On a crisp fall morning in 2012, I joined more than 100 other union volunteers at the Sacramento Labor Council to go door to door talking to voters about the stakes of the upcoming election.
Also there was Ami Bera, in a tight race with the incumbent congressman, Dan Lungren. Bera rallied the troops with a rousing speech about protecting middle-class jobs.
As I stood in line to get a cup of coffee, I met an unemployed ironworker from Sacramento. As we talked, his voice choked with emotion. He’d been out of work for nine months, his job outsourced like so many others. His house was being foreclosed upon.
I asked why he was spending his Saturday with us. “This is the only thing I feel I have control over anymore,” he said. We need to elect candidates like Bera who will stand up for working people so that what happened to him doesn’t keep happening to others, he told me.
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Last month, Bera announced that he was breaking with the vast majority of congressional Democrats to support fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade pact that many experts fear will accelerate the outsourcing of what’s left of our middle-class jobs.
Given Bera’s past statements about protecting the middle class, his announcement really stings.
Past trade deals that have been fast-tracked to approval proved disastrous to our economy. The two most recent cost the United States more than 700,000 jobs as corporations shipped our work to countries with abysmal labor standards.
Bera, President Barack Obama and others would like us to believe the Trans-Pacific Partnership is somehow different. But the pact is being negotiated in absolute secrecy by corporate lobbyists. That doesn’t bode well for American workers.
Bera’s support of Trade Promotion Authority is a slap in the face to those who worked so hard to elect him.
Previous fast-tracked trade pacts, such as NAFTA, led to the loss of more than 11,000 jobs in Bera’s own district, according to the Economic Policy Institute. They were not just any jobs, but good family-supporting jobs. That’s why Bera’s constituents oppose fast-track by a 2-1 margin, according to a recent poll by Lake Research Partners.
Bera’s decision to break with labor unions, environmentalists and his own constituents on fast-tracking the Trans-Pacific Partnership wasn’t politically courageous, as some have suggested. He caved to pressure from an army of corporate lobbyists who are now arm-twisting on Capitol Hill for its expedited approval.
In fact, in a Viewpoints article announcing his decision, Bera cribbed language directly from a corporate lobbying group’s website. That’s not going to win you any awards for political courage.
Protecting American jobs ought to be a top priority for any member of Congress, and Bera promised it would be when he ran for office. He has broken that promise.
Far too often, politicians get a free pass when they say one thing and do another. That shouldn’t be the case. Bera, and all members of Congress, should be held to account for their actions.
I’m not sure what became of the ironworker I spoke to in 2012. I hope he found work to help support his family, but odds are he’s still searching for a path back to the American Dream he once lived.
When Bera turned his back on workers, I can only imagine how betrayed that ironworker felt.
Steve Smith is communications director of the California Labor Federation.