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Mexican migrant worker Javier Gonzalez and his wife Guadalupe pick watermelons in Dome Valley near Yuma, Arizona June 18, 2008. REUTERS/Rick Scuteri
Immigrants. Workers.
Immigration reform, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka told reporters Thursday, is a "top priority for America’s unions." And in line with that, the AFL-CIO is fighting for a strong immigration reform package on two fronts, mounting a 14-city campaign pushing Congress to include a path to citizenship in an immigration bill and simultaneously negotiating with the Chamber of Commerce over what a guest worker provision might look like.

The path to citizenship campaign kicked off Wednesday in Raleigh, North Carolina, and will be in cities across the country, from Anaheim and Seattle to Denver and Phoenix to Chicago and St. Paul to New York City.

The AFL-CIO remains critical of guest worker programs, but since there will inevitably be guest workers included in any immigration reform bill, the labor federation is working to have a role in shaping those programs:

Trumka and Chamber of Commerce President Tom Donohue have been negotiating the final details of the guest worker program to be included in the Senate’s Gang 0f 8 proposal. Trumka said he and Donohue were working toward an agreement on a “data-driven” guest worker program that would allow more workers into the country during good economic times while closing the window slightly during downturns. But Trumka wouldn’t elaborate on any hang-ups in the negotiations. [...]

Trumka did later add that it was important for guest workers to not be tied down to a single employer, arguing it made employees ripe for abuse.

“The first thing that happens when a worker complains about unsafe conditions, or getting cheated on pay, the employer threatens to deport them,” Trumka said.

Negotiating with the Chamber of Commerce is always a tricky thing, given how evil the Chamber is. But better that than letting the Chamber effectively write the guest worker proposals and hand it unaltered to a quiescent Congress.

The two aspects of the union push—a path to citizenship and a guest worker program that guards against abuses—both address needs of immigrants. People need to be stable and safe in their lives in the United States, not fearing what will happen if they get pulled over for speeding or seek medical care and a doctor reports them as undocumented. But they also need to be legally protected from exploitation at work, paid fairly for the work they do and not put in physical danger. It's crucial that immigration reform recognize that.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Thu Feb 07, 2013 at 01:30 PM PST.

Also republished by In Support of Labor and Unions.

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