Apr 22, 2008

UAW president says free trade agreements are costly to U.S.workers

HAMBURG TOWNSHIP - United Auto Workers President Ron Gettelfinger said the country's free trade agreements are responsible for the loss of 1.8 million jobs to China and an annual trade deficit of $815 billion.

The loss of manufacturing jobs to China and other low wage countries has become a major presidential campaign issue, and Gettelfinger told a receptive crowd of more than 100 people at the 25th Annual Edwin B. Winans Dinner put on by the Livingston County Democratic Party last week that the trade agreements are anti-worker and anti-union.

"Look, we are not against trade; we are for fair trade, not free trade," he said."There is nothing wrong with trade, but what are we getting in return?"

Gettelfinger said the trade agreements are not being enforced because worker's rights are not being protected, environmental laws are not being followed and safety rules are also being routinely violated .He said the race to the bottom for the lowest wage is really the goal of the free trade agreements. He also said labor has never been involved in any trade talks.

"They don't want workers to have a voice when they talk about these trade agreements," he sad. "Labor is not at the table trade when these trade agreements are being worked out."

Gettelfinger said there have been 20 straight months of manufacturing job losses. As an example, he points to the situation with the trade imbalance with South Korea. South Korea exports 700,000 cars the United States annually, but the Big 3 automakers combined only export 6,500 cars to South Korea.

"Why would our government sit down and negotiate a trade agreement like that," Gettelfinger said. "They are stealing our jobs."

Gettelfinger also said labor unions and organized labor are under assault and are unfairly blamed for the loss of jobs, but unions are responsible for every worker right, from employer provided health care to the recent increase in the minimum wage.

"There is no other institution to give worker's equity and justice," he said. "When you walk in the door you are an at-will employee unless you are in a union.We are proud of who we are and what stand for."

Gettelfinger began is career in the UAW on the assembly line, and he said he is sick and tired of seeing stories in the media about greedy union members when the media ignores stories about CEO compensation. He said up until 1976, the average CEO made about 36 times more than the average worker. He said in 1993 that had increased by 131 times and BY 2005 CEOs were making 369 times more than the average worker.

"Not much makes my blood boil anymore, but when I see stories in the media about greedy union workers now that makes my blood boil," Gettelfinger said. "Where are the stories about that (CEO compensation) ? Why is that not on the front burner?"

Gettelfinger is an outspoken advocate for a national, universal single-payer health care system. He said the U.S. spends $2 trillion or 16 percent of its Gross Domestic Product every year on health care, but there are still 47 million Americans without health care coverage.

"Why shouldn't the people who come to my home to pick up the garbage have the same health care as a corporate executive; why not," he said. "Health care should be a right, not a privilege."

Gettelfinger negotiated the historic contracts with the big 3 in 2006 that made the UAW responsible for retiree health care, and he said that will both help the Big 3 compete and ensure retirees are protected

"I want to say to the retirees here tonight, you do don't have to worry abut your health care," he said.

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