The Bush administration is pushing for passage of the deal, known as KORUS, before fast track authority, also known as trade-promotion authority, expires June 30. Without fast track, such trade deals will have a harder time passing in Congress.
Union members and activists demanded to be part of the discussion happening inside the Washington Court Hotel.
"Let us in! Let us in!" they chanted as police formed a tight line across the hotel entrance, where they refused to allow any rally participants to enter.
Hyun Lee, a Korean-American who traveled from New York City to be part of the protest, said, "It just doesn't make sense to negotiate a trade deal that goes against the majority of the people."
She explained that many Koreans are very upset about the proposed agreement. Korean unionists fear KORUS would weaken workers' rights. Already, many of South Korea's 15 million workers put in long hours in unsafe conditions. More than half are "irregular," meaning they work part time or are self-employed.
Leaders and members of the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU), the Federation of Korean Trade Union (FKTU) and the Korean Alliance Against FTA (KoA) were joined Monday by members of the AFL-CIO and other area unions.
"Trade between the United States and Korea is very important, and any agreement must ensure that working people of our countries are the principal beneficiaries," said Thea Lee, policy director at the AFL-CIO. "These flawed agreements are the wrong way for all of us. We don't know how many more ways we can tell our governments that these agreements don't work for working people."
Based on more than 13 years' experience with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), U.S. unionists worry that trade agreements do nothing to protect the very people they claim to help: workers. Since 1998, more than 3 million U.S. manufacturing jobs have been lost, leaving families and whole communities without the means to build a better future.
The labor movement and other organizations who support fair trade say agreements must include enforceable provisions on workers' rights and environmental protections.
The protestors plan to keep a vigil outside the hotel until Thursday, when negotiations for the agreement are expected to conclude.
Reprinted from the AFL-CIO news blog, http://blog.aflcio.org/