Labor Leaders Fear Union Jobs at Greatest Risk
William Flannery Of the Post-Dispatch, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)
In the bitter debate over the North American Free Trade Agreement, the winners know who they will be, while the potential losers can only guess.
Unions fear they are on the list of losers.
"Potentially everybody in the trade union movement could lose jobs under NAFTA," said Robert L. Kelly, president of the Greater St. Louis Labor Council, AFL-CIO.
"There are about 250,000 union jobs in metro St. Louis," Kelly said. He said about 55,000 local construction jobs are safe, as are 15,000 teachers; the rest are up for grabs. Kelly says workers in printing, trucking and manufacturing face the greatest risk.
But he added, "Any employer who is now paying $6 to $12 an hour (in wages) and who has the wherewithal could move to Mexico and pay $1 to $4 an hour."
Kelly said labor protections under NAFTA are the equivalent "of unprotected sex."
Even union jobs at McDonnell Douglas Corp., the region's largest single employer with 25,000 workers, could be vulnerable, Kelly said. He cited McDonnell's MD-80 airliner production line in China and subcontracting deals in the Middle East as examples.
Like Kelly, Joe Middleton is basing his opposition to NAFTA on personal experience. Middleton is the local president of the International Union of Electronic workers. The IUE has 300 members working at Esco Inc.
Esco has about 40 workers in Juarez, Mexico, Middleton said. "And we don't know about future contracts."
Middleton estimated that as many as 30 union cable wiring positions at Esco could be lost to Mexico.
Over the past 40 years, the IUE has lost tens of thousands of radio- and television-assembly jobs overseas. IUE's international president, William H. Bywater, is a leading NAFTA critic.
United Auto Worker Lew Moye is particularly worried. "We have seen whole lines moved down to Mexico," Moye said. …