Rep. Kaptur Introduces Legislation to Establish an Independent Labor Secretariat to Protect Workers and Enforce Labor Rights in USMCA, Future Trade Agreements

July 17, 2019
Press Release
Legislation is Endorsed by AFL-CIO

Washington, D.C. — Today, Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur (OH-09), introduced the Independent Labor Secretariat for Fair Trade Deals Act of 2019, legislation that would establish an independent Labor Secretariat with the authority to address transnational issues relating to labor, monitor and enforce labor-related trade agreement provisions, and provide research relating to the effects of trade agreements on jobs and communities in the countries covered by the agreement. 

“If the President expects the USMCA to be ratified by Congress, he should amend the text of the agreement to include equal labor standards and enforcement mechanisms as are referenced in this legislation,” said Rep. Kaptur. “If the atrocities of abusive labor practices and current conditions allowed to flourish under the original NAFTA were fully exposed to the public, the truth would reveal a vast, sickening epidemic of Mexican-U.S. labor trafficking, coyote corruption, and continental worker exploitation that undermines competition in the Americas today, anchored by NAFTA. Any North American trade agreement should enforce the rule of law, advance and enforce labor rights, raise the standard of living across the continent, and provide adjustment for workers and farmers who become the victims of economic competition.”


“NAFTA’s renegotiation requires that we address and mitigate the original deal’s devastating economic impact on the United States. Any new agreement must respect workers as much as corporate profits and hold parties accountable with strong mechanisms for labor enforcement. To set the mark on what this should look like, I am introducing, The Independent Labor Secretariat for Fair Trade Deals Act, based on the AFL-CIO’s NAFTA Negotiations Recommendations’ Labor Chapter.


“The damage I predicted when I vehemently opposed the first NAFTA has come true. Think of the hollowed-out towns and communities across this great nation – massive numbers of jobs were outsourced, leading to lower wages and lost benefits, and broken lives. The economic model, profits above all else, undermined the rule of law with a continental race to the bottom. Trade is not just about goods. It is about people. It is about communities. Thus, I advocate “fair trade among free people” and encourage my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to support this legislation.”




While in 2015 Congress passed Trade Promotion Authority to allow for a fast track, up-or-down vote on any trade agreement, the Speaker retains the ability to adjust the rules of the House to prevent expedited process. The President has the ability to update the text of the agreement. Congress must demand provisions that will bring true progress on rule of law and labor rights enforcement from all signatory parties.


The Labor Secretariat and its staff would be empowered to:

  • Visit and monitor workplaces in countries covered by the agreement
  • Interview workers without employer or government monitoring or interference
  • Recommend changes to workplace conditions to comply with labor related provisions of the agreement as a result of information obtained through such visits, monitoring, and interviews
  • Observe and assist the officials of relevant agencies or departments of the government of any such countries in implementing and enforcing the labor-related provisions of the agreement


The Labor Secretariat will have the authority to

  • Originate and pursue dispute settlements under the enforcement procedures of the agreement when it determines that meaningful progress toward the implementation of the recommendations of the Secretariat has ceased or that a signatory to the agreement is persistently out of compliance with one or more of the labor-related provisions of the agreement
  • Impose sanctions on specific workplaces, employers, industries, or sectors, as well as on signatory parties as a whole, in the form of suspension of benefits under the agreement, in order to enforce the decision and ensure that the labor-related provisions of the agreement are fully implemented and enforced


No signatory to the trade agreement may have veto power over the activity of the Secretariat or may control, prevent, or delay Secretariat activities.


Bill text for the legislation can be found here


Watch: Rep. Kaptur’s floor speech is available for download here