updated 6/8/2006 3:38:19 PM ET 2006-06-08T19:38:19

The AFL-CIO and two members of Congress asked the Bush administration Thursday to pursue trade sanctions against China, accusing the Chinese of violating international labor standards and costing 1.24 million American jobs.

The group alleged that China’s labor practices violate U.S. trade law, which makes repression of workers’ rights a violation that would be subject to economic sanctions if the U.S. wins a case on the issue before the World Trade Organization.

The petition was an effort to turn up the heat on the administration in an election year over record trade deficits with China, which hit an all-time high of $202 billion last year.

“Exploitation of human beings through repression of fundamental rights for economic gain is both morally repugnant and economically dangerous,” said AFL-CIO Secretary-Treasurer Richard Trumka. “The fact is that China is violating international trade law and our nation is doing nothing about it.”

The petition said China was using child and forced labor and firing, beating or imprisoning workers who attempt to form unions. These practices, the petition alleged, keep the wages of Chinese factory workers as low as 15 cents to 50 cents per hour, a level that encourages U.S. companies to close factories in this country and move their production to China.

The AFL-CIO said the violations of worker rights had contributed to the loss of an estimated 930,000 U.S. manufacturing jobs and 1.24 million total U.S. jobs.

The petition was similar to one the AFL-CIO filed two years ago. That petition was rejected by the Bush administration, which contended it could make more progress in pursuing reforms of China’s labor practices through constructive engagement.

The administration will have 45 days to decide whether to launch an investigation based on the new petition, but there were no indications the administration had changed its opposition to pursuing such an option.

“The administration believes that a strong and growing trade relationship driven by mutual interests is the best way to encourage economic, social and political reform in China,” said Stephen Norton, a spokesman for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Officials at the Chinese Embassy in Washington said they had not seen a copy of the petition and would have no comment on the allegations.

The AFL-CIO was joined in petitioning for the trade case under a provision of U.S. law known as Section 301 by Reps. Benjamin Cardin of Maryland, the top Democrat on trade matters on the Ways and Means Committee, and Christopher Smith, R-N.J., a strong critic of China’s human rights record.

“I hope there will be a serious reappraisal by the administration of our partnership with dictators as a result of this petition,” Smith said in a statement.

Cardin said the petition documents that “China persistently and systematically denies even the most basic rights to its working people.”

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