Business and Labor Work Together on Immigration Reform

Friday, 08 Feb 2013 09:51 AM

By Greg McDonald

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Reversing years of division on immigration issues, the Chamber of Commerce and labor unions have joined together in the effort to overhaul the nation's immigration laws, a development that could help smooth the way in Congress to passage of significant reform legislation.

According to the New York Times, the two groups have agreed on the importance of finding a way to help the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States gain citizenship. The two groups are also working to reach agreement on the issue of a guest worker program, which the Times said "helped to sink President George W. Bush's push for an immigration overhaul in 2007" and has long divided business and labor.

A third area the two groups have also agreed to work on is the E-Verify electronic system that uses Social Security numbers and other information to insure that workers are in the country legally, the Times also reported. The reliability of the system was a major concern to labor during the 2007 reform movement, and remains a concern today because it sometimes identified legitimate workers as illegal immigrants.

But one of the main focuses of the joint effort is to reach an agreement on what defines a guest worker and how many should be allowed into the country, two critical considerations for businesses involved in industries like agriculture and hospitality that rely on lots of seasonal employees.

One approach under consideration is a "data-driven system," which the Times reported would help determine how many "provisional workers" would be allowed in each year to work on farms, at resorts, and other businesses that rely on seasonal help.

For example, labor officials are pushing a plan that would set up a congressional panel to determine how many workers to allow in, based on economic and industry information, including regional unemployment rates. Businesses worry, however, that such a panel would not be able to act quickly enough to meet employer demands, the Times noted.

Labor officials, meanwhile, are looking for guarantees that guest workers will be treated fairly and have the same workplace rights as any other workers.

As things stand now, Maria Elena Durazo, the chairwoman of the A.F.L.-C.I.O.’s immigration committee, told the Times, “Guest workers have no rights and no voice and no possibility of ever becoming legalized.

"If they protest about wages or unsafe conditions, they risk getting deported.”

Whether business and labor can actually come to terms on a guest worker program remains to be seen. Their differences over the issue helped destroy Bush's reform effort six years ago. But Angelo Amador, vice president for labor policy at the National Restaurant Association, told the Times that he believes a deal can be worked out.

“I’m optimistic about reaching an agreement,” on guest workers, said Amador, who serves on the business-labor group seeking a consensus approach. “The pressure on both sides is great. If we don’t come up with something, someone else is going to be drafted by other people.”

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