By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Detroit News, May 3, 2017
The Trump administration and Congress are ramping up efforts to consider changes to trade and health care policy in the coming days. And for workers in Michigan and across the U.S., much is at stake. Both issues offer an opportunity for the White House and Capitol Hill to put aside partisan differences and work together to fix these serious problems.
Plans to revamp the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), for example, could hold the key to getting hundreds of thousands of people back to work in good-paying jobs. With Senate confirmation of Robert Lighthizer as the next U.S. Trade Representative imminent, as well as President Trump’s announcement that he has reached an agreement with Mexican President Nieto and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau to begin the process of renegotiation, changes to NAFTA will be coming soon. This is a complicated deal that must be looked at carefully to ensure the right fixes are made.
To that end, “NAFTA 2.0” must address the failures of the current agreement. That means curtailing the dangerous problem of Mexican-domiciled trucks being allowed to cross the U.S. border without concern to whether they are following our laws. Changes must be made that would require foreign-based vehicles and drivers entering this country to meet our highway safety and environmental standards.
But they must not stop there. There is no reason that the federal government shouldn’t be allowed to favor American companies when it purchases goods or services it needs. President Trump recently signed an executive order expanding the reach of the “Buy American” program, and it should be up to elected officials to decide what company is best to handle its needs, not a trade pact.
Multi-national corporations, in turn, shouldn’t be able to usurp U.S. laws they don’t like by appearing before business-friendly tribunals with the power to punish taxpayers with their rulings. This investor state dispute resolution provision became a rallying cry against the now-defeated Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) for good reason, and there is no reason why NAFTA should contain such language either.
And currency manipulation also remains a problem that needs to be taken on. A new NAFTA must include a chapter with enforceable sanctions against the practice. The pact also needs to protect jobs and the people who do them. That means beefing up worker protections beyond what was even offered as part of the failed TPP. Exploitation cannot be part of any future trade pact.
But the concerns of U.S. workers don’t end with trade. As I mentioned last month, having quality health care is a major concern for the public. And while it previously appeared Congress was done with its efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, it unfortunately now seems it’s back on the table.
Nothing has changed from the Teamsters’ perspective. This is still a bad proposal that instead of fixing and reforming the flaws of ACA falls woefully short of providing good health care options to those in need. Congress also seems intent on keeping the provision that would apply a huge tax on comprehensive, low-deductible health benefits largely provided by union-sponsored plans. The current proposal is unacceptable and should be sent back for further negotiations.
Workers deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, both in trade agreements and when it comes to having quality medical care. The path to do so is clear for elected officials. It’s time for them to work together to solve these issues.