Representatives of labor unions, the Sierra Club and Central Valley-Sierra Progressives gathered Thursday in front of Rep. Jim Costa’s district office in downtown Fresno to urge the Democratic legislator to oppose a streamlined approval process for a politically divisive trade pact backed by President Obama.
The subject of their concern is the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a proposed trade agreement between the U.S. and 11 Pacific Rim nations. The labor organizations — the Central Labor Council of Fresno, Madera, Tulare and Kings counties, North Valley Labor Federation, Communication Workers of America Local 9408, Machinists Local 653, Laborers Local 294 — and others contend that a fast-track authority that the president wants for the trade deal is too broad, allows for too much secrecy in the trade negotiations and short-circuits congressional oversight. Instead, the fast-track process would allow the Obama administration to negotiate the agreement and bring it to Congress for an up-or-down vote with no opportunity to amend it.
“Groups which have traditionally united around Democratic issues and principles are at this time united against the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” said Stan Santos, representing the communication workers’ union. The partnership, he added, “could pass with very little knowledge” of how the measures contained in it will impact the Valley.
The trade agreement includes Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. The collection of countries represented a combined $698 billion in exports of goods and services from the United States in 2013, according to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.
The trade deal has made for some unusual political alliances. President Obama has the support of many Republicans in both houses of Congress, including the Senate and House leadership. But a cadre of congressional Democrats, traditional Democratic constituencies including labor, and conservative Tea Party representatives in Congress oppose giving the president the fast-track authority.
Organized labor is wary of TPP after union leaders say they lost a slew of jobs after the North American Free Trade Agreement was signed into law by President Clinton in 1993.
“We’re all dumbfounded that our president, Barack Obama, and our right-wing government that’s in charge of the Houses of Representatives and the Senate — who haven’t agreed on anything in the whole time they’ve been together in Washington — have found one thing to agree on: shipping jobs overseas through the Trans Pacific Partnership,” said Dillon Savory, political director of the Central Labor Council.
“Congress members are not doing their job in not investigating why the Trans Pacific Partnership is being negotiated in secret,” Savory added. “The people who are at the table are heads of corporations and lobbyists, and they won’t let the public, labor organizations” participate.
Gary Lasky, conservation and legal chairman for the Sierra Club’s Tehipite chapter in the central San Joaquin Valley, said the national Sierra Club fears that provisions of the trade bill would derail state and local enforcement of rules to protect the environment. “In California, we have those protections, but if this were to pass, our ability to protect our citizens from environmental degradation or harm to our health will be diminished,” Lasky said. “The environment and labor speak together on this. We are opposed to TPP and we are opposed to fast-track.”
Costa’s office did not respond Thursday to an email query from The Bee about his position on TPP and the fast-track legislation, formally known as the Trade Promotion Authority. Santos and Savory said it is their understanding that Costa favors the trade deal but has taken no official position on fast-tracking the agreement. “Congressman Costa is one of only 24 Democrats who has decided to side with the Republicans,” Savory said.
Representatives Devin Nunes, R-Tulare, and David Valadao, R-Hanford, both support the trade agreement and the fast-track authority, as does House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield.
“Using Trade Promotion Authority to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership will benefit California agriculture and provide for tremendous trade expansion,” Valadao said. “American agriculture supports thousands of jobs and families; our farmers and ranchers can compete with anyone in the world when provided a level playing field.”
Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Elk Grove, is also on the record as supporting fast-track legislation. Another Valley Republican, Rep. Jeff Denham of Turlock, was one of about two dozen GOP representatives who last year urged caution about ceding too much authority under fast-track to President Obama. But Denham is taking more of a wait-and-see approach to the overall trade deal. “Our Valley economy depends on our agricultural exports. A partnership with other counties that increases trade will also increase job growth locally,” he said in a statement issued Thursday. “I look forward to seeing the full details of the agreement, which have yet to be made public.”