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So it looks like there is finally a trade deal to replace NAFTA, which candidate Donald Trump had pledged to scrap. A new U.S., Mexico and Canada trade deal - USMCA - overwhelmingly passed the House yesterday. And a top national labor leader tells NPR's Don Gonyea that labor pushed the president to make it better.
DON GONYEA, BYLINE: This week, President Trump was onstage rallying supporters in Michigan, one of those states where dislike of NAFTA runs high. Much of his speech focused on the day's big story, impeachment. He also offered up a narrative of a presidency doing great things, including the new trade deal.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: But we have a great USMCA that we negotiated with Mexico, with Canada.
GONYEA: But if the USMCA isn't yet a household name, the trade pact it's replacing is.
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TRUMP: We're getting rid of NAFTA, which I think is the worst trade deal ever.
GONYEA: Yesterday in Washington, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was also saying great things about the USMCA. But in her telling, much credit for an improved trade deal does not go to the president but to the AFL-CIO, which, for the first time ever, played a significant role as a trade deal was being negotiated. I sat down with the labor federation's president, Richard Trumka, yesterday as the House was taking up the new trade deal. He stresses the earlier version the Trump administration initially pushed was no better than NAFTA. He's blunt in describing what Trump first proposed.
RICHARD TRUMKA: A sham.
GONYEA: It's been fixed?
TRUMKA: It has been.
GONYEA: Unions blame NAFTA for the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs as production shifted to low-wage plants in Mexico. The new trade deal ups how much domestic content cars must have to avoid tariffs. But more importantly, says Trumka, unions have a greater voice in enforcing the deal. Still, he knows there are skeptics. I asked him about a conversation I had with a local union activist in Ohio who pointed to the recent closing of the giant GM Lordstown assembly plant.
He said to me, sure, it's better on paper, but I'm not going to feel good about this until I actually see it put to the test. And then he added, it's not going to bring Lordstown back. What do you say to a skeptic like that? What do you hear in his voice?
TRUMKA: I hug him and say, I'm in the same place. I mean, look. We're gunshot. We've had 25 years of trade agreements that have been nothing but hurt workers in the American economy.
GONYEA: The AFL-CIO leader then cautions...
TRUMKA: If we get complacent, if we look the other way - we stop enforcing it - he's absolutely right - it'll just slide back to where it was.
GONYEA: Then I ask about something President Trump said at his rally in Michigan stating, quote, "union labor loves me." Richard Trumka grimaces a bit at that.
TRUMKA: You have to look at the entire package. And we've been keeping score for three years now.
GONYEA: Trumka then lists the things where Trump has failed union members. He says the president has gutted health and safety rules, packed the National Labor Relations Board with corporate lawyers and proposed eliminating overtime pay for millions.
He will be using the new USMCA as a campaign pitch next year.
TRUMKA: He should be careful in doing that.
TRUMKA: I'll make you a deal. I'll be willing to let him take credit for that if he takes ownership of all the bad things he did to workers, as well.
GONYEA: As we wrap up the interview, the new trade deal clears a hurdle in the House. Final House passage comes late afternoon. To the AFL-CIO president, it's an early Christmas present for union members.
TRUMKA: NAFTA is no more. It's been replaced by a bill that is far more worker-friendly and more effective.
GONYEA: Senate passage is still required. That is expected early next year. Don Gonyea, NPR News.
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