Union leaders and employees at a Des Plaines clothing factory pledged Wednesday to fight a free-trade agreement they say will eliminate jobs and hurt American workers.
The agreement, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, will open U.S. manufacturers to unfair competition from foreign countries, according to the dozens who rallied Wednesday outside the Hart Schaffner & Marx factory on Touhy Avenue.
"I'm willing to compete, as long as it's fair," said Doug William, CEO of the company that owns Hart Schaffner & Marx. "If it's fair, we will compete better than anyone out there."
The TPP currently is being negotiated by nine countries -- the U.S., Australia, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei Darussalam. President Barack Obama believes the TPP would increase American exports and therefore help American workers, while also making the U.S. more competitive in the Asia-Pacific region.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Evanston Democrat and critic of TPP, attended Wednesday's rally. She said that in fact, the agreement appears to be designed to benefit multinational corporations, not workers.
It appears to threaten the "yarn forward" rule, a textile industry standard that requires every stage of a garment's production to take place in the country receiving the trade preference, she added. Loosening that restriction will allow other countries to "flood the U.S. market" with cheap goods, Schakowsky said. Schakowsky also criticized the way the agreement is being negotiated, saying it's happening behind closed doors.
"We've seen leaks and speculation," she said. "You haven't seen (the agreement), and I haven't seen it."
Ruby Leung, an immigrant from Hong Kong who has worked at Hart Schaffner & Marx for 34 years, said she's worried that TPP will lead to lower wages and reduced medical benefits. Richard Monje, vice president of Workers United, told the workers that their union will fight for them.
"It's criminal that in secret, they're negotiating your jobs away!" he told the crowd.
Schakowsky said members of Congress could start discussing TPP early in 2014. She urged residents to contact their elected officials in the meantime to express concern about the agreement.