Several weeks ago in my hometown of Portland, Ore., the National Postal Mail Handlers Union (NPMHU) held its quadrennial national convention. For 10 years, I belonged to the NPMHU, but in 2005, I resigned my membership.
The reason? The NPMHU affiliates with the AFL-CIO and the Laborers’ International Union of North America, which aggressively promote — with NPMHU members’ dues — the cause of illegal aliens. These federations have supported, for instance, President Obama’s decision to suspend enforcement of immigration law against more than a million illegal-alien youths; his administration’s lawsuit to overturn Arizona’s S.B. 1070, which seeks to deter illegal immigration to that state; and a “path to citizenship” for millions of foreigners who intentionally have violated U.S. immigration laws.
This spring and summer, other large unions have held national conventions as well — among them the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). The ILWU passed a resolution pledging to do all in its power to pass legislation benefiting “undocumented students who came to the country as children.” The SEIU promised to “make the enactment of comprehensive immigration reform a top priority” and to oppose “anti-immigrant measures that go against our nation’s highest values, including state and local enforcement of immigration laws.”
The irony is that by championing illegal aliens, unions harm the working-class Americans they purport to represent. To understand why, let’s first consider employment.
In July, 12.8 million Americans were officially unemployed. Simultaneously, about 8 million illegal aliens held U.S. jobs, the Federation for American Immigration Reform estimates.
Vernon M. Briggs Jr., professor emeritus of Cornell University, recently estimated that 80-plus percent of those illegal aliens possess a high school education or less. Most, then, compete for the kinds of jobs traditionally held by lower-skilled, less educated and less experienced Americans — the very class of Americans unions were created to serve.
According to the Pew Hispanic Center, illegal aliens concentrate in fields such as building maintenance and groundskeeping, where they recently have made up 19 percent of the workforce; construction, where they have made up 17 percent; and food services, where they have made up 12 percent. Their prevalence in jobs like these has contributed materially to the unemployment rates of, among other Americans, blacks (14.1 percent in July), U.S.-born Hispanics with no education beyond high school (23.3 percent in the second quarter of 2010) and 18-to-24-year-old male veterans (29.1 percent in 2011).
Teenagers, who, research indicates, benefit mightily from early work experience, have suffered from competition with illegal aliens as well. In the summer of 2009, for instance, just one-third of 16-to-19-year-olds held jobs. This is in great part, as the Center for Immigration Studies’ Steven A. Camarota observes, because “immigrants and teenagers often do the same kind of work.” Indeed, Mr. Camarota writes, between 1994 and 2007, “a 10-percentage-point increase in the immigrant share of a state’s workforce reduced the labor-force participation rate of U.S.-born teenagers by 7.9 percentage points.”
Consider as well illegal aliens’ decades-long impact on low-skilled Americans’ wages. In a seminal 2004 study, Harvard professor George Borjas estimated that “between 1980 and 2000, immigration reduced the average annual earnings of natives without a high-school education by 7.4 percent” — and half or more of that reduction was because of competition with illegal aliens. More recently, wrote FAIR’s Eric A. Ruark and Matthew Graham, even the liberal Center for American Progress has admitted that “reducing the illegal-alien population in the United States by one-third would raise the income of unskilled workers by $400 a year.”
Compounding all this, illegal aliens and their children strain the government services American workers are taxed to fund — to the tune of $113 billion in 2009, FAIR estimates. That year, according to Mr. Camarota, 71 percent of illegal-alien households with children used at least one welfare program.
In championing illegal aliens, unions defy their rank and file. A 2010 Zogby poll found 37 percent of members of union households strongly opposed — while just 19 percent strongly supported — “allowing illegal immigrants to stay here legally and be put on a path to citizenship.” Sixty-two percent strongly supported “reducing the illegal immigrant population by enforcing existing immigration laws.”
By promoting the interests of illegal aliens, unions betray their responsibility to working-class Americans. Until they stop doing so, workers for whom union membership is not compulsory should stay out of them.
Richard F. LaMountain, former assistant editor of Conservative Digest magazine, is vice president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform (oregonir.org).