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TPP will Damage US Construction Industry

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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.

  1. “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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  1. 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.
  1. 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.
  1.   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.
  1.  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.

About Tiffany Thompson

Tiffany Thompson is the Advocacy Program Manager for Oregon Tradeswomen.

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