Wednesday, March 01, 2006

AFL-CIO rejects temporary guest worker proposals

AFL-CIO rejects U.S. guest worker proposals
Tue Feb 28, 2006 4:17 PM ET
By Peter Szekely

SAN DIEGO, Feb 28 (Reuters) - AFL-CIO leaders on Tuesday said they would reject guest worker proposals now in Congress, saying that all foreign workers who come to the United States to fill labor shortages should come as permanent residents.

In a comprehensive policy on an immigration issue that has divided labor as well as Republican lawmakers, leaders of the 54-union federation ditched the idea that a temporary guest worker program could be made acceptable.

"To embrace the expansion of temporary guest worker programs is to embrace the creation of an undemocratic, two-tiered society," AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda Chavez-Thompson told a news conference.

The AFL-CIO's immigration policy, which has evolved from a restrictive view a generation ago, is expected to be formally adopted on Wednesday by its executive council during its winter meeting, after winning the endorsement of a council subcommittee, an AFL-CIO spokeswoman said.

The AFL-CIO, the larger of two U.S. labor federations, continues to support the legalization of more than 11 million illegal foreign workers in the country as it has since taking that landmark position in 2000.

Its new policy, however, would oppose existing U.S. guest worker programs, such as H1B visas for foreign professional workers or H2B visas for seasonal unskilled workers, as well as Senate proposals to expand those programs.

By rejecting the guest worker concept, the AFL-CIO rejected the notion of separate but equal working conditions for workers who are not accorded permanent residency status, or "green cards," and given the option of becoming citizens.

"Our answer is that the future labor shortages need to be filled by workers with full rights," said Ana Avendano, director of the AFL-CIO's immigrant workers' program.

Avendano said the number of foreigners who come to work in the United States with residency status in the future should be determined by a formula using economic indicators that measure the job market for individual industries.


The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of five unions to break away from the AFL-CIO last year and start the rival Change to Win labor federation, supports a version of a guest worker program in a bill sponsored by Sens. Edward Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, an Arizona Republican.

But that bill was overshadowed on Friday by a comprehensive draft offered by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter that will become the vehicle for Senate debate on immigration matters. The committee is scheduled to discuss his bill on Thursday.

Besides allowing illegal workers who entered the United States before Jan. 4, 2004, to remain indefinitely, Specter, a Pennsylvania Republican, would allow an unlimited number of new guest workers to enter the country without a right to eventually become permanent residents or citizens.

Republicans are split over the immigration issue, which has exposed the gulf between conservative activists who oppose guest worker and amnesty programs for current illegal workers and Republican business interests that rely on immigrant labor.

President George W. Bush favors a guest worker program that offers illegal immigrants in the United States the chance to register and work -- mostly at low-skilled jobs that Americans don't want -- for up to six years.

A bill that passed the House of Representatives would expand an employer verification system designed to weed illegal immigrants out of the workforce.

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