Immigration and Big Labor

The massive government bailout has so far largely rewarded those who were most responsible for the financial meltdown in the first place, while American workers are bearing the brunt of the recession. Over eleven million Americans are out of work and millions more are in danger of losing their jobs. One would think that, at this time, American labor unions would be stepping up to protect American workers, but just the opposite is occurring. Right now the largest labor unions in the U.S. are lobbying Congress to grant amnesty to millions of illegal workers, to stop enforcing laws against employers who hire illegal workers, and to keep up the flow of millions more foreign workers. (See FAIR's report "Immigration Lobbying: A Window Into the World of Special Interests.")


In 2000, capping a decade-long movement, the leaders of the AFL-CIO officially changed its long-held position on immigration and began to support mass immigration and oppose enforcement of immigration laws. Why? The answer is simple: to bolster their depleted ranks and to retain their influence on Capitol Hill. It never occurred to these leaders that changing labor conditions had altered the role of unions, or that their own greed and corruption had alienated the rank-and-file members. Instead of adapting to the needs of union members, many union leaders chose to abandon the American workers who looked to them to protect their jobs, wages, and workplace conditions.

In 2005, when five unions broke away from the AFL-CIO and formed Change to Win, the object was not to protest the egregious behavior of AFL-CIO leadership in selling out the American worker. Instead, the Change to Win partnership began to more aggressively recruit illegal alien workers, and to spend millions of dollars lobbying Congress on their behalf. The Service Employee International Union (SEIU) is the worst example of a union using the rhetoric of workers' rights while working to reverse many of the hard-fought successes of the American labor movement. (Read about the AFL-CIO position on immigration. What do SEIU and Change To Win think about illegal workers?)

Perhaps it is fitting that the SEIU should emphasize its international orientation, but its leaders do not point out that if their effort to bring about amnesty is successful it may well boost their membership numbers, by bringing in hundreds of thousands of previously "undocumented workers," but it will be a disaster for American workers, union members or not. Sadly, the president of the SEIU, Andy Stern, is hardly concerned with the plight of union members, as his cozy relationships with business executives and crooked politicians will attest. Stern may talk tough about greed on Wall Street, but corruption has marked his tenure as SEIU president. (Find out about Stern's questionable dealings.)


Union leaders have turned the history of the American labor movement on its head. The organized labor movement in the U.S. historically has been in favor of restricting legal immigration and opposing all illegal immigration. Union leaders, from Samuel Gompers to A. Philip Randolph to Cesar Chavez, have understood that foreign labor drives down wages and conditions for American workers. It's not xenophobic or anti-immigrant to call for a sensible immigration policy that puts the needs of American workers first. The U.S. does not have a labor shortage, and the expanding number of foreign workers in the labor market drives down the bargaining power of American workers. It's the irrefutable logic of labor economics.

Labor conditions have deteriorated in this country, as employers routinely break immigration laws and law enforcement officials routinely look the other way. Not since the nineteenth century has American seen such widespread exploitation of its workers. One needs only to look at the example of the Agriprocessors plant in Postville, Iowa, where, among many other criminal violations, the plant employed children who worked in dangerous and unsanitary conditions. Or to the Smithfield plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina, which was unionized after fifteen years of trying only after the plant owners were forced to hire legal workers. When it comes to immigration, one should ask the question: Why are union leaders and big business executives conspiring to drive down the wages and conditions of American workers? (Read more about the history of labor unions and immigration in America.)

November 2010