Posted on Mon, Jan. 08, 2007
from the Charlotte Observer
INCREASED STATURE FOR DEMOCRATIC BACKERS
Labor takes on immigration
Opposition from union may complicate Bush's guest worker proposal
WASHINGTON - President Bush's hopes of securing a comprehensive immigration
overhaul have brightened considerably in the new Democratic-controlled
Congress, but resistance from organized labor -- one of the Democratic Party's
most loyal constituencies -- could complicate those efforts.
The AFL-CIO, which represents 53 unions with more than 9 million members, is
ratcheting up opposition to a temporary guest worker program, a key element of
Bush's immigration plan. At the same time, two powerful unions in a breakaway
labor coalition, Change to Win, have tended to support the provision.
The divisions within labor were evident during the contentious debate over
immigration in the previous Republican-controlled Congress. But they take on
heightened significance as Democrats assume control of the 110th Congress and
begin shaping the legislative agenda.
Labor political action committees contributed 86 percent of their donations to
Democratic candidates, a total of $42 million, according to the Center for
Responsive Politics. Labor also aggressively waged get-out-the-vote efforts and
other activities to help end 12 years of Republican control of Congress.
With its bolstered political clout, the AFL-CIO is better positioned to confront
a powerful coalition of business groups that is pressing for a temporary worker
program to bring in thousands of foreign workers each year.
"The industry will oppose a bill that doesn't have a good temporary worker
program in it," said Randel Johnson, vice president of the U.S. Chamber of
But Johnson acknowledged that the AFL-CIO's heightened political stature in the
aftermath of the elections raises the challenge for his side.
"In view of the election, it's very significant," he said. "Certainly, the
AFL-CIO has a bigger seat at the table than they did before."
Business leaders say the guest worker program is needed to bring in foreign
workers to fill unskilled and low-skilled jobs Americans don't want. AFL-CIO
officials say the program is designed to give business a steady source of cheap
labor and would take jobs from U.S. citizens.
"We don't believe our elected representatives are ready to adopt legislation
that creates paths for corporations to import workers (and) reduce working
standards in the United States," said Ana Avendando, associate general counsel
for the AFL-CIO. "That's exactly what guest worker programs are."
Bush has made immigration one of his top domestic priorities since the outset of
his presidency. But he was rebuffed by members of his own party when
conservative Republicans in the House of Representatives effectively bottled up
a Senate-passed bill. The legislation, which had bipartisan support, included a
guest worker program and a legalization plan to put millions of undocumented
workers on a path to U.S. citizenship.