OTI is very grateful that the incredibly smart, Madelyn Elder is part of our team. Most recently, she was President of Communication Workers of America Local 7901 (CWA) and kept close tabs on the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP). Madelyn gave us a quick rundown of the potential consequences of this trade deal.
Most of the points below are because a. there are no labor protections or environmental protections written into the language; and b. the ability for “foreign” partner corporations to sue the federal or state or local governments for “unfair” trade laws or advantages.
- “Foreign” firms in more countries would be given equal access to government contracts. Firms operating in any TPP signatory country would be given equal access to the vast majority of US federal procurement contracts. IE “Buy American” would be a thing of the distant past, as governments are required to accept the lowest bid.
- Prevailing Wage—this will be a thing of the past, as it is a peculiarly US law, and as such is subject to construction corporations in partner countries to sue the US Government. Without Prevailing Wage laws, the unionized contractors would be at a disadvantage in bidding for government building jobs, many of which require the lowest bid to be adopted.
- Union wages and benefits in general—with equal competition for construction corporations from other countries and the allowing of them to pay lower wages, the downward pressure on US labor contracts would be no mistake.
- Safety—Safety laws are different state to state in the US, although they must adhere to the minimum safety laws under the federal OSHA. Either state laws that are more strict and/or the federal OSHA laws are not protected under the TPP, therefore putting the states or Feds at risk of being sued for too stringent safety laws (just like environmental laws.) Construction is a very hazardous industry by its very nature, and required safety laws are just the minimum to prevent injury and death on the job.
- Portland’s $15/hr minimum wage, which would raise the wages of laborers on city contract jobs, would be at risk, as would paid medical leave at all levels of government.
- Project Labor Agreements: These would be off the table. PLAs are instrumental in getting a higher percentage of women and all people of color as workers and contractors hired for government-sponsored building projects. For example, Metro’s Zoo remodel has a PLA that secures a certain % of Minority owned and Women owned Business PLAs also guarantee prevailing wage and/or union-represented construction companies to bid. Enterprises that must be used. This would definitely be challenged by “foreign” corporations.
- Government-sponsored LEED (environmentally-sustainable) building, including tax incentives for private owners, etc. would be challenged. This, and environmental retrofitting, are two growth construction areas.
- Government funds for pre-apprenticeship and apprenticeship programs would be cut. These training programs are what standardize work, guarantee that workers understand and follow safety and other building codes, and assure the highest standards of how things are built (and don’t fall down.) There are now very few middle-class-wage jobs available to high school graduates since most manufacturing jobs left the US; apprenticeship programs are a foot-up for the next generation of workers.
Bottom line: All of the above US programs would be considered “unfair” advantages to trade in some way. Most of this information comes from the Communications Workers of America.
Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. (OTI) received a $4,000 grant from the Multnomah Bar Foundation to support components of OTI’s TOOLS program (Tradeswomen Organized for Outreach, Leadership & Support) – a program aspiring to advance tradeswomen’s understanding of civic responsibility, to improve tradeswomen’s understanding of the legislative process, and build their leadership capacity overall. OTI’s TOOLS program provides voter registration, voter education, civic engagement, and advocacy and legislative work, so that tradeswomen are included in the civic and legislative process on issues that affect working class tradeswomen.
Today, OTI’s current class of pre-apprenticeship students are participating in OTI’s annual Construction Equity Day event where students visit the State Capitol Building to meet with legislators, observe the legislative session, and learn more about how new laws are enacted in our state.
“We are immensely thankful to Multnomah Bar Foundation for their investment in our work with tradeswomen,” said Tiffany Thompson, Advocacy Program Manager for OTI. “These funds will help educate tradeswomen about the direct impact civic engagement can have on OTI’s work and on the Construction Industry at large. We will also be able to instill a more relevant understanding of the role of the legislative process, and help tradeswomen feel competent and knowledgeable enough to be meaningfully engaged in government, law, leadership, and elections,” Thompson added.
Founded in 2005, the Multnomah Bar Foundation (MBF) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The MBF has established two dedicated funds: the Civic Education Fund (formerly the MBA 100th Anniversary Community Gift Fund) and Multnomah CourtCare. For more information about the MBF visit their website.
Oregon Tradeswomen, Inc. thanks the Multnomah Bar Foundation for its generous support of our programming!