Railroad Unions in U.S., Mexico, Canada Unite for Friendlier NAFTA (1)

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By Jacquie Lee

Railroad unions in the U.S., Mexico, and Canada are calling for worker-friendly provisions and cross-border infrastructure improvements as U.S. officials push to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Railroad divisions of the Teamsters in the U.S. and Canada and the Railwaymen’s Union in Mexico sent a letter April 9 to Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative; Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s foreign affairs minister; and Ildefonso Guajardo Villarreal, Mexico’s secretary of the economy. The three have been leading talks on redrafting the 1994 trade agreement between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada.

The crux of the demands surrounds how the rail workers change positions once one group reaches the border of another country. The Teamsters want to ensure freight trains stop at the border and crews switch immediately. Sometimes trains drive into U.S. territory and circumvent U.S. freight workers, Mike Dolan, a trade policy specialist for the Teamsters, told Bloomberg Law. This cuts back on how much U.S. Teamsters work and endangers their jobs, Dolan said.

“Whether that’s 100 jobs or 1,000 jobs, it’s jobs that are at risk,” Dolan said. The three unions represent about 143,000 rail operators, engineers, and track maintenance workers, he said.

The unions want contractual language in NAFTA to prevent that from happening to U.S., Canadian, and Mexican union members. The letter also requests each country invest 2 percent of its annual gross domestic product into building, repairing, and maintaining infrastructure between the three countries.

About a fourth of all U.S. imports are from Canada and Mexico. The two nations are, respectively, the second and third largest suppliers of imported goods to the U.S., according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The letter comes as U.S. officials are pushing to draft a preliminary NAFTA by mid-April. An initial draft probably won’t be ready until the first week of May, Guajardo said April 9.

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