Unions descend on Capitol Hill for big immigration push

WASHINGTON (PAI) – Backed by strong statements from AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Service Employees President Mary Kay Henry, dozens of local union leaders from around the nation descended on Capitol Hill starting on June 12 for a big push for comprehensive immigration reform.

They lobbied lawmakers to create a path to admission and eventual citizenship of undocumented people in the United States, plus an immigration system that protects workers and raises wages for all.

Their campaign came as senators started work on legislation along those lines, which President Barack Obama backs. Senate leaders want to approve the comprehensive immigration reform bill by July 4. The federation also sent activists to offices of 27 senators nationwide.

Trumka and Henry helped launch the latest drive at a White House press conference on June 11, after President Obama made the point that venal and vicious employers exploit the undocumented workers. All workers are hurt, he said.

Obama said that the “vast majority” of undocumented people are “just looking to provide for their families and contribute to their communities.

“Too often, they’re forced to do what they do in a shadow economy where shady employers can exploit them,” the president said, “by paying less than the minimum wage, making them work without overtime, not giving them any benefits.  That pushes down standards for all workers. It’s bad for everybody.  Because all the businesses that do play by the rules, that hire people legally, that pay them fairly, they’re at a competitive disadvantage. American workers end up being at a competitive disadvantage. It’s not fair. But that’s the broken system that we have today.”

That’s one big reason that organized labor strongly backs comprehensive immigration reform. Analysis of the proposed legislation shows it would immediately bring undocumented workers, the vast majority of the 11 million undocumented overall, under U.S. labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act with its guarantee for the right to organize, even before they seek permanent citizenship in the U.S. 

“What you see here is probably the broadest coalition of American society that’s ever been assembled,” Trumka said. “You have business, you have labor, you have law enforcement, you have entrepreneurs — we have groups from all over the place, and we all agree on several things. We all agree, one, that the system is broken; two, that we need comprehensive immigration reform and we need it now.

“It will be good for not only newcomers or immigrants, but it will be good for every worker,” he declared. “It will be good for business. It will be good for the economy. And that’s why all of us have come together to try to push and get this thing done this year.  Because every day that we wait is a day wasted and a day that we’ve lost, a day that the economy won’t grow.”

“Members of SEIU are proud to stand with people from all walks of life to insist that the time is now, just as the president said, that we need commonsense immigration reform,” added Henry, whose union includes tens of thousands of immigrant workers. 

“We want safe and secure borders. We want a pathway to citizenship for 11 million immigrants. And we want to be able to restore economic fairness across this economy. And we stand proudly with the rest of the sectors from all across the walks of life represented here today to insist that the Senate needs to move this now.”

Since June 11, SEIU has spent more than $1 million to buy advertising on national cable television networks, urging constituents to call their senators and advocate the comprehensive immigration bill.

“These ads show the breadth of support for commonsense immigration reform and highlight the diverse voices that are integral to moving this debate forward,” Henry explained. The ads feature law enforcement officials, small business owners, veterans, the youth called “Dreamers,” who were brought to the U.S. as children, and Republican voters who call on the Senate to act.

But while the unionists, along with undocumented dreamers who are in college or the military, told lawmakers of the need for fixing the nation’s broken immigration system, two dissenting union voices, ones who represent border and immigration agents, advocated for the bill’s defeat; a position gleefully parroted by anti-union, racist lawmakers like Republican Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama

Photo: In 2010, more than 5,000 Service Employee International Union members joined hundred of thousands of other activists on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., to call for comprehensive immigration reform (SEIU/CC).



Mark Gruenberg
Mark Gruenberg

Award-winning journalist Mark Gruenberg is head of the Washington, D.C., bureau of People's World. He is also the editor of the union news service Press Associates Inc. (PAI). Known for his reporting skills, sharp wit, and voluminous knowledge of history, Mark is a compassionate interviewer but tough when going after big corporations and their billionaire owners.