Secretary of Labor Discusses Trade, Apprenticeships

By Greg Ford | DFW Newsflash | June 2019

The United States Secretary of Labor Alexander Acosta held meetings with local officials Tuesday, June 25, to promote government programs designed to benefit the area.

One of his meetings was with Greater Irving Las Colinas Chamber of Commerce members about various subjects, including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), which is scheduled to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and already has been ratified by Mexico.

Among the primary differences between NAFTA and the proposed USMCA, which still needs to be ratified by the United States and Canada, is the latter provides better labor protection.

“NAFTA did not have a labor chapter,” Acosta said. “USMCA has within its agreement a labor chapter that talks about labor conditions within the three countries. That’s especially important in the United States, because it sets criteria that Mexico must meet. Mexico has already passed new statutes to adopt those criteria into law.

“That’s important to us, because it levels the playing field. When you have multiple countries and you have one country that has different labor standards than the others, then it’s really not a level playing field. The cost of a product is not just [related to] the wages, but the standards that are applied to the worker.”

The USMCA, Acosta said, “sends a signal” that the United States believes in labor rights and that they should be “imposed on Mexico” as well as the United States and Canada.

Under the proposed USMCA, all members of the agreement must adopt and practice labor rights that are recognized the International Labor Organization, according to the United States Trade Representative’s (USTR) official site. Mexico, Canada and the United States must also effectively enforce their labor laws.

Goods produced by forced labor are prohibited under USMCA, the USTR site said, and countries must address violence against workers who are “exercising their labor rights,” and migrant workers must be protected under labor laws, too.

“For one thing, individuals in Mexico will have the right to unionize,” Acosta said. “They can then choose their unions through anonymous elections, just like the U.S. [The process] can be appealed to an independent third party. That is pretty basic stuff.”

Standard labor rules in each nation, as well as how products will be shipped and delivered, should benefit everyone, according to Irving Mayor Rick Stopfer.

“To me, the real issue is the fact that we’re all working together,” Stopfer said. “We’re developing some standards for the labor and the equipment being used, and the goods going back and forth.”

Currently, Acosta said, about $120 billion in goods are exported from Texas to Mexico and Canada.

Earlier in the day, Acosta met with Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) representatives at the El Centro Center for Allied Health and Nursing in Dallas to announce a $12 million grant to expand apprenticeship opportunities within the health care industry.

“The Dallas Community College system has a partner in the American College Hospital Association,” Acosta said. “They are now working with the community college system to develop healthcare apprenticeships and to scale those nationally.

“Other United States industries are using apprenticeships to train people. A large number of people who have learned through apprenticeships are now making a good salary.

“In Europe, you see apprenticeships used a lot. Why can’t we also tell young Americans there are multiple pathways to success? One of them could be college, but another is apprenticeship,” he said.