10/08/2013 04:17 pm ET Updated Oct 09, 2013

Unions Need Global Solidarity

In a few short decades, our country and our world have changed dramatically. In the last 30 years, America has gone from the world's biggest creditor nation to the one holding the world's largest debt.

Unfair trade agreements have gutted American manufacturing and other industries. Millions of good jobs have left our shores or disappeared entirely. And the gap between the rich and poor has widened as our middle class has been stuck footing the bill for corporate welfare, bank bailouts and other bad policies that protect big business and punish working families.

Multinational corporations have never been bigger and more influential in Washington than they are today. Companies like Wal-Mart and McDonald's are multiplying, as are concerns about fair wages and working conditions. Big Teamster employers like UPS, First Student, ABInBev and many others also have a global reach and as big business becomes more international, labor must also keep pace by coordinating and partnering with other unions on a worldwide scale. What is needed is a beefed-up global labor presence where unions work together on behalf of all workers.

Agreements like the one I signed last month on behalf of the Change to Win coalition with an 8 million-member labor federation in Brazil called UGT are the future of the union movement. As part of our alliance, we agreed to join together to increase workers' rights and to conduct exchanges to learn from one another's practices. We also agreed to support each other's campaigns and to link up where appropriate to fight for workers.

This isn't the first time U.S. unions have held discussions with other international unions. In recent years I've met with labor officials in Australia, France, India and the U.K. to discuss how we can find common ground and work on behalf of our members. But the agreement with UTG is an important step. And it is the future of the union movement.

We see the challenges before us. While employment is on the upswing, wages are not. A new U.S. Census Bureau report notes that median family income was flat in 2012, despite the creation of two million new jobs. As it stands, the average U.S. household income is now less than it was in 1989. That's not gonna cut it.

Why is this happening? A drop in union membership, for one. In 1983, 20.1 percent of workers belonged to unions. Now, that number is at 11.3 percent. It is a proven fact that union jobs pay better than non-union ones. So that right there shows you why wages have decreased.

But that's not the only reason. Unfair trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement eviscerated good-paying manufacturing jobs, putting more than 3 million U.S. workers out of work. And more so-called "free" trade deals currently being negotiated like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) would add to those totals.

This is why we need to join hands with our brothers and sisters across the globe. We have similar interests. We all want our workers to be able to continue working in safe conditions all while receiving an honest wage. We also realize that trade agreements like the TPP and TTIP could lead to more union jobs flowing out of our borders to places where children toil in sweatshops for meager wages. No workers benefit from that arrangement.

Governments increasingly don't have workers' backs. But you know who does? Other union workers. It doesn't matter whether we are from the U.S. or another nation. The Teamsters already represent members from the U.S. and Canada, so this isn't about nationalism.

What it is about, however, is fairness. And that is something union men and women know something about.