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By Jaclyn Diaz
Organized labor is raising concerns about the Trump administration’s recent announcements on trade and his negative comments about Canada.
President Donald Trump criticized Canada’s trade practices, tweeting June 9 that Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau made “false statements” and that the U.S.'s neighbor “is charging massive Tariffs to our U.S. farmers, workers and companies.”
Labor leaders from the AFL-CIO, the United Steelworkers, and the International Brotherhood of Teamsters stressed in conversations with Bloomberg Law that Canada is not the enemy in the trade fight.
The administration needs to focus on issues affecting U.S. workers in negotiations over a new North American Free Trade Agreement, they said. That includes tariffs against China, labor protections for Mexican workers, and stronger rules of origin used to determine where a product is made and therefore what tariffs and restrictions might be imposed on them.
“Tariffs are a legitimate form of economic weaponry to go after people who are violating the rules. We didn’t particularly think that Canada was a serious violator of the rules,” AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told Bloomberg Law. “We have a number of those who cheat and manipulate the rules, and we want to go after those groups of people.”
Trump has complained that various countries have taken advantage of the U.S. on trade, hurting U.S. workers and industries. He has countered by withdrawing from or renegotiating trade deals and imposing tariffs. The White House did not respond to a request for comment June 13.
Renegotiating NAFTA and supporting trade policies that help U.S. workers are top priorities for labor and particularly for the United Auto Workers.
Trade came up multiple times at the UAW convention in Detroit this week.
It’s certainly on the minds of the members who spoke in support of a new resolution passed June 13 that recommits the union to pushing policy makers harder on developing fair-trade agreements that support U.S. workers. Many jobs and plants have been lost because of unfair trade deals that allow companies to outsource jobs to foreign companies, some members said.
Trumka, Teamsters president James P. Hoffa, Steelworkers president Leo Gerard, and departing UAW president Dennis Williams currently sit on trade policy advisory committees with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. Williams is set to retire this week, but his successor, Gary Jones, will participate in his place.
The Trump administration imposed metal tariffs on Canada, Mexico, and the EU and has ordered an investigation into auto imports under Section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act of 1962. The administration is expected to release sometime soon a list of Chinese goods that will be hit by a 25 percent tariff from the U.S.
The Steelworkers support tariffs but are against countries whose policies have cost Americans jobs, Gerard said.
Tariffs should go against countries, such as China, that have deliberately created an oversupply of steel “so they could flood the markets,” he said. “There is no rational reason to have any tariffs on Canada.”
Gerard said he isn’t concerned that Trump’s moves against Canada and Mexico could jeopardize NAFTA talks, but he reiterated that “Canada is not the enemy and neither is Mexico.”
Trumka, Hoffa, Gerard, and Williams have said any new NAFTA deal must take into consideration U.S. workers first.
That means, especially for the UAW and its members who work in the auto manufacturing industry, getting the Trump administration to focus on strengthening requirements for autos to be built in the U.S. and other NAFTA countries.
Unions also want to see in a new NAFTA a policy that establishes higher wages and improved labor protections for Mexican workers. This would make companies less inclined to ship jobs overseas.
“Raise wages there so there isn’t this push for corporations to leave America and take jobs there,” Hoffa told Bloomberg Law.
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