Labor and Business at Pay Standoff Over Immigration Reform

Friday, 29 Mar 2013 09:37 AM

By Melanie Batley

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A standoff between business and union groups over a guest-worker program could stall the scheduled April 8 unveiling of a bipartisan Senate plan to overhaul the nation's immigration policies.

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The standoff comes down to this: The U.S. Chamber of Commerce wants to issue temporary work visas for up to 400,000 lower-wage migrants, with the ability for those workers to switch jobs once in the United States. But the AFL-CIO only wants to offer 10,000 visas at higher wages, with the chance for workers to apply for citizenship.

Their concerns aside, the Senate's so-called Gang of Eight working on the reform bill have reportedly agreed to cap the program at 200,000 visas per year, starting at a much lower figure and moving up as the economy improves, The Washington Post reported.

But the "biggest sticking point has been wages," the Post noted Friday. "The chamber wants to pay the foreign workers based on a government calculation of the prevailing wages of American workers — based on the minimum wage and on regional and industry norms.

Unions are holding out for a higher pay scale based on median wages for each industry."

The AFL-CIO claims the Chamber of Commerce plan would exploit workers by paying them a pittance, while undermining employment opportunities for Americans.

Randy Johnson, a senior vice president with the chamber, told Fox News Latino, "It is simply untrue that the business community is seeking to pay foreign workers anything other than what American workers received."

But union spokesman Jeff Hauser responded, telling Fox, "[Republicans] want to pave the path to citizenship with poverty."

Despite the anger between the business and union interests, President Barack Obama said this week he is still confident the guest worker dispute can be solved.

"I don't agree that it's threatening to doom the legislation. Labor and businesses may not always agree exactly on how to do this, but this is a resolvable issue," he said, according to the Post.

Editor's Note The IRS’ Worst Nightmare — How to Pay Zero Taxes

Just months ago, the groups announced they had found common ground in several important areas and were "committed to continue to work together" to enact reform legislation. But it is hard to forget a similar guest-worker disagreement scuttled the last attempt in 2007 at a comprehensive overhaul of immigration law.

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