Congress, listen up: Most of your constituents oppose fast track

Tom Chamberlain-2015By Tom Chamberlain, Oregon AFL-CIO president

Oregon has been consumed by the fight against the Trans-Pacific Partnership since January. This fight is a testament to a united labor movement.

At February’s Executive Committee meeting of the National AFL-CIO, international labor leaders pledged to stand united against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and against granting Fast Track Authority to President Obama.

It was not a surprising move, considering that some in our labor movement were apathetic towards the passage of the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) 21 years ago. After two decades of jobs being America’s largest export, we now understand that free trade agreements cut deeply in all sectors—both public and private. We know that America’s workers actually earn less money today than before the passage of NAFTA.  We know that free trade agreements undermine the sovereignty of our state and nation. And we know that free trade agreements have little enforcement power, thereby undermining environmental and labor standards.

I could go on, but like the vast majority of Oregonians, chances are you already oppose unbalanced trade deals. In fact, the last polling in Oregon’s 1st Congressional District reveals that 53 percent of voters oppose giving Fast Track Authority to the president.

Congresswoman Bonamici, I hope you are listening.

All across America, the labor movement has drawn a line in the sand. We’ve spoken out at town halls, held rallies, marches and picket lines. Oregon’s unions and allies attended town halls in Medford, Bend and Portland.

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called for a “National Day of Action” against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and our united labor movement responded, with over 1,000 people attending rallies in Coos Bay, Medford, Bend, Eugene, Salem and Portland on April 18.

The Oregon AFL-CIO took to the airwaves by raising funds to launch a radio campaign, which has been supplemented by the National AFL-CIO’s television and internet advertisements.

On May 7, President Obama attended a fundraiser at the Sentinel Hotel in downtown Portland and over 400 Oregonians showed up to make our voices heard. We were loud, defiant, and our message was clear: No Fast Track. No Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Media from across the state and the country reported on our demonstrations.

On May 8, President Obama spoke at Nike headquarters near Beaverton, where he was greeted by nearly 100 demonstrators outside  the gates.

Obama is one of the most gifted speakers in our nation’s history. He charmed the crowd and the television audience. The president’s hypnotic description of trade painted a picture that stands in stark contrast of two decades of trade gone wrong. Over and over he asked Oregon to just trust him; that this free trade agreement would be different; that it would be better because he’s learned from the failures of the past.

I can’t forget Barack Obama as a candidate, standing in front of a crowd of 10,000 union members and their families during the 2007 presidential debate, where he promised that he would pass crucial labor law reform under the Employee Free Choice Act. A year later, workers were told to wait until after the passage of health care reform.

Mr. President: American workers are still waiting and suffering from an economy that rewards wealth and punishes hard work. Another free trade agreement is not the answer we’re waiting for.


The Oregon AFL-CIO is a 120,000-member-strong federation of labor unions.

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