- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 22, 2003


Teamsters President James P. Hoffa yesterday threatened to withhold his union’s financial and grass-roots support from Democrats who back free-trade agreements with Chile and Singapore this week in Congress.

“You are either with us or against us,” Mr. Hoffa said on Capitol Hill. “You are either with the American worker or against the American worker. These agreements leave no room in the middle.”

The agreements, which will be voted on today in the House, would add Chile and Singapore to a select group of nations that have free-trade arrangements with the United States. Canada, Mexico, Israel and Jordan already have such agreements.

The Bush administration hopes the Chile and Singapore deals will be the first of a wave of free-trade agreements stretching around the world.

“I believe strongly that free trade will create jobs and save Americans money,” Majority Leader Tom DeLay, Texas Republican, said yesterday.

Both agreements are expected to pass the House and Senate with far less opposition than the bitter battle that erupted over the pact with Mexico a decade ago.

The Teamsters and many other unions are strongly opposed to trade deals, which they say have eviscerated their membership. About 3 million U.S. jobs were lost between 1994 — when the North American Free Trade Agreement was implemented — and 2000, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a labor-supported think tank.

Mr. Hoffa, who spoke at a news conference with a handful of House Democrats, said the upcoming vote would help determine Teamsters’ election endorsements. He said he was frustrated that many labor allies in Congress do not understand the urgency of the vote.

“How much is it going to take to get your attention that America is bleeding?” Mr. Hoffa said.

Unions, however, haven’t had much success in thwarting trade votes in Congress. President Bush won fast-track authority last year, which allows the president to negotiate trade pacts that cannot be amended by Congress.

The Chile and Singapore deals, the first under fast track, are relatively small. Singapore ranked 16th with $14.8 billion in products shipped to the United States last year, while U.S. imports from Chile were even smaller at $3.8 billion, ranking it 36th.

Organized labor views those votes as tests for a much larger target: a Free Trade Area of the Americas that would include 34 nations in the Western Hemisphere.

“This is a wake-up call for both Democrats and Republicans who say they are with labor,” Mr. Hoffa said. “Today I tell them, if you want to call yourself a friend of labor, you’d better start acting like a friend of labor.”

The Teamsters, with 1.4 million members, have one of the largest political action committees, giving $2.4 million to candidates in the 2002 elections, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

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