The AFL-CIO and the SEIU, two of the nations largest union federations, are standing up to republicans and business groups for fair wages in federal immigration reform. While the group of bipartisan Senators, called the “Gang of 8,” working on the immigration bill say that the bill is 90% done, much contention remains around the guest worker provisions in the bill.
The problem is this: business groups want to offer many more visas and set wages for guest workers at below poverty level. “The inequality created by our current immigration system is having a deeper effect on our society then anything we’ve seen in recent history,” says Ana Avendaño, AFL-CIO’s Director of Immigration and Community Action. Labor argues that what business interests propose simply makes matters worse for all workers.
Currently, guest workers, who number over 650,000 currently through the H-1b visa alone, are immigrants who are sponsored by businesses to come to the United States and work for up to 3 years without a path to citizenship. Businesses look for guest workers in various industries including construction, agriculture, and technology; however, the guest workers that are at the center of this debate are deemed “low skill” workers.
While President Obama has made it a goal to close the so-called “skills gap”, many critics know the President is leaving out a big part of the story. It’s true that employers are having a difficult time finding workers with the right skills and experience for jobs in manufacturing and other industries. But if there is a skills shortage, there has to be a rise in wages, and that just hasn’t happened. People can earn more per hour working entry-level jobs at McDonald’s than a skilled manufacturing worker can.
“‘Skill’ is a handy, politically uncontroversial substitute for an array of factors that bosses consider when setting wages and working conditions. One of these factors is whether the worker is an immigrant,” wrote J.A. Myerson in a recent article in the GC Advocate.
The AFL-CIO is right. All American workers, whether immigrant or citizen, cannot tolerate government sanctioned work programs that pay below poverty level wages. Neither can our economy. If the Chamber of Commerce gets its way, its greed will have a negative ripple effect across all sectors of the economy and create an underclass of families. We should show elected officials that we support Labor groups fighting for real and livable wage for immigrant workers, because it will benefit all working families.