By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Detroit News, January 14, 2015
President Barack Obama came to Michigan last week to shine a light on how the federal government’s auto bailout helped secure a brighter economic future for state residents and all Americans. His visit was part of a broader effort by the administration to discuss U.S. growth in the wake of the Great Recession.
Obama’s victory lap tour of a Ford plant in Wayne was well-deserved. The money loaned as part of the bailout saved tens of thousands of jobs in the state, not only of those working on the assembly lines of GM and Chrysler, but those who work for parts manufacturers, those who run restaurants in town, and even local public employees paid through tax revenues. Saving Michigan from such a disaster stopped the nation from entering a depression. And it allowed the state and nation to bounce back quicker.
“We’ve now had a 57 month streak of private sector job creation,” Obama told those in attendance. “We’ve created nearly 11 million new jobs. That’s the longest stretch in our history of the private sector, uninterrupted job creation.”
Those are all very good things that should be applauded. But they shouldn’t be taken for granted. That’s why it is difficult to understand why the White House wants to jeopardize job growth by having Congress quickly push through bad trade agreements and vetoing the Keystone XL pipeline project.
Allowing deals like the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to breeze through Capitol Hill using fast-track trade promotion authority — with no opportunity for amendments and little debate — hurts democracy. But more than that, it jeopardizes the livelihoods of potentially millions of workers here and abroad. We know that because it has happened repeatedly with NAFTA, the normalization of trade with China and other trade deals.
The TPP could also strike at the heart of the industry the president is lauded for helping save. One significant criticism of the Pacific Rim trade pact is that because it doesn’t address currency manipulation, other nations will drive up the cost of American goods while at the same time making their goods cheaper. Japan has been specifically called out for the practice, and new Rep. Debbie Dingell warned about the effect currency manipulation could have on U.S. automakers during a Capitol Hill press conference last week.
With Congress set to consider fast track in the coming weeks, it’s time to educate both the public and elected officials about the dangers of unfair trade. Less jobs, lower pay, less worker protections and unsafe food and products isn’t good for anyone except big business.
Meanwhile, the administration is also passing on an opportunity to create jobs with its threat to veto the approval of the Keystone XL pipeline. That’s a mistake, as construction of the pipeline from Oklahoma to the Canadian border would provide good-paying construction jobs. In turn, the temporary workers would infuse local communities with additional revenue while they complete their work.
It is time for Obama to change his positions on trade and the pipeline. To do otherwise risks hobbling thousands of middle-class workers just trying to support their families and potentially taking the shine off his admirable job-growth legacy. No one wants that to happen.