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excerpted from: Ever Free?: NAFTA's Effect on Union Organizing Drives And Minorities And The Potential of FTAA Having a Similar Effect, 4 Scholar: St. Mary's Law Review on Minority Issues 307-338, 308-313 (Spring 2002) (246 Footnotes)

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its side labor agreement, the North American Agreement on Labor Cooperation (NAALC), both went into effect on January 1, 1994. These agreements, supporting globalization between Canada, Mexico, and the United States, were signed with the intent of increasing economic growth and employment in all three countries over a fifteen-year period.

NAFTA proponents believed that it would serve as a stimulus for long-term economic gains for all of the countries involved. While these advocates suggest the trade agreement has been successful, others disagree. Opponents point to, among other things, the ineffectiveness of the labor accord in protecting workers and major job losses in various industries. Specifically, NAFTA has negatively impacted labor union organizing drives, ethnic minorities, and women in the United States. Today, the debate on NAFTA's ramifications rages on while negotiations to create a new western hemispheric trading bloc, with many trade leaders touting NAFTA as an appropriate model from which to build upon, are underway. This comment asks, what is the cost of free trade? The answer is that nothing is ever free. Instead, union organizing drives and minorities are paying the price for "free" trade.

The question of who pays for "free" trade is important because of the potential of the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) having the same effect on minorities as NAFTA. If NAFTA, which includes only Canada, Mexico, and the United States, has had a negative impact on union organizing drives and minority employees, then FTAA, which will include most of the Western Hemisphere, will have an even greater impact on these groups. FTAA should not be allowed to repeat NAFTA's mistakes. Given the problems NAFTA has created for organized labor, minorities, and women, another blueprint should be utilized for the more encompassing FTAA. Otherwise, the United States government, by way of free trade agreements, will continue to exacerbate racial and gender divides within this country.

I. Introduction

NAFTA proponents have expected great benefits from this North American partnership since its enactment. The United States was expected to become more competitive in the global economy, and the George H. Bush administration anticipated the creation of 320,000 more jobs for the United States alone. Debatably, the State of Texas has reaped the most benefit from the agreement, and the economic boom of the 1990s has been attributed in part to NAFTA. But, even prior to the NAFTA agreement, opponents urged each country to realize that free trade would not only lead to economic gains, but could also lead to significant problems for labor standards, workers' rights, and union organizing drives.

The effect of NAFTA on union organizing drives is of particular concern to minorities and women. Situations that have a negative impact on America's organized workers have an exponential impact on the minority community. These individuals have a disproportionately higher number of jobs in the industries that are most affected by NAFTA. Additionally, these groups have a history of discrimination in the workplace, and therefore would have a greater need for the protections union membership is intended to provide. Collective bargaining emphasizes equal pay and fair treatment in the workplace, two things that are essential for women and minorities.

President Bill Clinton negotiated the North American Agreement on Labor Concerns (NAALC), in an attempt to lay the labor movement's fears to rest. Before the implementation of NAALC, free trade and labor movements were not directly linked to each other through any written agreements. For the first time, the United States attempted to address the anxieties of the labor movement in a free trade agreement (FTA). Political ties between Mexican labor unions and the Mexican government, however, caused doubt that unions could effectively represent Mexican labor objectives. NAALC addressed the labor movements' concerns in Canada, Mexico, and the United States.

Since the nation was operating at near full employment through most of the 1990s, it would seem as if wages would have increased and workers would have had more job security. However, worker earnings did not increase and employees did not enjoy increased job security. Job security is lacking due to the increased fear stemming from employers' enhanced opportunity to move to another country, namely Mexico, to exploit cheap labor.

The global economy has made many employees fearful that they are dispensable. Employers suppress wages through threats of shifting production to other countries. The fear of plant closures has also impacted union organizing drives because employers use the threat of mobility, among other tactics, as a way to intimidate workers and make them afraid to join unions.

NAFTA has had a substantial impact on American workers. Subsequently, this has negatively affected labor union organizing drives, minorities, and female employees. This is very important in light of the fact that negotiations are underway to enact the FTAA.

The FTAA would include the three NAFTA countries as well as all other nations in the Western Hemisphere (except Cuba), thereby creating the largest free trade zone in the world. FTAA would span from the tip of Argentina to the top of Alaska. The plans for FTAA began in December 1994 at the Summit of the Americas in Miami, Florida, where the leaders of all thirty- four American democracies agreed to enact a free trade agreement by 2005. Given the detrimental impact of NAFTA on union organizing drives and minorities, NAFTA should not be used as the basis for the FTAA.

This comment will discuss the negative impact that NAFTA has had on union organizing, and the resulting impact on minority and women workers. The argument is that NAFTA should not be used as the only model for FTAA, given the problems it has created for labor union organizing drives, minorities, and women. Other alternatives, including subsequent enhancements to NAFTA, can be utilized as the basis for FTAA, which will protect minority workers' ability to remain fairly paid, safe, and secure in their jobs in an expanded free trading bloc.

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