Labor unions, which are among the Democratic Party’s most loyal supporters, are deeply at odds with the party’s push for a guest-worker program, and many Capitol Hill aides say erosion of labor’s support undermined the Senate immigration-reform bill last week.
AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says guest-worker programs supported by top Democrats such as Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Dianne Feinstein are a “bad idea and harm all workers.”
“They cast workers into a perennial second-class status and unfairly put their fates into their employers’ hands,” said Mr. Sweeney, whose organization represents 13 million workers in 54 unions.
While labor unions say they want immigration reform, there is division among unions who support guest workers, such as the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), and those who fear current Senate proposals will flood the U.S. job market and further undercut American workers with cheap labor.
“This is the corporate strategy in this country now, and Congress seems to be embracing it,” Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat, told CNN’s Lou Dobbs last week.
“The corporate strategy is export good American jobs and then import cheap labor,” he said. “That might be good corporate strategy, but in my judgment, it’s not good for the American worker.”
The proposal of Mrs. Feinstein, of California, would allow for 1.5 million workers over five years to come to the U.S. to work in the agricultural industry.
Mr. Kennedy, of Massachusetts, has proposed creating a new temporary visa to allow as many as 400,000 foreign workers into the country each year. Under both proposals, workers could apply for citizenship after several years.
It is these very proposals that unions blame for low wages and job losses.
“Our failed immigration policies also have encouraged employers to use guest-worker programs to lower labor standards and working conditions for all workers within our borders,” according to the AFL-CIO’s executive council.
“We’ve seen employers turn tens of thousands of permanent, well-paying jobs in the United States into temporary jobs through the use of various guest-worker programs,” the group said.
Federal laws now require employers to file an “immigrant petition” expressing interest in new foreign workers and showing that the employers have advertised but been unable to fill the jobs with American workers.
The new proposals — both the Senate Judiciary Committee’s legislation and the compromise worked out by Republican Sens. Chuck Hagel of Nebraska and Mel Martinez of Florida — would allow a temporary worker to apply for a green card on his own even if there are no available jobs.
It would make between 300,000 and 400,000 temporary workers eligible for green cards and eventual citizenship each year.
The Laborers’ International Union of North America joined the SEIU, the nation’s largest union, with 1.8 million members, and U.S. Chamber in support of legislation to legalize millions of illegal aliens.