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CWA Raises Concerns About U.S Trade Agreement Model at Congressional Hearing

Cross-border collective bargaining and other reforms needed to build a new pro-worker model
Tuesday, March 26, 2019

At a hearing today before the Trade subcommittee of the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee, Shane Larson, Director of Legislation, Politics and International Affairs for the Communications Workers of America (CWA), testified that the current U.S. trade agreement model “undermines American jobs and the negotiating power of American workers” and highlighted key components of what a new pro-worker model of trade would look like (watch a video recap of the hearing here).

Larson’s testimony noted that, “CWA members have increasingly seen their jobs offshored, generally to countries where workers are denied fundamental human rights, routinely exploited and not paid a decent wage,” and explained that provisions of current trade policies, such as Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) policies, facilitate corporate offshoring that have led to direct harms for CWA members and other workers:

“The basic structure of our trade deals is set up to make it as easy as possible for companies to move jobs wherever they want …U.S. companies know that they can move jobs out of the country while still having strong legal, investment and intellectual property protections, access to the U.S. government procurement market, and a strong say in the regulatory process

… The downward pressure of offshoring is a major factor in ongoing wage stagnation for CWA members. Wages for U.S. customer service representatives have dropped by 2.7 percent over the last decade. Employers have told us at the bargaining table that they cannot increase wages for call center workers because they couldn’t compete with other companies who are offshoring the work.”

According to Larson, “NAFTA 2.0” does not adequately address these fundamental problems and Congress must send negotiators back to the table to achieve a better outcome for workers. Larson also called for a new vision of trade policy that goes “beyond tweaks to the existing trade model that has failed workers in order to build an economy that works for all of us.” This new pro-worker vision would include cross-border solidarity efforts among workers:

“[I]nstead of a trade system that is designed to enable multinational corporations to pit workers in different countries against one another, we should have a system that guarantees workers, in many cases at the same multinational corporation, the right to bargain collectively across borders.

CWA works closely with call center workers in the Philippines, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, and elsewhere as part of a solidarity effort to prevent companies from pitting us against one another. However, we currently have no legal protections for these efforts, despite the fact that this dynamic has created downward pressure on wages and standards for all workers on a global level. While trade agreements are structured to give corporations power to work across borders, workers have no similar ability to come together across to improve conditions.”

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