Rep. Tim Bishop joined union leaders, environmentalists and other activists Thursday to call on Congress to reject President Barack Obama's request for fast-track approval of future free-trade agreements.
Fast-track approval prohibits Congress from making changes to trade deals once they've been agreed to by the United States and foreign countries. Senators and House members must vote up or down.
Bishop (D-Southampton) was among about 150 House members who signed a letter to Obama saying they oppose the fast track, which was first granted to President Richard Nixon in 1973.
Other local letter signers are Reps. Steve Israel (D-Huntington) and Carolyn McCarthy (D-Mineola).
Reps. Peter King (R-Seaford) and Gregory Meeks (D-Queens) told Newsday Thursday they back the fast track. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) is opposed, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) is undecided.
The Obama administration is negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) free trade agreement with about a dozen countries in Asia and South America. Together, they represent about 40 percent of the world's gross domestic product, the sum of all goods and services produced.
"I urge my colleagues in Congress to do something, to see to it that we help to create an economy that creates good, solid, middle-class jobs," Bishop told about 60 people Thursday at the offices of the Long Island Federation of Labor in Hauppauge. "This agreement takes us in the opposite direction," he added, referring to the TPP.
Supporters of the fast track and TPP shot back that trade deals boost U.S. companies' sales and support millions of domestic jobs.
David Thomas, trade policy vice president at the Business Roundtable, a group of chief executives of large U.S. corporations, said the TPP and another trade pact, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, "will open markets with nearly 1 billion consumers for U.S. companies and workers."
These trade pacts likely would be scuttled if Congress doesn't adopt fast-track legislation, some experts said, because of the hyper partisanship in Washington.
Economists generally back free trade, arguing that by eliminating import barriers nations can grow their economies.
John A. Rizzo, chief economist at the Long Island Association business group, said Thursday international trade fosters increased competition, and thus lowers prices for both consumers and businesses. However, he also said some companies wouldn't be able to withstand greater competition and likely would lay off workers and in some cases, shut down.
Rizzo said, "There are costs and benefits to free trade; it's not a slam dunk."
At his news conference, Bishop was joined by eight unions, the Long Island Progressive Coalition and the local chapter of MoveOn.org.
Michael Gendron, executive vice president of Local 1108 of the Communications Workers of America, criticized the secrecy surrounding trade negotiations. "It will take us years," he said, "to find out what the impact of [TPP] will be."