February 28, 2006

AFL-CIO rejects US guest worker proposals

By Peter Szekely

SAN DIEGO (Reuters) - AFL-CIO leaders on Tuesday said they
would reject guest worker proposals now in Congress, saying
that all foreign workers who come to the United States to fill
labor shortages should come as permanent residents.

In a comprehensive policy on an immigration issue that has
divided labor as well as Republican lawmakers, leaders of the
54-union federation ditched the idea that a temporary guest
worker program could be made acceptable.

"To embrace the expansion of temporary guest worker
programs is to embrace the creation of an undemocratic,
two-tiered society," AFL-CIO Executive Vice President Linda
Chavez-Thompson told a news conference.

The AFL-CIO's immigration policy, which has evolved from a
restrictive view a generation ago, is expected to be formally
adopted on Wednesday by its executive council during its winter
meeting, after winning the endorsement of a council
subcommittee, an AFL-CIO spokeswoman said.

The AFL-CIO, the larger of two U.S. labor federations,
continues to support the legalization of more than 11 million
illegal foreign workers in the country as it has since taking
that landmark position in 2000.

Its new policy, however, would oppose existing U.S. guest
worker programs, such as H1B visas for foreign professional
workers or H2B visas for seasonal unskilled workers, as well as
Senate proposals to expand those programs.

By rejecting the guest worker concept, the AFL-CIO rejected
the notion of separate but equal working conditions for workers
who are not accorded permanent residency status, or "green
cards," and given the option of becoming citizens.

"Our answer is that the future labor shortages need to be
filled by workers with full rights," said Ana Avendano,
director of the AFL-CIO's immigrant workers' program.

Avendano said the number of foreigners who come to work in
the United States with residency status in the future should be
determined by a formula using economic indicators that measure
the job market for individual industries.


The Service Employees International Union (SEIU), one of
five unions to break away from the AFL-CIO last year and start
the rival Change to Win labor federation, supports a version of
a guest worker program in a bill sponsored by Sens. Edward
Kennedy, a Massachusetts Democrat, and John McCain, an Arizona

But that bill was overshadowed on Friday by a comprehensive
draft offered by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen
Specter that will become the vehicle for Senate debate on
immigration matters. The committee is scheduled to discuss his
bill on Thursday.

Besides allowing illegal workers who entered the United
States before January 4, 2004, to remain indefinitely, Specter,
a Pennsylvania Republican, would allow an unlimited number of
new guest workers to enter the country without a right to
eventually become permanent residents or citizens.

Republicans are split over the immigration issue, which has
exposed the gulf between conservative activists who oppose
guest worker and amnesty programs for current illegal workers
and Republican business interests that rely on immigrant labor.

President George W. Bush favors a guest worker program that
offers illegal immigrants in the United States the chance to
register and work -- mostly at low-skilled jobs that Americans
don't want -- for up to six years.

A bill that passed the House of Representatives would
expand an employer verification system designed to weed illegal
immigrants out of the workforce.