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Labor Groups: Nation's Trade Agreements Are Hurting N.C. Workers

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RALEIGH, N.C. — North Carolina's unemployment numbers are falling. The latest numbers show unemployment fell from 5.1 percent in August to 4.9 percent in September, but there are still a lot of people out of work.

A new report by the Economic Policy Institute blames NAFTA for 133,000 jobs lost in the state over the past six years -- jobs at places including Alcatel in Raleigh, Burlington Industries in Granville County and 700 jobs at the Swift Denim plant in Erwin.

"Community after community have been devastated as a result of these quick deals," said James Andrews, president of the North Carolina's AFL-CIO chapter.

Andrews said quick-trade deals, including NAFTA, resulted from legislation called fast track. Fast track allows the president to negotiate trade agreements. Congress then has a limited amount of time to accept or deny the deal but they cannot make any changes.

"We elect them to be our representatives and therefore we say, 'Hey, they ought to have a right to change them if they are flawed,' and certainly any trade agreement without worker protection and environmental protection is flawed," he said.

Proponents of fast track say trade agreements could drag on for years while the details are hammered out. They also say the state would have lost jobs regardless of NAFTA because technology replaced many manufacturing jobs.

The AFL-CIO is urging U.S. Reps. Bob Etheridge and David Price to vote no on a fast track proposal. Etheridge voted for it last time, but said he has not made a decision how he will vote this time.

"I happen to be one who believes Congress ought to have a bigger hand in it, and we've had the opportunity to have it (fast track) in the past and I'm not alone," Etheridge said. "A number of my colleagues in Washington believe the same thing; that we ought to be involved on the front side rather than just on the back."

Price also has not said how he will vote. Fast track expired in 1993, but there is a proposal on Capitol Hill to renew it. A vote was expected as early as this week but it likely will be pushed back due to the anthrax threats in Washington.


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