Commentary | Unions and Labor Standards

Progress on immigration

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In response to new immigration reform legislation introduced December 15, EPI Vice President Ross Eisenbrey issued the following statement:

The legislation Rep. Solomon Ortiz (D-Tex.) and Rep. Luis Gutierrez (D – Ill.) introduced today to tackle the problems of legal and illegal immigration is almost everything progressives might hope for.  The bill addresses the future flow of employment-based immigrants in the most sensible way – by turning to expert fact-finders to determine the nation’s needs, balancing the benefits of immigrant talent and energy against the legitimate desire of America’s working people that their own wages and working conditions be preserved or improved.  An independent commission that recommends immigration levels to Congress and forces action will be in the best interest of employees, businesses and immigrants alike.

Representatives Ortiz and Gutierrez recognize that our current guest-worker programs have been poorly administered and so gamed and manipulated that they have not sufficiently protected workers’ rights.  Employers should not be allowed to displace U.S. workers in order to substitute younger, cheaper, more compliant foreigners.  The federal government must do more to ensure that guest workers’ salaries do not undermine U.S. salaries and that businesses recruit and hire qualified U.S. workers before searching overseas.

I also applaud the Congress members’ recognition that providing a reasonable path to legalization for the millions of undocumented workers in the U.S. will benefit all workers, especially in the low-wage labor market, where wage theft and violations of minimum wage and overtime laws are rampant.  Giving all workers the right and possibility of joining unions and of enforcing fair pay for a day’s work will lift the wages and improve the lot of immigrants and natives alike.  The greater the number of undocumented workers who are brought out of the shadows and given legal status, the better.

The new bill could, perhaps, do more to fix the broken employment verification system that puts employers in the position of judging whether job applicants are authorized to work.  The government should assume that task and remove employers (who have conflicts of interest) from that role to the maximum extent possible.

All in all, however, the Ortiz-Gutierrez bill would dramatically improve the labor market and the lives of millions of immigrant and native-born workers.