Automotive unions should support the renegotiation of NAFTA

  • Canada-Retail-Fear-2

    The United States, Canada, and Mexico have engaged in a series of talks surrounding a re-negotiation of NAFTA.


  • U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks at the 9th China Business Conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on May 1.
    U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer speaks at the 9th China Business Conference at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Washington on May 1.

    Where are American unions on the trade issue and the rewriting of the North American Free Trade Agreement?

    Their silence is deafening.

    JACK LESSENBERRY: As NAFTA goes, so goes the nation

    According to the Wall Street Journal, Robert Lighthizer, the U.S. trade representative and the intellectual point man in the Trump administration on trade, “is reworking NAFTA to require that 40 percent of the content of any car that trades duty-free within the North American bloc must come from workers who earn above a particular wage level.”

    This initiative is aimed at Mexico, where General Motors and Ford are heavily invested in manufacturing cars.

    Volkswagen and Nissan make cars there too, and there is a reason — cheap labor.

    Mexican auto assembly workers typically make less than $8 an hour. Workers in parts plants make less than $4 an hour.

    Members of the United Auto Workers in the United States hired before 2007 make about $29 an hour. Those hired after that start at $17 and can reach the higher wage in eight years.

    Canadian auto workers are generally unionized and are actually compensated at a slightly higher $35 an hour, but their cost of living is 23 percent higher than that of their U.S. brethren.

    The Lighthizer reform is a “progressive” one — guaranteed to provide a better standard of living for Mexican workers or a return of auto workers’ jobs to the United States. A little of both could quite possibly be the result.

    Surely this is the kind of rewriting of NAFTA that should have happened years ago. It is just, humane, and good trade policy. It will help real human beings to feed their families — whether in the U.S. or Mexico.

    Mr. Lighthizer is an old trade hand who first began working on the issue in the Reagan administration, but he is also much praised by Democrats like Rep. Marcy Kaptur and Sen. Sherrod Brown, both of Ohio. He was born and raised in the Lake Erie town of Ashtabula, Ohio, one of many places wrecked by NAFTA. He knows the depths of human devastation that bad trade policy has wrought.

    So where is the progressive support for this small but meaningful step?

    One is not surprised that the New York Times is not supportive, but where are the labor leaders?

    If this move came from President Bernie Sanders, would the unions not be ecstatic?

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    The only labor leader to speak up for trade policies that actually help American workers is United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard, who praised President Donald Trump for imposing tariffs on steel and opposing steel dumping. He said steel workers would not forget it and that he’s been trying to get Democrats to fight for steel jobs for 30 years.

    Now the Trump administration is saying: If you make cars in Mexico, you have to pay a living wage or there will be a tariff — what the United Auto Workers have been saying for 30 years.

    “American” cars built in Mexico are built on cheap labor. They ought not to get in to our market without a trade penalty.

    And if GM and Ford have to pay Mexican workers what they would otherwise pay U.S. workers, that probably means more jobs in Lordstown and Flat Rock, ultimately.

    Where are the UAW leaders who will say to Mr. Lighthizer: “Thank you, and right on”?