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As NAFTA Negotiations Begin, PA Labor And Political Leaders Voice Concern About Transparency

United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said Wednesday he supports a NAFTA rewrite but he's concerned President Donald Trump's closed-door meetings won't take workers' needs into consideration.

"During the re-negotiations, it's really important and urgent that workers' voices be heard so the labor movement in the United States, Canada and Mexico will work together to advance workers rights," Gerard said.

NAFTA, the long-held model for trade between the U.S., Canada and Mexico, has been credited with job loss in Pennsylvania's manufacturing sectors, particularly the steel industry. Trump's vocal opposition to the agreement during the election cycle made him popular among the commonwealth's blue collar voters.

Since taking office in January, Trumps's top trade advisor Robert Lighthizer has insisted the president's plan will favor U.S. workers, but some local labor and political leaders have been critical about the administration's lack of transparency.

U.S. Senator Bob Casey agrees that the current NAFTA agreement should be scrapped. He said that trade has historically been an issue that Republicans and Democrats could agree on in the interest of U.S. workers.

"We need a transformative process that will lead to the kinds of wage and environmental protections that will help workers in our country," Casey said.

All three nations have to informally agree on a revised NAFTA plan before it heads to Congress. Gerard said if that plan is deemed unsatisfactory in the eyes of manufacturing workers, they'll have to band together.

"If we can't mobilize to make sure Congress understands they would pay a price for bringing back a NAFTA that continued to be terrible for workers, continued to depress wages, continued to make us compete," he said, "Republicans will continue to turn a blind eye to this problem."

Kathleen J. Davis covers news about just about anything at WESA. She’s also the primary reporter and producer of WESA’s weekly series Pittsburgh Tech Report. Kathleen originally hails from the great state of Michigan, and is always available to talk about suburban Detroit and Coney Island diners. She lives in Bloomfield.