Sunday, March 21, 2004

U.S. workers deserve a people-over-profits trade policy

William A. Burga
Guest columnist

Sandy Woodthorpe has been unemployed for 25 months of this 3-year-old economic recovery. By all rights, she should be able to pick the best of those high-tech, high-skilled jobs that were supposed to provide employment for American workers as the result of those American idols named international trade and outsourcing.

She lost her $20-an-hour job writing technical manuals for a Lake County manufacturer in January 2002. Since then, she has worked occasionally at $6- and $7-an-hour jobs. More often than not, she is told that her education and training make her "overqualified" for better-paying jobs.

She is not alone. The nation has 2.3 million fewer jobs today than three years ago. In Ohio, we have lost nearly 270,000 jobs. A recent study by Policy Matters Ohio, commissioned by the Ohio AFL-CIO, blames the North American Free Trade Agreement and other foreign trade as the culprit in the elimination of 45,734 of those jobs. A previous study by the Economic Policy Institute found that trade deficits from 1994 to 2000 removed 135,000 Ohio jobs and job opportunities.

We are led to believe by economists, politicians and chief executive officers of multinational corporations that consumers and workers are the beneficiaries of foreign trade. In reality U.S. consumers are not benefiting from the unfairness in our trade negotiations. Instead, they are asked to choose between a good job or a vague promise of lower-cost goods.

The Bush administration's economic royalists and large investors envision a future in which Americans cherry-pick high-skilled jobs and ship the rest to nations where workers are lucky to earn $10 a day. We have been traveling this road for many years, yet we suffer record trade deficits while other countries cherry-pick the high-tech jobs.

In 2002, Forrester Research predicted 3.3 million high-tech jobs would be outsourced by 2015. A more recent study by the University of California placed that number at 14 million.

So, after manufacturing jobs, service industry jobs, government service jobs, then the high-skilled and high-tech jobs are all outsourced and traded away, what will be left for the United States to cherry-pick?

The problem is multinational corporations' constant search for the cheapest labor costs, regardless of country.

The Ohio AFL-CIO will sponsor a Manufacturing Conference in early May. We will ask workers to find ways Ohio can keep employers and jobs at home. We also will be looking for management to cooperate and join with us. Our proposals will focus on preserving and expanding the manufacturing jobs we have and for fair and balanced trade policies.

I believe we must empower workers and consumers to take more control over their government, their work and environment if we are to believe that we live in a democracy. We must ask our government officials to represent people over profits, especially when the profits are not being used to benefit the community.


William A. Burga is president of the Ohio AFL-CIO, whose member unions represent 750,000 workers.

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