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UAW Under Fire For Backing Korean Trade Pact

UAW Chief King counters the agreement protects American jobs.

by on Dec.08, 2010

"A fat load of nerve"? UAW President Bob King takes heat on trade bill.

UAW President Bob King is coming under fierce attack from inside organized labor for his support of the proposed Korean Free Trade agreement.

Other union leaders, particularly from the International Association of Machinists, are fit to be tied, according to an article on the political web site “Politico.”  The fracas comes at a tough time for King, the new leader of the United Auto Workers Union, who is struggling to find a balance between market realities and rank-and-file demands as the UAW prepares to renegotiate its contracts with Detroit’s Big Three automakers.

“It takes a fat load of nerve for the UAW to be asking others to abandon their long time positions just because the UAW went yellow-belly-flip-flop,”  IAM political director Matt McKinnon said during a meeting at the AFL-CIO this week, according to an account on another web site.

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King announced last week that he would support the agreement after the Obama administration succeeded in negotiating several major concessions on auto sector trade with a nervous South Korean government., The South Koreans offered  the concessions after a military clash with North Korea, which underscored the need for continuing US military support of the Seoul-based government.

“President Obama, Vice President Biden and their administration gave the labor movement, and particularly the UAW, an opportunity to be part of the discussions about this agreement,” countered King.

“Working in collaboration with the Obama Administration….and top management from the auto companies, especially Alan Mulally of Ford, we believe an agreement was achieved that will protect current American auto jobs, that will grow more American auto jobs, that includes labor and environmental commitments, and that has important enforcement mechanisms,” King argued.

The tentative breakthrough with Seoul came shortly after Ford led a national campaign to demand concessions for American automakers.  (Click Here for more.) The maker ran a series of national advertisements – and created a special website – to point out what it said was a lopsided trade relationship between the U.S. and Korea.  But Ford has since reversed course and is now supporting the trade pact.

In endorsing the changes to the agreement, King said it revised some critical factors that work in favor of Detroit – and U.S. workers.  In an earlier, 2007 pact that never won ratification, 90% of Korea’s auto exports to the United States would have received immediate duty-free access on the
day it took effect.  But, under the current proposal, King noted, that will be delayed five year, “giving U.S. automakers the time to reverse the damage caused by decades of South Korean protectionism.”

Also, the revisions delay for eight years the elimination of the 25% “chicken tax” tariff on truck imports to the U.S., King said.  Thus, the agreement substantially reduces the chances South Korean manufacturers will decide to export any kind of trucks to the U.S. which the union exec hailed as a victory for American workers.

“This agreement is an important step toward a global rule-based trade system, an important step in giving labor a real voice in trade negotiations. We look forward to working with the Obama Administration on the issue of global rights for workers — especially the right to organize and bargain collectively,” King said.

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