Labor Playing Hard Ball on TPP

THE TRANS-PACIFIC PARTNERSHIP has faced a rocky road through Congress, in no small part due to the efforts of organized labor. As the Washington Post notes, passage of the bill would be a major legislative achievement for President Obama, akin to the North American Free Trade Agreement under the Clinton Administration. However, the Obama Administration has faced significant pushback from the AFL-CIO and from pro-labor Democrats, who argue that the TPP would weaken both fair labor conditions and wage equality.

From the outset, the AFL-CIO pledged to oppose the TPP; back in March, the Post reported that AFL-CIO President Richard L. Trumka vowed to fight the bill, saying “There is such a dramatic impact on the standard of living and a lowering of wages and a loss of jobs.” Labor’s staunch opposition seems to have been effective, with key Democrats such as Nancy Pelosi and Elizabeth Warren coming out against the bill in its current form.

But the AFL-CIO’s aggressive advocacy tactics has soured many Congressional Democrats, traditionally allies of organized labor. POLITICO reported this week that the union employed a “scorched-earth” approach, threatening Democrats vulnerable to primary challenges and promising to withhold fundraising should Democrats vote “yes” on the TPP. This approach has some Democrats seething, even those who were already opposed to legislation, such as Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Minority Whip, and Nancy Pelosi. Hoyer said of the AFL-CIO’s strategy, “I don’t think it’s helpful…[we] urged our friends in labor to have respect.”

Although the AFL-CIO’s tactics have been effective, it remains to be seen whether it can quash the legislation. This week, the House revived the bill by narrowly passing it, moving the debate to the Senate, where Obama and other supports hope that key Democrats can be mustered to pass the TPP. Regardless of the TPP’s outcome, as a key 2016 election year approaches, it’s likely in the interest of both Democrats and organized labor to mend fences, and soon.

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