By Eileen Lohmann
On February 28, 2013, union leaders and elected officials in Miami Gardens, Florida, called for comprehensive immigration reform, expressing their support of the AFL-CIO’s immigration reform campaign. Chair of the AFL-CIO’s Immigration Committee and executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor, María Elena Durazo explained the union movement’s immigration reform blueprint. She reaffirmed the union movement’s commitment to the five major pieces of the reform blueprint the AFL-CIO and Change to Win announced in the August 2009 report, “The Labor Movement’s Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform.” The August 2009 report stated that immigration reform would serve as a necessary component “of a shared prosperity agenda that focuses on improving productivity and quality; limiting wage competition; strengthening labor standards, especially the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively; and providing social safety nets and high-quality lifelong education and training for workers and their families.”
First, the union movement advocates “an independent commission to assess and manage future flows, based on labor market shortages that are determined on the basis of actual need.” According to the August 2009 report, the system for allocating employment-based visas must reflect actual labor market needs, and should be assessed and managed by an independent commission that is free from the influence of politics. Second, it stresses the need for “a secure and effective worker authorization mechanism.” AFL-CIO and Change to Win suggest that for employment authorization to serve as a secure mechanism that provides protection for workers and prevents discrimination, it must be taken out of the hands of employers and should instead “rely on secure identification methodology.”
Third, the union movement promotes “rational operational control of the border.” According to the report, because 40 to 45 percent of unauthorized immigrants overstayed visas rather than illegally crossing the border, a more rational approach to “border security” requires supplementing border enforcement with effective work authorization and a visa enforcement mechanism. Fourth, it proposes “adjustment of status for current undocumented population” to encourage immigrants to “come out of the shadows” to adjust their status, and to put a stop to the “underground economy” that has resulted from employers’ hiring of undocumented workers who cannot benefit from the legal protections U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents enjoy.
Fifth, the union movement calls for “improvement, not expansion, of temporary worker programs, limited to temporary seasonal, not permanent jobs.” The August 2009 report indicates that the union movement does not support the United States’ adoption of a new “indentured” or “guest worker” initiative.
This framework for immigration reform, according to the AFL-CIO and Change to Win, would solve the serious problem of exploitation of immigrant workers. The report states that these reforms would ultimately disincentivize the common employer practice of avoiding enforcement of labor, health and safety, and other laws that protect workers by hiring undocumented workers rather than U.S. citizen workers.