- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 5, 2001

LAS VEGAS The AFL-CIO voted last night to support amnesty for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States.
It was the first time in the AFL-CIO's 46-year history that the federation adopted amnesty as official policy. The proposal passed by an overwhelming majority of the nearly 1,000 delegates from the AFL-CIO's 66 affiliated unions at the organization's annual convention.
"We are now a beacon of hope to millions of workers who've come to our country seeking a better life," AFL-CIO President John Sweeney told the delegates before the vote. "And I want you to know you made me the proudest labor leader in the world by rewriting the AFL-CIO's policy on immigration."
Union membership has been declining, and its share of the American work force fell to 13.5 percent last year, the lowest in more than a quarter of a century.
AFL-CIO spokeswoman Kathy Roeder said the federation was motivated by a desire to recruit members.
"Organizing is our number one priority," she said. "So we're always looking for opportunities for people to join unions who don't have them. That's our number one reason for working with immigrants."
Miss Roeder denied the pro-amnesty policy could hurt American workers.
"There's no feeling in the labor movement that immigrants take away American jobs," she said.
Even the Teamsters union, which opposes allowing Mexican truckers to make deliveries in the United States because it is afraid they will take away American jobs, supported the amnesty proposal.
"We stand for all exploited workers, whether they're legal or illegal," said George Cashman, director of the Teamsters' port division.
The AFL-CIO's amnesty policy might run against popular opinion of American voters, including its own membership.
A recent Center for Immigration Studies survey said the majority of Americans, including union members, oppose amnesty. It found that 55 percent of Americans oppose amnesty and 34 percent support it. Among union households, 60 percent oppose amnesty, while 32 percent support it.
In an August report on immigration policy, the Washington foundation warned about the AFL-CIO's pro-amnesty vote.
"Should this happen, the implications for the future of organized labor and for American workers are far-reaching," it said.
One of the risks it cited was that immigrants would reduce the demand for low-skilled blue-collar jobs, thereby reducing the pay scale for Americans who fill them. As a result, the AFL-CIO might hurt the same kind of workers they are trying to attract.
"If this change occurs, working people especially those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder will have lost the support of the most effective champion they ever had," said the report written by Vernon Briggs Jr., a professor of labor economics at Cornell University.
After President Bush met with Mexican President Vicente Fox in September, the administration said it would support a limited amnesty for Mexican illegal immigrants who can fill certain types of jobs and who have no criminal background.
The AFL-CIO policy adopted yesterday is similar to the Bush administration's ideas.
"We remain committed to pursuing an agenda that seeks legal status, opportunity for citizenship, protection of workplace rights, deterrence of employer abuse and opportunities for full civic participation for hard-working immigrant workers and their families," the policy says.
Another provision asks for "full protection of workplace rights, including the right to organize, for all workers, regardless of their immigration status, and for stiff and meaningful penalties for employers who break immigration and labor laws in order to exploit workers."

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