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The UAW and Free Trade Agreements

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In 2010, two major unions, the United Auto Workers and the United Food and Commercial Workers, supported the Obama Administration’s free trade deal with South Korea because they thought it would increase American exports of autos and packaged meat, respectively.

The UAW now regrets this stance, remembering that free trade agreements almost universally hurt unions.

United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams says he’s strongly opposed to the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement. The UAW supported the Korea Free Trade agreement, but that was then.

Williams says the UAW regrets having supported the Korea Free Trade deal because it cost jobs.

[Dennis Williams]: “And I can tell you right now – from what we’ve seen if we had it to do over again we would not support the Korean agreement. We’ve lost 75,000 jobs in manufacturing today since we signed that agreement and the deficit continues to rise. That’s not a fair trade agreement. And this is a good example to say enough. We need a real trade agreement that has real teeth to protect working men and women in this country.”

Williams says these trade agreements amplify the concern the union has about automakers building cars in cheap labor market nations for sale here in the U.S. He says that’s a bad deal for U.S. workers and their communities.

[Dennis Williams]: “When you look at what has occurred since NAFTA and the amount of jobs we have lost to NAFTA. And the fact that companies – and not just the big three but Nissan and Toyota and Volkswagen and a lot of other companies – are investing in Mexico. And if you look at the amount of vehicles that are being built in Mexico and then imported into the United States. That’s a good example of how trade agreements are not effective in this country. And that’s unfair to the American taxpayer and that’s unfair to the American people. And it’s unfair to UAW members.”

Unions supporting free trade agreements was a terrible idea in 2010 and it remains so in 2016. At least the UAW has learned. Obama promised then that the agreement took labor’s concerns into account in an unprecedented way. UAW leadership believed that six years ago. Obama is saying the same thing about the TPP. The UAW does not believe that now. Nor should it.

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