The United Steelworkers of America's suit to overturn the North American Free Trade Agreement promises to be a protracted, incendiary legal battle with constitutional ramifications. In the real world, for the workers at the Goodyear Gadsden, Ala., tire plant from which the suit springs, and other union members, the fight promises to be a loser.
The USWA claims NAFTA is illegal because the trade pact among the U.S., Canada and Mexico didn't get a two-thirds majority vote in the Senate. The Steelworkers claim NAFTA has cost 400,000 U.S. jobs, including 7,000 from the USWA and 250 from Gadsden. The case quite possibly will end up in the U.S. Supreme Court because it is a long-awaited constitutional question of treaties vs. trade agreements. That's for the legal minds to decide.
The hard truth is that if the USWA wins or not, American rubber workers will continue to see jobs moving abroad.
That NAFTA has caused, or at least abetted, the loss of some U.S. jobs can't be denied. Besides the Gadsden layoffs, Goodyear moved about 130 air spring jobs to Mexico from its Green, Ohio, facility, as well as hundreds of jobs from its plants in Topeka, Kan., and Lincoln, Neb.
But NAFTA alone can't explain the plant closings and layoffs that happen often in the rubber industry. In the past two years, companies as diverse as Bandag Inc., Federal-Mogul Corp., Foamex Corp., Gates Rubber Co., GenCorp Inc. and Standard Products Co. have announced plant closings and layoffs, none attributable to jobs moving to Canada or Mexico.
The issue in the rubber business isn't the constitutional question, it's how to be a low-cost producer, positioned to serve burgeoning markets. The methods used to get to that point aren't always fair. But they are the reality.