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After TPP vote, what’s next for unions?

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The Senate today is expected to give final approval for a bill that gives the president fast-track authority to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement.

If the measure passes, it will be a defeat for labor unions, which have been trying to scuttle the trade deal. They built a large coalition to oppose it; from firefighters, to environmental and non-profit groups, to tech companies.

Their argument has been, among other things, that other trade policies have cost jobs and contributed to stagnating wages.

“The American labor movement has had a very blunt and unsophisticated argument against global trade,” says Gary Chaison, professor of labor relations at Clark University. “I don’t think it’s a question anymore of whether or not there will be global trade. It’s just a question of who the winners and the losers are.”

Chaison says the labor unions’ expected legislative defeat is an indication of their diminished power, although they may still attempt to exert influence when it comes time to vote the trade deal up or down, without amendments (that’s fast-track authority).

“The game is not over,” says Robert Blecker, an economics professor at American University, because Congress still has a voice with final approval of the deal.

Labor unions could continue to oppose the deal, Blecker says, and “labor could also negotiate for add-ons or side agreements, or increased trade adjustment assistance, or some other considerations.”

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