Speech | Trade · Global Worker Rights · Immigration

Trumka to Mexican-American Leaders: New NAFTA Falls Short

Chicago, Illinois

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks at a meeting of Mexican-American leaders:

Good morning and thank you all for being here. I’m looking forward to our discussion today. Thank you Bob (Reiter), for that very kind welcome. And thank you Brother Napoleon (Gomez) and Sister Libier (Gonzalez) for making the journey from Mexico to take part in this important meeting. 

The AFL-CIO was in Chicago this week to plan for the future. Leaders from our 55 unions, representing 12.5 million workers across the United States, gathered to map out a bold agenda to build power at work and in our communities. Our federation represents a broad cross section of sectors, industries and demographics. And much like your clubs, our unions know firsthand that we are stronger together than we are apart. 

As part of our business this week, we adopted a statement committing the labor movement to leading the fight against white supremacy. Our nation is being poisoned by hateful rhetoric and divisive tactics at the highest levels of government. America’s welcome mat, long a beacon of hope for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including my parents, is being bulldozed and paved over, replaced with a clear message: “you’re not welcome here.” In 2018, the U.S. spent $24 billion on immigration enforcement and only $2 billion enforcing our labor laws. That’s 12 times more to hunt down immigrants than protect workers. 

And the El Paso shooter traveled more than 600 miles to kill Mexican immigrants. It is not lost on me that any one of you could have been the target. I’m so sorry about that. 

Let me be absolutely clear: We are a nation of immigrants. We are a labor movement of immigrants.

Our unions must provide sanctuary, and our contracts must offer protection where our laws do not. Immigrants can find hope and a home in the labor movement—as they have throughout our history. 

And we will not rest until every aspiring American can live here and work here safely and freely as United States citizens. 

We also adopted a statement this week laying out our standards for a new North American Free Trade Agreement. As Napoleon knows, I just returned from a trip to Mexico City, where I had the opportunity to meet with the Mexican president and labor minister. I also met with representatives of the independent labor movement, including Napoleon.

My trip only served to confirm the disastrous impact of NAFTA. 40% of Mexicans are living in poverty. There are still hundreds of thousands of sham contracts that prevent workers from having a real voice on the job. And while Mexico’s new president is certainly a friend to workers, the Mexican government has yet to demonstrate it has the resources or infrastructure to enforce newly-passed labor law reforms. In fact, just this week, we learned that the Mexican government is actually cutting its labor budget. 

And because of President Trump’s ill-advised threats, Mexico is diverting troops and money to its southern border with Guatemala, routinely violating the human rights of citizens and migrants alike, instead of working to ensure workers can raise wages through free and independent unions.

And what about here in the United States? Those of you from Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin know the answer. NAFTA has gutted American manufacturing. Earlier this summer, I hosted a series of town halls throughout the Midwest on this disastrous agreement. We had real, honest and powerful conversations about the damage NAFTA has caused over the past 25 years. Nearly a million jobs have been lost across America, and many of our undocumented neighbors came here after their livelihoods were crushed by the same raw deal. 

The beneficiaries of the current trade model want us to blame those neighbors, to pit us against each other in their never ending quest to leave us poor, divided and weak. But we know better. We know our enemies are the global corporations who twist the rules to benefit themselves. Not immigrants. And certainly not American, Canadian or Mexican workers. Workers are never the enemy! 

As we outlined in our statement this week, any NAFTA agreement that leaves Mexican workers poor and vulnerable and American workers jobless is dead on arrival at the AFL-CIO. The U.S. and Mexican labor movements are in lockstep on winning a new NAFTA that lifts up working people in all three countries. 

Simply put, the current proposal falls short. First and foremost, it is unenforceable. As I stated earlier, Mexico has yet to demonstrate the capacity to enforce labor law reform and eliminate protection contracts. In addition, the current text allows an accused party to unilaterally block the formation of a dispute settlement panel. That’s crazy! And finally, workers have no way to enforce the agreement, such as the right to stop products at the border if they are produced in violation of labor or environmental standards. 

Leaders in the United States and Mexico want to ram through the new NAFTA in short order. We are not going to let that happen without the changes working people across North America deserve. It is time for negotiators to go back to the table and hammer out an agreement that is good for working people across the continent.

Any new NAFTA that doesn’t guarantee that all workers in Mexico, Canada and the United States can freely exercise our fundamental labor rights isn’t worth the paper it's written on. We deserve better. We are demanding better. And if we stick together, we are going to win better.

Once again, thank you for joining in today’s conversation. I look forward to hearing from all of you.

With that, it is my pleasure to introduce my brother from Los Mineros, Senator Napoleon Gomez.


Explore the Issue