal on what a bad idea that would be. And it isn't hard to prove why.
Big business interests and some policymakers have been quick to laud deals like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as ones that would help the economy. But on the 20th anniversary of another must-have trade deal, NAFTA, Americans can see for themselves what such agreements have meant for rank-and-file workers.
Since the pact between the U.S., Mexico and Canada was ratified using fast-track trade authority, America has lost nearly 700,000 jobs. Jobs have been shipped across borders, gutting the middle class. Those who have continued to work have seen their pay slashed. Families who used to have a shot at the American dream are now living in a nightmare.
Corporate America loves to tout the growth in trade especially between the U.S. and Mexico due to NAFTA. But those dollars have largely gone into the pockets of top executives. Meanwhile, in Texas alone, workers and union affiliates of some 2,500 companies have filed petitions with the U.S. Department of Labor for training or temporary assistance due to job loss. That help, however, doesn't come close to matching the good-paying jobs that left.
The good news is in an era when bipartisanship on Capitol Hill seems dead, that's not the case with trade. Democrats and Republicans have taken aim at fast track, saying it will hurt not only workers but their families as well due to watered-down safety provisions when it comes to food and products. It could also drive up prescription drug prices, hurt the environment and reduce Internet freedom.
The Teamsters are all for open markets, as long as that doesn't mean trading good American jobs and high-quality products and food made here for lost jobs, lower wages and foods that make our families sick. When the U.S. negotiates a trade agreement, every provision should benefit working families, not just big corporations.
The problem with the TPP is that as it stands, the public doesn't know what's in it. Which raises the question how can constituents discuss the proposal with elected officials when they don't know what they should be concerned about? That, however, seems to be of little consequence to some in Congress.
Congressional committee chairmen who favor free trade have agreed to move forward with considering fast track soon after they return to Capitol Hill this month. They obviously believe they are doing the right thing for America. But is it right that corporations take in all of the gains while hard-working Americans get all of the pain? Is that what this country is really all about?
No one is against trade, just unfair trade. We've seen enough lost jobs, shuttered plants and abandoned communities. It's time to make things in America again. When is the U.S. going to approve an agreement that actually helps its own workers?
Letting people see what is included in the TPP is the first step towards letting them decide which direction the nation should take. The next step is to derail the old fast track and replace it with a process that allows Congress to fully debate the deal and make the TPP work for working families.
Follow James P. Hoffa on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Teamsters