Union leaders say the new United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) “undermines the interests of working people,” but Democrats in the House are pushing to pass the trade deal anyway. It’s a move that could prompt more union members to vote for Trump again in 2020.
The Intercept reported that the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC), Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.) is pressuring House Democrats to approve the renegotiated NAFTA agreement.
But unions are pretty unhappy with the USMCA, and Bustos reportedly said that they “will have to get over it.”
The American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) said in a September statement that unions of America cannot support the USMCA in its current form.
“We will oppose any agreement that undermines the interests of working people,” the AFL-CIO said. “In light of the administration’s plan to submit the new NAFTA for a vote this fall, we reiterate that if changes are not made, the labor movement will do everything in our power to defeat it.”
The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) released a paper earlier this year arguing that the USMCA’s expected impact on labor is grossly exaggerated and that the USMCA in its current form is unlikely to help wages or employment rise in the U.S.
In an interview with The Washington Post, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka said Congress should not rush passage of the USMCA. If House Democrats hold a vote before Thanksgiving, he said, it would be a “colossal mistake.”
Despite launching a formal impeachment inquiry, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) told reporters last week the House is close to approving the trade deal as Democrats attempt to “walk and chew gum at the same time.”
But opposing labor interests — historically a key voter demographic for the Democratic Party — could hamper efforts to win the White House in 2020.
In 2016, the Trump campaign saw an outpouring of support from blue-collar union workers, credited to Trump’s promise to revitalize dying blue-collar industries like manufacturing, steel and coal, and to renegotiate NAFTA for workers.
Thomas Kochan, co-director of the MIT Sloan Institute for Work and Employment Research, told InsideSources in an October interview that one reason why so many blue-collar union workers voted for Trump is because they no longer feel the Democratic Party listens to or hears their concerns.
“It was clear that a lot of people felt disrespected and abandoned by the Democratic Party,” he said.
Those voters will vote for Trump again if Democrats don’t connect. Pushing the USMCA in its current form could only further alienate those voters.
Earlier this week, Trumka met with Pelosi and Means Chairman Richard Neal (D-Mass.) to address unions’ concerns with the USMCA, and told The Intercept he was happy with the meeting, but they hadn’t come to an agreement.
Going into 2020 juggling impeachment and making a decision on this trade deal will force Democrats to be authentic and consistent with voters if they want to win back support from Trump. Pelosi may have already hurt Democrats’ 2020 chances by bungling impeachment, so the odds don’t look good.
“I think the support of workers and working families is up for grabs,” Kochan said. “One thing we’ve learned from our own research and studies is workers are looking for having a stronger voice at work and around the future of work and technology. That’s what the workforce is looking for today, and that’s the message that will resonate most effectively.”