Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Unions United to Push Immigration Reform

The American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) resolved differences with the break-away unions of Change to Win over immigration reform. The AFL-CIO had weakened its united support for the Kennedy-McCain Bill over the provisions on guest workers. Change to Win strongly supported reform because these unions heavily recruit Hispanic workers, many undocumented -- janitors and office cleaners, dishwashers and waitresses, homecare workers and house cleaners. The new agreement is to support Obama's expected announcement. Both groups had generally supported legalization. If undocumented workers can come out of the shadows, it is less likely their employment will drag down the wages and work conditions of all workers. Hispanics also seem more drawn to uniionization.

The dividing issue was the guest worker program. The Kennedy-McCain Bill did not change the program enough to meet AFL-CIO objections . It want better management of the program so that in reflected a real need for additional foreign workers. Also it want the program structured to give a better deal to the temporary workers, especially the chance to change employers and the hope of a green card. Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce were drawn into the coalition with immigration advocates to support comprehensive return to take pressure off employers who hired the undocumented, but also to extended the guest-worker program much as it is.

The new emphasis of the union's campaign, worked out in discussion with immigrant advocates, is to approve legalization. But the guest worker program will not be renewed without serious change. The old grievances of being tied to one employer and poor worker conditions would have to be remedied. Competition with American workers will have to be carefully monitored. There were many complaints about how the program was implemented rather laxly in the Bush years, especially the provisions on the need of foreign workers because of labor shortages. The unions are proposing a "national commission" to determine how many temporary workers would be admitted each year, The Chamber of Commerce already objects as does the pro-business ImmigrationWorks USA. Most observers think the united front of the unions have given import impetus to comprehensive reform. (See New York Times article. See also supporting The Times' editorial.)

Last year the sheriff's office of Weld County (Greeley) in Colorado raided a travel agency seeking cases in its files of identity theft by those using other people's Social Security numbers. About 60 immigrants were arrested. The American Civil Liberty Union sued in state court that this was an invasion of privacy and an unlawful search. A state judge agreed and stop any further investigation by the Weld County district attorney. (See New York Times article.)

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