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Washington State Labor Groups Suffer A Defeat As Senate Moves Ahead With Trade Bill

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Labor groups, including ones in Washington state, have suffered a big defeat. The U.S. Senate has voted to move ahead with the so-called fast-track trade bill, paving the way for the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal, which union leaders say ultimately could result in lost jobs.

For the Washington State Labor Council, blocking this fast-track bill has been high priority for the past 18 months, according to the group’s president, Jeff Johnson.

“We’ve run phone banks. We’ve door-knocked. We’ve put on a campaign like we’ve never done before on a piece of Congressional legislation,” Johnson said.

But that lobbying didn’t persuade Washington’s Democratic Senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell. They joined the majority to clear the way for the fast-track bill, which will give the president the power to finish negotiating the sweeping Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal.

Johnson says that deal, which has been negotiated behind closed doors, doesn’t include enough protections for workers or the environment.

“We believe that when this document gets out and it’s in the public domain, people are going to understand why it was negotiated in secret, and two, they’re not going to like it,” he said.

Still, an estimated 40 percent of jobs in Washington state are tied to trade and supporters say the Pacific trade deal will help boost exports.

Eric Schinfeld, president of the Washington Council on International Trade, said the Pacific Rim trade agreement will help Washington businesses.

“We’re going to see when we have successful new trade agreements significant improvements in intellectual property protection, which means less pirated software, which means people who want to buy Microsoft Windows or Microsoft Office have to actually purchase it, which again creates more sales and creates more jobs here in Washington state,” Schinfeld said. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.