Columbia FTA is a Lose-Lose for Workers

By Jonathan Adams Apr 22, 2008

Originally published on DMI By Corinne Ramey When Joining a Union Becomes a Death Sentence Common knowledge says that it’s a good thing to join a union. Union members are treated better, earn 30% higher wages than their non-union counterparts, and are more likely to receive good health and pension benefits. However, despite the clear advantages, workers in Colombia are often hesitant about joining unions. Joining a union in Colombia may help workers to earn more and be treated better by their employers, but it also makes them targets for assassination by paramilitary and government-supported forces. According to a report by the AFL-CIO, in the first three months of 2008, 17 unionists were murdered in Colombia, which is a rate of more than one murder each week. In 2007, 37 union members were murdered, 11 were victims of attempted murder, and 224 members received threats. Between 1986 and today, about 2,550 union members have been murdered in Colombia. According to the AFL-CIO, only about three percent of these murders have resulted in convictions. Columbia is the most dangerous country in the world for union members. And because Colombian unionists — you can read some of their personal stories here — have to fear for their lives on a daily basis, less workers tend to join unions. Union density is less than 5%, and less than 1% of workers are covered by collective bargaining agreements. The AFL-CIO says this is the worst collective bargaining coverage in the Western Hemisphere. So what does the U.S. decide to do about it? We blatantly overlook the problem and consider passing another free trade deal, called the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement Implementation Act. But the agreement isn’t just bad for Colombian workers, it’s bad for the current and aspiring American middle class as well. According to

"Increased international trade can contribute to economic growth, but the way trade rules are formulated in agreements like this means that the benefits of trade are distributed unevenly, ultimately undermining the middle class and aspiring middle class in both the U.S. and the nations it trades with…In effect, this pact would increase opportunities to outsource U.S. jobs to a nation where wages are kept low because working people literally fear for their lives if they stand up for their internationally-recognized rights on the job. Trade deals may at the top of corporate America’s agenda, but at a time when America’s soaring trade deficit contributes to the nation’s economic weakness, another trade deal is far from the agenda of the American middle class."

Judging from the U.S. experience with NAFTA, American workers will likely lose more jobs to production that goes overseas than they will gain from increased exports from Colombia. According to Change to Win,

"It is based on the same old, deeply flawed, “free” trade model that has resulted in the loss of over one million American jobs and thedecimation of the U.S. manufacturing sector and family farms. According to the Economic Policy Institute, those one million jobs displaced by NAFTA paid nearly 20% more than the jobs that remained, on average, in the rest of the economy. Trade agreements like Colombia, which encourage the off-shoring of U.S. jobs, is one of the major reasons that a majority of the public sees the American Dream slipping away for themselves and their children."

The Colombia Agreement, according to Public Citizen, replicates many of the problems of NAFTA .

"The Colombia FTA includes the most egregious provisions of NAFTA, including extraordinary foreign investor protections that promote offshoring of U.S. jobs and expose domestic health and environmental laws to attack in foreign tribunals; and agriculture rules that will devastate hundreds of thousands of subsistence farmers in Colombia, making them poorer and undermining U.S. security interests in the region. The deal also replicates NAFTA’s limits on Buy America and green procurement policies and on imported food safety and inspection requirements."

In short, this trade agreement — like the trade deal with Peru that was passed earlier this year — is a lose-lose situation, for workers on both sides of the equator.