As part of its campaign against President Barack Obama getting unilateral trade authority, the AFL-CIO went after Democrat Rep. Kathleen Rice on Tuesday.
Despite agreeing on many policy areas, organized labor has longed opposed the president getting Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). Also known as fast-track, if passed by Congress the president could submit a finalized trade deal to that could not be amended or filibustered and would only need a straight up- or down-vote.
As the House moves to consider granting the president such authority, the AFL-CIO has led the way in opposing it with an all out media blitz. Rice has become a main target of the media campaign for moving against much of her own party to support the bill.
“Congresswoman Rice’s about-face on Fast Track is a complete betrayal not only to the constituents in the 4th Congressional District on Long Island but all working men and women across this country,” Mario Cilento, president of the New York State AFL-CIO, said in a statement.
The six-figure attack includes television ads in the New York area along with an organized rally. The AFL-CIO notes her congressional district is the most union-dense in the nation.
“The labor movement believed in the congresswoman, as did her constituents, when she promised to make the needs and concerns of working men and women a priority,” Cilento continued. “She has unfortunately buckled to the pressure from corporate interests and has made a conscious decision to vote for Fast Track legislation that will harm working people, our families and the economy.”
Fast-Track, if passed into law, would allow the president to much more easily pass his trade agenda, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). Unions, and many others on the left, claim the massive international trade deal will benefit corporations and special interests at the expense of working Americans and the environment.
TPP, with backing from fast-track, has created a lot of infighting on the left. While most Democrat lawmakers and unions oppose the trade deal, the president and those like Rice support it. Though much of his own party is fighting the deal, the president has found support among Republicans. Rice argues she put a lot of consideration into her decision and made it only after talking with working families, small business owners, organized labor leaders and the president.
“We cannot grow our economy and restore a prosperous American middle class without increasing American exports,” Rice wrote in an opinion piece for The Hill. “Economic isolation is not a path to broad-based opportunity when more than 95 percent of the world’s customers live in other countries. We must find a way to ensure that more middle-class customers around the world are buying more products made by middle-class American workers.”
The media campaign against Rice is just part of a larger move by the AFL-CIO to oppose the trade deal. On Monday, in collaboration with The Coalition to Stop Fast Track, the union announced plans to launch a series of television ads in Washington D.C., California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Louisiana, Massachusetts, Nebraska, North Carolina, Texas and Washington state. The union has also bought ads in The New York Times, Washington Post, Politico and The Hill.
Despite the adamant opposition among organized labor, Obama has promised the trade deal would include provisions that benefit unions. As Obama noted in a recent speech at Nike, the deal protect workers’ freedom to form unions in countries that previously did not have such protections.
“So when you look at a country like Vietnam, under this agreement, Vietnam would actually, for the first time, have to raise its labor standards,” Obama argues. “It would even have to protect workers’ freedom to form unions— for the very first time.”
In the “Labor and the Environment” section, the TPA bill dictates that any trade deal that comes about through it, whether it’s TPP or not, must adopt and maintain measures implementing internationally recognized core labor standards. If true, current unions may very well be granted access to millions of new workers from countries they previously did not.