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Message-ID: <s714bb96.060@mail.ci.detroit.mi.us>
Date: Wed, 14 Apr 1999 16:00:05 -0400
Reply-To: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
Sender: Forum on Labor in the Global Economy <LABOR-L@YorkU.CA>
From: Charles Brown <CharlesB@CNCL.CI.DETROIT.MI.US>
Subject: NAFTA abuse

Antiunion Group Tries to Use Nafta To Push for Teams at Nonunion Firms

By Glenn Burkins, The Wall Street Journal, 14 April 1999

WASHINGTON In a move that could open up a longstanding dispute between business and labor, a leading antiunion group is using the North American Free Trade Agreement to push for employers' rights to create labor-management teams at nonunion companies.

The Labor Policy Association, in a complaint sent to the agency overseeing Nafta enforcement in Canada, wants the agency to hold hearings on the issue and ultimately levy financial sanctions against the U.S.

No Nafta nation has ever been fined as a result of such a complaint. What the LPA really wants, says its president, Jeffrey C. McGuiness, is to prompt Congress to amend certain provisions of the National Labor Relations Act, which it says are inconsistent with certain Nafta rules.

Under the law in question, U.S. employers in nonunion shops are largely prohibited from creating labor-management teams to address issues such as workplace safety and productivity. And that, Mr. McGuiness says, is where the Nafta rules get trampled.

Hope for Public Discussion

Under the trade pact, the U.S., Canada and Mexico agreed to promote greater employee involvement in the workplace. "What we hope to get out of this is a public discussion," Mr. McGuiness said. "We have tried to address this issue repeatedly over the years, but people acknowledge the problem but don't want to address it, because it is too politically tough to address."

The group wants to revive the TEAM Act, vetoed by President Clinton in 1996 under pressure from organized labor. Labor feared the act would give employers in nonunion shops more leeway to create workermanagement teams, which could be used to thwart unions.

The debate surrounding workermanagement teams emerged as a major issue for business groups in 1994 after Republicans won control of Congress and set out to rewrite some of the most fundamental provisions of U.S. labor law, including those affecting overtime pay. Mr. Clinton vetoed nearly all the Republicanpassed bills.

Needed More Leeway

At the time, many employers said they needed more leeway to create workermanagement teams, saying cooperation was crucial in a modern business environment. Indeed, the LPA said in its complaint: "Employers no longer can remain shackled to the early 20thcentury labor environment."

The LPA's filing rests on a Nafta side agreement designed to protect workers, particularly those in Mexico, where labor law is less developed. But American unions and even the U.S. Labor Department have used the same Nafta clause to protest numerous alleged laborlaw violations south of the border.

Neither the Labor Department nor the National Labor Relations Board, which enforces labor law, had seen the complaint, which was mailed to the Canadian agency Tuesday via overnightmail service. Both declined to comment.

An official at the Canadian Embassy here declined to comment on the specific case, saying his government would have 60 days after receiving the complaint to decide whether to accept it.

Under Nafta rules, complaints regarding a signatory nation=20 Canada, the U.S. and Mexico are generally filed with the National Administrative Office of another Nafta nation. The recipient nation can pursue several options, including consultations between the governments, financial sanctions or even withdrawal of trade benefits.

At least 20 laborlaw complaints have been filed under Nafta: 13 against Mexico, five against the U.S., and two against Canada. Earlier this year, Labor Secretary Alexis Herman had extensive talks with her Mexican counterpart after humanrights groups complained to the U.S. that Mexican plants along the Texas border were requiring female job seekers to verify their pregnancy status as a condition of employment.

Copyright 1999 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All Rights Reserved.