Trade Deals Set Their Sights on Public Workers

For much of this decade, Tea Party-backed lawmakers have been at war with public sector employees across the country. They've tried, and in a few cases succeeded, in taking away public servants' ability to collectively bargain. But now the battle is going abroad.

Under the guise of crafting trade agreements, big business -- which bankrolled many of those same elected officials -- is looking to impose provisions across the globe that open up government services to the private sector. Other language would limit the ability of democratic governments to regulate in the public interest. Simply put, corporations are looking to put their interests above the public's interests in an effort to further fatten their wallets.

Recognizing the problem, union leaders from 25 nations will be heading to the International Brotherhood of Teamsters headquarters in Washington this week to discuss strategies to sustain public services throughout the world while confronting secret deals that seek to trade essential services for guaranteed corporate profits. The conference, sponsored by Public Services International (PSI), will look at how the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other so-called "free" trade deals have increasingly rigged the system and threaten government services globally.

While most people don't think about public sector jobs when they hear about trade deals, such pacts have increasingly held sway in the services sector. Beginning with NAFTA, trade-in-services has been a part of the discussion. And it has only increased as the General Agreement on Trade in Services and then the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) came into force.

Now it's the same for service workers as it is for the manufacturing workers -- the bosses get their NAFTA and their CAFTA and the workers get the SHAFTA! And with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and the Transatlantic Trade Investment Partnership (TTIP) looming, as well as the lesser-known Trade in Services Agreement (TISA), there is reason for real concern.

The summit kicking off tomorrow will examine privatization, the proposed investor rights causes, threats to public services in health and social services, education, water and other sectors. It will also delve into the impacts on governmental accountability and transparency. But most importantly, participants will discuss what needs to be done to create a fairer system of trade.

The Teamsters have a lot at stake personally with these faulty trade agreements. As it stands, we represent more than 260,000 hard-working public sector employees. But the need to better understand these issues and blow the whistle on these callous corporate efforts is larger than any one union alone. Deregulation as part of these trade deals cannot be allowed to run amok.

State lawmakers are increasingly realizing the harm that comes to workers when they hinder their ability to organize. Six states turned their back on so-called right-to-work measures, which often target public sector employees, this year alone. Now it is time for elected officials in this country and across the world to wake up to the realization that trade deals like the TPP, TTIP and TISA hold similar harms for the middle class across the globe.

America has seen firsthand what previous trade pacts have done to our towns and cities. Many have been hollowed out and left for dead when manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas. We can't allow that now to happen to our government. Public sector employees are the eyes and ears on the ground for the communities they serve. How can a corporation squeezing every penny for profit do the same?

The PSI conference presents an opportunity for all unions worldwide to take a stand against such a movement. Now we need Congress and elected officials abroad to open their minds to the message. Workers everywhere have a stake in the outcome.