Despite the fact that unions historically have seen foreign workers as a threat to the job prospects of American workers according to Robert Reich, former Secretary of Labor, they are embracing immigration reform. That may seem counterintuitive, but here is the reason unions are embracing immigration reform.
Provisions of the reform
According to Reich, in the first year of reform, 20,000 “temporary visas would be issued to foreign workers in low-skilled occupations, who could thereafter petition to become American citizens.” This would then increase up to 200,000 visas in the fifth year, depending on labor conditions. The workers getting these wages would have to be paid at a minimum the “prevailing American wage” for the position they will occupy. Since union wages are generally considered to be the benchmark for determining prevailing wage that means these positions will be paid pretty well in most cases.
Why the unions are in favor
So why are the unions behind immigration reform? Well first with the provisions stated above the workers let in with visas will not really be undercutting American wages since the prevailing wage standard has to be applied. Secondly, this immigration reform will impart “legal” status to these workers. And with legal status the unions can then go after them in order to organize them.
Several of Reich’s statements confirm that organization is the reason. First he says “Construction jobs were exempted from the agreement because the building trades are already well-organized and saw more risk than gain from guest-workers.” Secondly he says “One way to reverse this trend is enable these workers to join together in unions, and demand better pay and working conditions. And one strategy for accomplishing this is for the unions to embrace immigration reform, and organize like mad.”
The trend Reich is talking about is the increasing number of lower paying jobs. Reich says this is not due to undocumented workers but rather is due to “structural changes in the economy that have shipped high-wage manufacturing jobs abroad and replaced other semi-skilled work with computers and robots. If you don’t have the right education and connections, you’re on a downward escalator.” And why were these jobs shipped away or remanufactured? Part of the reason is because of wages and benefit packages demanded by unions.
Warning to employers
Mr. Reich ends his article by making a statement that should be taken as a warning for all employers who have jobs that might be filled by these “guest workers”. He says “This is the next frontier for organized labor. Immigration reform is part of its long-term strategy.”
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