BEND, Ore. -

Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., and Tammy Baldwin D-Wisc., introduced legislation Wednesday that they say would crack down on unfair trade practices, level the playing field for American manufacturing companies and help create middle-class jobs. 

The Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act would ensure that sub-standard wages, workplace safety practices, and environmental protections are properly accounted for as unfair subsidies by foreign countries when calculating American duties intended to offset cheating.

It also rewards companies that meet high standards on a global basis in wages, workplace safety and environmental compliance with streamlined trade and protection from enforcement actions. 

“For far too long, Oregon’s manufacturers and workers have paid the price while companies overseas cut costs by cutting corners," Merkley said. "These foreign companies should not be allow to gain an advantage over American businesses by treating their workers poorly and polluting their environment.”

“If we don’t make things in America, we won’t have a middle class in America. Oregon’s manufacturers can compete with anyone in a fair fight, and it’s time that they had a level playing field to help them grow and create good jobs in Oregon.”

“Even as the national economy is rebounding, businesses and middle-class families in my state remain stuck in neutral," Baldwin said. "The manufacturing sector that sustained our prosperity for generations has taken a lot of hits so I’ve made it my mission to create a “Made in Wisconsin” economy that revitalizes our manufacturing sector and rebuilds our prosperity.”

"In Wisconsin, we believe in hard work and have a commitment to make sure that it is respected and rewarded. For decades, we’ve worked to make things: paper, engines, tools, and ships. Give our workers a fair shot, and we’ll compete against anyone.  That’s why I’m taking on unfair trade practices and policies and betting on American workers by creating an even playing field and giving them a fair shot to compete and win.”

In the past decade, countries like China have reaped the benefits of trade deals without upholding their end of the bargain. This lack of accountability has contributed to the shuttering of tens of thousands of American factories and the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs.

Currently, the senators said, U.S. companies and workers are at a trade disadvantage against companies and countries that do not pay adequate wages or maintain safety standards and environmental controls. 

This results in countries and companies engaging in a “race to the bottom,” which puts U.S. manufacturing jobs at risk and is fundamentally unfair to American working families.  As the recent scandal in Bangladesh made clear, it’s also terribly destructive to workers around the world. 

Current American law and trade agreements prohibit “dumping” of products, where companies export products at prices below the cost of production or cheaper than they sell for in the home country, and allow the U.S. to impose duties to make the sale price in America reflect what the true cost would be without cheating. 

The Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act would, for the first time, recognize that egregious environmental and labor practices are a form of illegal subsidy that can be remedied by U.S. duties. It would also reward companies that adhere to high global standards by creating new trade and enforcement incentives.