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Friday, May 27, 2011

Bingaman and Udall Push for Trade Agreements to be Paired with Worker Protections

Senators Jeff Bingaman and Tom Udall report that they have written to President Obama to convey their support for his decision to insist on having a deal in hand to extend Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) before going forward with the pending trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.

In a letter to the President this week, Bingaman and Udall joined 40 other Senate colleagues to express their support for the TAA provisions that were enacted in 2009 and said they look forward to helping secure bipartisan support to extend that version of the program. The 2009 legislation made significant improvements to TAA, such as broadening eligibility to include workers in service industries, as well as workers who lose their jobs to countries such as China that have not signed free trade agreements with the United States. This version of TAA increases the Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) that helps beneficiaries pay for private health insurance.

Since 2009, nearly 2,500 New Mexicans have relied on TAA benefits; more than 60 percent of them were covered under the eligibility provisions that have since expired, according to the Senators.

For months, the minority party in the Senate has opposed extending TAA until the administration provided a path forward for the free trade agreement with Colombia.

“TAA has been a core pillar of U.S. trade policy. The program ensures that workers who lose their jobs and financial security as a result of globalization have an opportunity to transition to new jobs and emerging sectors of the economy. Important reforms were made to TAA in 2009, which have helped streamline the program and make it more efficient for beneficiaries. In 2009, Congress also expanded eligibility to all workers whose jobs have been moved offshore, regardless of whether the United States has a trade agreement with the particular country. It also recognized the important role of the service industry in the U.S. economy by bringing service workers into TAA.

“The program also improved and expanded access to TAA’s Health Coverage Tax Credit (HCTC) – an initiative that promotes private health insurance access for recipients, and makes health insurance coverage more affordable to workers who lose their jobs due to trade and offshoring. In the absence of this program, more Americans would need public assistance and more individuals nearing retirement would be forced to use the emergency room as their sole source of health care,” the letter states.

“These bipartisan reforms to the TAA program help hundreds of thousands of workers, in every state, by moving workers more quickly from government support to private sector jobs. Since new TAA began in May 2009, the program has assisted 185,000 Americans who may have otherwise been ineligible for services, with usage in some states increasing by more than 40 percent. Unfortunately, these critical TAA reforms expired on February 12, 2011.

“We share the goal of your National Export Initiative to double U.S. exports and are looking forward to working with you on implementing a strong trade and competitiveness strategy. We recognize, as you do, that such a deal will be challenging to secure because it requires significant bipartisan commitments in both chambers of Congress to vote in favor of a TAA extension. The challenge is worth it. We agree with you that strengthening the safety net for the middle class by extending TAA should be a prerequisite for the consideration of new trade agreements,” the letter continues.

May 27, 2011 at 09:39 AM in Labor, Obama Administration, Sen. Jeff Bingaman, Sen. Tom Udall, Trade | Permalink

Comments

When I read the title to the article, I thought it meant protections for the FOREIGN workers. You know, labor rights and safety standards on par with The United States of America.
Since, it really meant a band aid for the hemorrhaging gut wound that is our employment rate and middle class compensation, never mind. These trade deals are still a race to the bottom and have a proven track record of hurting our economy. As it is, we need to rescind all our previous trade agreements and go back to the drawing board refusing to do business with any country that oppresses labor and has no safety and environmental standards on par with us.
By export, I presume you mean agricultural export? Well, this country should not produce any more food than we need to feed ourselves. We can agree to export only to those nations that treat their people humanely and their lands and waters sustain-ably.
Let's make our trade about a race to the top. It is time to reverse this trend of ever cheaper labor under ghastly inhumane conditions with no regard for the environment.

Posted by: qofdisks | May 27, 2011 1:30:35 PM

This might be a baby step in the right direction. But it still seems to me that the Senators and most people who look at this issue grossly miss the opportunity to get this right.

The US Congress has the ability to look at the whole trade agreement issue in big picture, hemispheric terms, the way the big banks and multinationals do.

The amount of investment -including anything you might have in a checking acount, savings account or in any sort of stocks- that the US public has made over the decades in Central and South America has to be in the hundreds of Trillions (with a T) of dollars. That is a lot of force.

No one ever seems to ask what the dynamic causes are that force people to conclude they should uproot from ancient communities and risk everything to walk north. Among those causes are those promulgated by greedy oligarchic local leaders who would rather force people off their land and then force them to get out than actually deal with them as citizens. Land reform seldom gets anywhere because the oligarchies are bankrolled by the big banks who want to see large scale agribusiness replace local subsistence agriculture.

There are dozens of agreements in place, which could be reworked and there are more in the offing that ought to be brought up in light of a hemispheric interest in a greater balance of economic interests for everyone.

I hope this baby step is not the last step in this direction, and that this baby learns to walk a bit faster.

Posted by: Stuart Heady | May 29, 2011 2:51:24 PM