May 15, 2014
This week marks the second anniversary of the Colombia Trade Agreement. It's a perfect example of why unions, environmentalists and our community allies know better than to accept the empty promises now being offered by advocates of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
CWA, other unions, the AFL-CIO and many organizations opposed the Colombian trade deal. And just as we're hearing with the TPP, there were a lot of promises made by top U.S. trade officials. There would be strong labor and environmental standards built in, and we could help raise the standards and conditions for Colombian workers. Of course, that didn't happen.
Three years ago, we were told that the labor action plan would address the violence that targets union leaders in Colombia. We were assured that there would be legal reforms so that workers could be considered employees, not subcontractors or working for cooperatives and ineligible for government benefits like social security. The overwhelming majority of Colombian workers don't even have the most basic labor rights. That hasn't changed under the free trade agreement. We also were told that criminal prosecutions of companies that repress workers' rights would be pursued.
None of that has happened. In the three years since the action plan was signed, another 73 Colombian unionists were killed. Last year, 26 were murdered. Since 1986, 3,000 union workers and activists have been murdered, just because they wanted a union.
Workers are no closer to being classified as employees instead of contractors, and not one fine has been paid by a company for violating workers' rights.
So we have good reason to be skeptical about the TPP. One of the TPP countries is Vietnam, where labor rights are non-existent, minimum wages are 28 cents an hour, average wages are 75 cents an hour, and there is no leverage for that government to change anything. The TPP trade ministers now are finishing up talks in Vietnam, then will go to Singapore to review where things stand.
CWA President Larry Cohen told radio host Ed Schultz that "about a quarter of our economy is tradeable, that means both manufacturing and service sector jobs are affected and the work can be done anywhere. For the jobs that remain here, wages also are dragged down."
"The Democratic caucus needs to tell the White House, 'we hope you don't expect to get your votes for this trade deal from (Speaker) Boehner and Republicans. We want a commitment that there will be no fast track until the majority of this caucus supports the TPP. There will be no fast track unless this caucus supports TPP,'" he said.