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Labor Plans Ads, Lobbying on Trade Pacts

By Frank Swoboda
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 17, 1997; Page A06

Organized labor launched an all-out political attack yesterday against President Clinton's request for "fast track" legislative authority to negotiate an expansion of the North American Free Trade Agreement and future trade deals.

AFL-CIO President John J. Sweeney announced an ad campaign aimed at 13 individual congressional districts and the entire state of California as the first step in a multimillion-dollar media effort. The majority of the districts are held by House members who are undecided on the Clinton bill and have large labor constituencies, he said.

"We're committed to waging this campaign for as long as it takes with all the resources we have," Sweeney said.

Fast track authority would allow the president to negotiate trade agreements that Congress could approve or disapprove, but not amend. Labor had insisted that the president's bill include language that would require any trade agreements to include certain labor and environmental standards for the nation's trading partners. Without them, labor fears that companies in other countries with lower standards – for example lower wages, fewer worker protections or weaker environmental regulations than in the United States – would be able to produce goods more cheaply than U.S. companies, making them formidable competitors, which would lower U.S. wages or even cost U.S. jobs.

Sweeney said the president's proposal was unacceptable to labor, but held out the possibility of a compromise on the labor and environmental issues.

Asked if he thought labor could win the fast-track fight, Sweeney said, "Of course, what the hell do you think we're doing this for?"

AFL-CIO officials said the media effort would cost $1 million in the first week. They said the unions would spread the lobbying to other congressional districts in the weeks ahead.

In addition, AFL-CIO officials said the unions have spent the latter part of the summer "educating" their members about the upcoming trade fight. AFL-CIO officials said labor has already mailed more than a million pieces of mail nationwide to union households, providing them with a toll-free telephone number to call their member of Congress at his or her Washington office. The unions are also setting up telephone banks and plan to hold anti-fast-track rallies in targeted congressional districts.

The campaign is patterned after labor's political effort in last year's elections, when it spent $35 million on 30 targeted congressional districts in an effort to win back Democratic control of the House. Although it failed in that effort, labor claims it managed to reduce the Republican majority to a point at which the Republicans now need Democratic votes to pass almost any major legislation.

AFL-CIO lobbyists estimate there are 80 to 100 swing votes in the House that will determine the fate of the trade legislation. "There's a large moving middle in Congress that we're working with," said Peggy Taylor, AFL-CIO legislative director.

Sweeney said labor would be targeting both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. "This is not about political parties," he said.

Sweeney acknowledged the trade fight could have ramifications for the next presidential elections as it divides prospective Democratic candidates.

© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company

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