Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Unions and Immigration

The major alliances of labor unions, the AFL-CIO and the Change to Win, have agreed on a broad outline and strategy for promoting comprehensive reform. (See posting for April 14, 2009.) Implied in their agreement is the belief that undocumented immigrants do not harm the position of American workers, rather it is employers who exploit the fear of those who work in the shadows. Legalization would more likely, in their view, benefit all workers. So unions are agreed on a comprehensive reform that would provide a path to citizenship for the undocumented. But they also insist that the programs for temporary workers must be reformed. This may cause a problem, since such business groups as the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Associate of manufactures had joined in the alliance to pass the Kennedy-McCain Bill. Their goal was to lift the burden on employers who were hiring the undocumented, but also to support or even extend the temporary guest worker programs. Labor's objection is that the determination of the need for temporary workers has been so laxly supervised in the Bush administration that the temps were indeed undercutting available American workers. Also the current programs tie the guest worker to a single sponsoring employers, providing no opportunity to legally change work. This opened the temp to threats by employers to rescind permission to work in this country and fear of being sent home. The Bush Labor department, at least in the eyes of the unions, was equally lax in enforcing wage and hourly standards and fulfilling other obligations under law for housing and safe work conditions. The New York Times editorially praised and supported the unions' position, but also warned them they have some convincing to do among their own membership. Even union workers it easily succumb the nativist logic that in a recession it's the foreigner who threatens their jobs. It worked in the past. Let's hope it doesn't work now.

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