News/US: Unions Questioning Sanctions Against Employers Over Hiring

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Subject: News/US: Unions Questioning Sanctions Against Employers Over Hiring
From: Melanie Orhant (morhant@igc.org)
Date: Fri Oct 15 1999 - 09:27:47 EDT


Although this is not directly about trafficking, I think if unions stop
supporting sanctions against employers it might just change how trafficked
people get treated. \

What do you think?

Melanie

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Unions Questioning Sanctions Against Employers Over Hiring
+Labor: Within the AFL-CIO, support is growing for amnesty in cases of
undocumented workers.
By Nancy Cleeland
Los Angles Times, October 12, 1999

In an indication of the dramatic demographic change sweeping U.S. labor,
support is building within the AFL-CIO for a new amnesty and an end to
sanctions against employers who hire undocumented workers.

Backed by some of the labor movement's most aggressive and fastest-growing
unions, the proposal--to be discussed at the AFL-CIO national convention in
Los Angeles this morning--is the latest and most substantial of several
recent calls for amnesty, an idea that would have been ridiculed only a few
years ago.

Supporters from unions representing janitors, garment workers, hotel
housekeeping staffers, restaurant workers, field hands and garment workers
argued that labor needs to embrace immigrants--and provide tangible
evidence of that support--if the movement is to survive. They said
employers use the law to intimidate or fire workers who are trying to form
a union. But adopting such a position would be a sea change for U.S. labor,
which was a driving force behind the employer sanctions provision of the
1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. The law granted amnesty to
millions of existing undocumented residents, but also made it illegal for
employers to hire workers without immigration papers in the future.

At that time, many unions viewed undocumented immigrants as potential
strikebreakers and a threat to the job security and wages of their members.
Since then, demographics have shifted in many industries--particularly
those involving low-wage, low-skilled workers, which are now heavily
immigrant in California and other high-immigration states. The leadership
in many unions has undergone a similar shift, although that is not
universally true.

Neither is support for the amnesty plan universal. Leaders of several
prominent unions that have large immigrant membership, including the United
Food and Commercial Workers, said they were opposed to the resolution. "We
just didn't think it was in the best interest of our members," said Sean
Harrigan, regional director of the UFCW, which represents thousands of
immigrants in meatpacking.

Among many in the UFCW rank and file, however, sentiments ran strongly the
other way. "I've been a member 18 years and an organizer for two, and I can
tell you, the biggest hurdle I face is fear of retaliation by undocumented
workers," said Roger Rivera, of UFCW Local 428 in San Jose. "The sanctions
aren't doing what they were supposed to do. They've become another tool for
employers."

Intense behind-the-scenes maneuvering by AFL-CIO officials appears to have
headed off what could have been a divisive vote on the resolution. Instead,
it will be briefly debated and sent to committee, while the ideas will be
taken up at four AFL-CIO "town hall" meetings on immigrant workers to be
held in Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta and New York early this winter. A
report on those meetings will be presented to the AFL-CIO executive council
in January, and backers hope the council will vote at that time. "We have
to build consensus within the labor movement first," said Eliseo Medina,
vice president of the Service Employees International Union, who helped
write the resolution but who said there did not appear to be sufficient
support to force a vote today.

The maneuvering came during the federation's first national convention in
Los Angeles, a location chosen in part for its diversity and its success in
organizing immigrants. The opening ceremonies Monday were a raucous
celebration of that success, and speeches were peppered with chants of "Si,
se puede," or "Yes, it can be done"--the oath of courage for
Spanish-speaking immigrant workers.

Backers said they hope labor will use its political muscle to raise
awareness of immigrant worker problems in the 2000 campaigns.

The effort comes at a time of increasing calls among growers and hotel and
restaurant industries, as well as government officials in the U.S. and
Mexico, for an enhanced guest-worker program, which would allow immigrants
to enter for a limited time to perform a specific job.

California growers had hoped to have a bill introduced this session that
would include a guest-worker program with an "earned amnesty" that would
grant legal residency to workers after a period of three or five years in
agriculture.

"Our position is that we should give undocumented workers amnesty and not
go after these slave programs," said the United Farm Workers' Dolores
Huerta, who this summer independently lobbied for amnesty in Washington.

The Southwest Voter Registration Project, which has registered hundreds of
thousands of new citizen voters, also called for an amnesty program for
undocumented workers this summer.

Melanie Orhant
morhant@igc.org
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