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Labor Leaders Smile, But Local Congressional Democrats Quiet On Revised Trade Deal

Susan Walsh
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, accompanied by House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, announced Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019, that House Democrats had worked with the Trump Administration to renegotiate a trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

An updated trade deal between the U.S., Mexico, and Canada garnered generally positive reaction from organized labor Tuesday. But western Pennsylvania’s Democratic congressmen, Mike Doyle and Conor Lamb – who enjoy strong support from unions – have yet to offer their opinions.

Details of the agreement brokered between Democrats and the Trump administration were still emerging Tuesday. But the pact reportedly includes closer monitoring of labor standards in Mexico – a critical demand for U.S. labor groups – as well as higher wage standards for automobile manufacturers and reworked trade provisions for dairy and pharmaceuticals.

Locally, Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council President Darrin Kelly threw his support behind the USMCA agreement in a statement Tuesday, saying the deal includes “unprecedented labor and enforcement provisions.”

Pennsylvania AFL-CIO President Rick Bloomingdale struck a more guarded tone: Calling the USMCA deal “a significant first step forward,” he stopped short of offering his full endorsement.

“We haven’t seen a lot of the details,” he said, “but it is a much better trade agreement than we’ve seen probably ever because workers were at the table.”

House Democrats and labor groups across the country hailed the new trade deal Tuesday, saying it strengthens labor and environmental standards.

Democrats announced the negotiations had succeeded moments after the AFL-CIO’s national organization tweeted its support for the updated pact.

A major federation of unions, the AFL-CIO represents a key constituency for Democrats. It and other labor groups opposed an earlier version of the USMCA deal, which the three-member countries had approved more than a year ago. So Democrats, who control the House, spent months negotiating a new deal with the Trump Administration before agreeing to support the pact.

Bloomingdale, of the AFL-CIO’s Pennsylvania chapter, suggested the agreement should include stronger protections to prevent outsourcing of U.S. jobs to Mexico.

Frank Snyder, Secretary-Treasurer for the Pennsylvania AFL-CIO, added that it’s too early to tell whether, in practice, the deal will benefit workers.

“It’s going to [take] several months to see if it plays itself out the way that it’s intended and [if] the parties keep their words,” Snyder said. “We’re going to wait and see, and we’re going to try to do everything that we can to participate to keep folks honest in this process, at least in Pennsylvania.”

Snyder noted that organized labor enjoyed significant influence over the updated USMCA agreement. And he said he trusted national leaders at the AFL-CIO and other unions to continue to play an important role in shaping the deal.

While Pittsburgh-area Democratic U.S. Reps. Doyle and Lamb declined to comment on the agreement Tuesday afternoon, the region’s Republican congressmen have been supportive: Guy Reschenthaler and Mike Kelly joined 160 Republican members of the House Monday in a letter to U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging a vote ratifying the deal before the end of 2019.

But Senator Pat Toomey, a Republican who has long been critical of Trump's protectionist trade policy, reportedly called the newly reworked deal a "big mistake" that represented a "complete capitulation" to Democrats and their allies in labor.

A full House vote could come as early as next week, though the Senate will not act on the measure until next year.