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Why U.S. Workers Want Fair Trade, Not Free Trade

Jobs Lost in Trade AgreementsAmerican workers know that free trade means lost jobs. It happened under the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) negotiated 20 years ago. It happened under the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement negotiated last year. Overall, NAFTA resulted in a loss of nearly 700,000 jobs. Promoters of the Korean trade agreement promised that 70,000 new U.S. jobs would be created; instead, U.S. workers already have lost 40,000 jobs.  It’s not only manufacturing jobs that are at risk. U.S. corporations already are projected to shift 3.4 million service sector jobs offshore between 2003 and 2015 in their pursuit of the lowest possible labor costs, non-existent workers’ rights and little or no workplace regulation. The TPP trade deal would make an already bad situation far worse. 

More than 500,000 U.S. call center jobs have gone overseas just in the past five years. And countries like the Philippines, which is building a huge base of 700,000 call center agents primarily serving the U.S. market, are looking to join the TPP too.

One way we can stop this hemorrhaging of good American jobs is by convincing Congress to pass the U.S. Call Center Worker and Consumer Protect Act of 2013 (H.R. 2909 and S. 1565). We call it “Press One for America.” The legislation would require all call center employees to identify the country from which they are taking each phone call, and if they are outside the United States, they must offer the consumer the opportunity to be transferred back to an operator based in the U.S.  In addition, it would create a publicly available “bad actor” list of all employers that relocate their call center or customer service work overseas; these businesses would be barred from receiving federal loans, grants or subsidies for three years.

The bill has support from both Democrats and Republicans, though last year House Republicans blocked it from being considered in Congress.

The call center bill won’t mean anything unless Congress kills “fast track” authorization for the TPP. If the TPP is ratified, legislation like the call center bill that would protect U.S. jobs could be challenged and invalidated by foreign corporations and countries.  Even more tech, IT and call center jobs will head offshore. Leaks of some of the chapters have given us a look at what TPP would mean for jobs.

How bad is TPP for U.S. jobs?

  • Corporate rights would be greatly expanded, with new protections for investment. The goal: to make it even safer for corporations to invest offshore in lower-wage countries. (Covered in the TPP Investment Chapter).
  • The U.S. government – and possibly state governments – would be barred from giving any preference to U.S.-based firms and workers when awarding contracts. As a result, corporations in any of the 12 TPP countries would have equal rights to bid on U.S. taxpayer funded contracts. (Covered in the TPP Procurement Chapter).
  • TPP would explicitly forbid the U.S. – or any country – from requiring that a foreign firm set up a domestic operation to provide services. This would allow call centers in foreign countries to supply services to the U.S. without employing any U.S. workers. (Covered in the “trade in cross border services” texts.)
  • Corporations would be able to challenge U.S. laws that don’t closely follow any of these and other TPP provisions. For example, under the investment chapter of the TPP, corporations could challenge the call center bill based on an adverse impact on “expected future profits.” It would be heard in international UN or World Bank tribunals, bypassing our democratic legislative and judicial system. And U.S. taxpayers could be forced to pay up. (Covered in the TPP Investment Chapter).

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