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Why the Teamsters president supports Trump’s new tariffs

Workers, jobs and wages are central to the ongoing trade war between the U.S. and China, in which the two countries have exchanged tariffs and threats recently. Though many Americans fear that they will be the ones to pay the price for the friction, Judy Woodruff talks to James Hoffa Jr., president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, about why he thinks the tariffs are a “good idea.”

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Even as China and the U.S. are still trying to reach a trade deal before the summer, the stakes and the tension just keep growing.

    China retaliated this week with the threat of raising its own tariffs on U.S. goods, and that was followed by President Trump's latest threat that he may raise tariffs on another $300 billion worth of Chinese goods.

    Workers, jobs and wages are, of course, at the heart of this.

    We get the view tonight of one prominent labor leader. He is James Hoffa Jr., the president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters. The Teamsters represent 1.4 million members, including drivers, public employees, and construction and sanitation workers.

    James Hoffa, welcome back to the "NewsHour."

  • James Hoffa:

    Good to be here.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    The president's tariffs and the retaliation by China, as we said, are making a lot of people nervous.

    What is your view?

  • James Hoffa:

    My view is, we need tariffs against China. We need a strategic way to use them, because we really have to level the playing field with China. They have had it one way all this time.

    American goods are not getting in there. And we have to create a market, a bigger market than soybeans for American products to go into China, which is a huge billion-person country. And that's not happening. We're being blocked out right now.

    That's what this trade war is about, about opening their market so we can sell our products there. And that's got to happen. And I think the use of tariffs with regard to China is a good idea.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Well, it may be good in an ideal sense, but, as you know very well, there is serious worry about it not only raising prices for American consumers, but hurting American businesses in a way that is going to cost productivity for years to come.

  • James Hoffa:

    We have heard that, but we also say, why can't we buy American goods? Why can't we basically find goods that are made here?

    Many goods are made here. Let's put Americans to work. I buy American. Let's buy products made here, made in maybe Canada, where we have people that are friendly to us, that are not hostile to us with regard to trade. And let's put people here in the United States back to work.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But, James Hoffa, you know very well the reason so many of these products and their manufacturers have moved to China is because they are able to make these goods in a much cheaper way.

    Americans are able to buy the same products they used to buy made in the U.S., but they are much less expensive. So what you're talking about is asking Americans to pay more for the same goods.

  • James Hoffa:

    You might pay a few bucks more. So you pay 20 cents more for a T-shirt. Basically, if you're putting somebody to work, isn't that a good idea?

    We can't be driven by this idea of, oh, it's cheaper in China, and let them get away with everything. We have basically got to penetrate that market.

    Turn it around. Why are we not selling over there? Why are they not buying our good products? And they're not. They're barring us out. They have laws against it. They're stealing our intellectual property. They're imprisoning a million people in concentration camps.

    They have really kind of gone wild over there. And we have got to get them back to our senses. I think one of the ways is this trade war, to say, lookit, get back to your senses. We want to be trading partners with you, and you have to open your markets. And I think this is the way to do it.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    I think a lot of people would agree with you on the politics of it, but they are concerned about the cost.

    You said 20 cents on a T-shirt. The reality is that the experts that have looked at this are saying the cost of washing machines, of clothing, of food items could go up considerably. And how do you defend that to working Americans who are basically living from paycheck to paycheck?

  • James Hoffa:

    Well, what if they basically take the company like Whirlpool and put products — put a company here, a factory, with Americans working there, making those Whirlpool machines, making those washing machines? Wouldn't that be a good idea?

    Basically, start making things here. We don't make things in this country anymore. And that's one of the things wrong with our economy and why we have had our wages slip. We need to have manufacturing jobs here. And this is one way to do it. And if we make those products here, and we export them to other parts of the world, maybe not China, that will work.

    But the idea about, I can get it cheaper from China, can't be the only determining factor with regard to our relationship with China.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    But I know you have studied labor history, James Hoffa. You know that, in most instances, what happens is that jobs — that manufacturing is going to go to places that say, we will do a great job of making this item, but we're going to do it for less.

    People don't want to pay more if they can get the same thing, at a quality — a quality item, but pay less for it.

  • James Hoffa:

    That's what's been driving us for the past 10 years, and look where we're at. We have trade deficits with everybody.

    Yes, we get a few cheaper products here, but we don't make anything here in America. We're hollowing out our economy. And for the short-term gain, we're basically losing our manufacturing ability. And that's why we have a wage slippage. People don't make the kind of money they should be making here. We don't have manufacturing jobs.

    We're hollowing out our economy by being slaves to basically saving some money on a bike or some toys. And I think that's wrong. We have got to reassess how we look at things to say, do we want to be a real economy, where we manufacture things, or someplace that wants to go to Toys 'R' Us and buy something cheaper?

  • Judy Woodruff:

    You're making it sound like it's just a small part of people's budget.

    What are you hearing from your own members? Are they saying they're willing to pay more for the goods that they need for their family?

  • James Hoffa:

    Well, I think that our members are going to stick with us to say, we want to have good jobs.

    Our members have good jobs. Our members are working hard. They make good money. They have health care. They have pensions. They're the middle class. We have to have more people in the middle class, more people like the Teamsters and organized labor.

    And that's what's wrong with this country right now. We have hollowed out our economy, where we basically have people working for nothing or basically working for $11 an hour with no benefits, and working for 20 hours a week. That's what's wrong with the economy.

    And there are basically people groveling to buy these cheaper products that come from China. That's not the American way. I want to turn this thing around. I want to basically have people making things here, exporting things, putting people to work. Let's put America back to work.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And your members are prepared to pay higher prices?

  • James Hoffa:

    If they have to.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And they're not worried about losing their jobs?

  • James Hoffa:

    Well, they're not going to lose their jobs. Our people are working right now. Our people are working right now. We have a robust economy.

    I don't see this as being tied to losing their jobs. I think this is going to be short-term. Number one, I think people are overreacting to this entire affair. I think it's going to be over with soon. I think somebody is going to blink here, because China has so much more to lose than we do.

    They have 5-1 with regard the trade. People talk about soybeans. They are selling so much stuff to us, they cannot afford to lose this thing, this battle. And they have got to basically have it so they can keep selling stuff here, but they have to open their markets to do that. It has to be an equal trade. We sell to them, they sell to us. That is our goal.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    James Hoffa, president of the Teamsters, thank you very much.

  • James Hoffa:

    Thank you.

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