Chicago unions go to bat for immigration reform

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CHICAGO - Chicago's labor movement turned out in force yesterday to declare support for immediate reform of immigration law, including a path to citizenship for the 11 million in this country without documents.

Hundreds of workers, among them construction workers, laborers, butchers. grocery workers, teachers, truck drivers, and janitors, jammed the Instituto del Progreso building in Little Village, in the heart of this city's Latino community. There, in a rally called by the Chicago Federation of Labor, they heard CFL President Jorge Ramirez say,"Labor is in this 100 percent. Let the word go out across this country that we demand immigration reform and we demand it now."

Local labor leaders and the members of the Chicago unions that participated were joined by national labor leaders Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO and Joseph Hansen, president of the United Food and Commerical Workers.

Standing before the crowd, in the same room where Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn signed a law last month allowing undocumented workers to drive legally in this state, Trumka declared: "Something is broken in a country when you have 11,000,000 million people who work hard, pay taxes and live by the age-old American dream of a better life for themselves and their families and they have to live as second class citizens."

He said that big companies are the only ones that benefit from leaving in place "our broken immigration laws. They keep their immigrant workers down by reminding them that no matter how badly they treat them, if they make any noise, they'll end up on the list to be deported. This lowers wages, benefits, safety and standards for all workers. That's why," Trumka said as he pointed to the Latino community that spreads out for miles around the building in which he spoke, "We say the time is now, not tomorrow or the day after, but now, for reform that includes a fair and doable path to citizenship for each and every one of the 11 million people in this country without documents. When one worker has no rights, the rights of all workers are in danger."

The crowd of brown, black and white workers went wild - cheering , applauding and stomping their feet. In the huge contingent from SEIU Polish and Latina cleaning women embraced, jumping up and down. "What an incredible, beautiful, diverse crowd you all are," Trumka said. They cheered even louder.

Estefano Flores,18, was in the crowd. She was brought to the U.S. by her parents from Mexico at the age of 5. She wants to go for her Masters Degree at DePaul University here.

"But even with that, how can I get a job without that Social Security Number?" she asked.

"This is my home. I spent my whole childhood here. It's terrible when teachers find out about your status and their whole attitude changes. I've seen my father fired from the job because of this. I've seen my mother be exploited because of this. I know field workers are treated like slaves because of this but I believe in America's promise, liberty and justice for all."

Alicia Ramirez, a teacher present at the event, told the crowd that she has a husband who is undocumented. "We've trued to get his status adjusted for 12 years and now they say his case will be heard in three weeks. I have to tell my 7 and 10 year old sons that very soon they may not see their father, who they know and love, for a long time."

"Alicia, it is for you that we take this stand, it is for you that we demand immigration reform now," said Trumka when he followed her to the podium.

This was the first major "launch event" for labor's latest and larger-than-ever campaign for immigration reform. Last month, the Chicago Federation of Labor became the first AFL-CIO central labor council in the country to pass a resolution supporting immigration reform.

Photo: Union janitors in downtown Chicago demand respect. Their union, the Service Employees International, turned out in force for the immigration reform rally sponsored by the Chicago Federation of Labor. John Wojcik/PW

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