Organized labor doesn’t waste too many opportunities when it comes to promoting illegal immigration. For over a dozen years, in fact, the AFL-CIO has made it official policy to support the granting of amnesty to persons living illegally here. But with the House of Representatives unlikely to follow the Senate’s lead in passing immigration amnesty/surge legislation, unions are drawing ever closer to “day laborer” radical nonprofit groups in hopes of persuading legislators to come around. The best-known of these is the Los Angeles-based National Day Laborer Organizing Network, or NDLON. The network and its affiliates have inspired any number of confrontational, and at times menacing, street protests across the U.S. in hopes of ending all deportations of unauthorized day workers. These protestors, in a sense, are the “muscle” of mass immigration enthusiasm.
National Legal and Policy Center repeatedly has argued that labor unions are their own worst enemy on immigration (see pdf of this 2006 Special Report). For at least two decades, their leaders have supported a dramatic expansion of low-skilled workers from abroad, especially Mexico and other Latin American countries, on the assumption that these workers are natural candidates for membership. What’s more, union officials view their legal status as irrelevant. If someone lives and works here without legal authorization, the argument goes, that person has a right to remain without fear of deportation. At a meeting in New Orleans in February 2000, in fact, the AFL-CIO executive board formally adopted this position as policy. And it has upheld this policy in its push for “comprehensive” reform. Its website declares: “Current U.S. immigration policy is a blueprint for employer manipulation and abuse, and both new American immigrants and American-born workers are suffering the consequences. We say, ‘Basta Ya!’ or ‘Enough Already!’ That’s why the AFL-CIO supports a comprehensive worker-centered approach as part of a common-sense immigration process.” In their mind, the problem isn’t illegal immigration itself; it’s employer exploitation of it.
This view is wrong-headed. Aside from advocating lawbreaking, it unwittingly has undercut wages and benefits of native-born Americans, especially in entry-level jobs. Another irony is that it represents a 180-degree historic reversal. For decades – through the 1980s, in fact – union officials explicitly opposed high levels of immigration on the grounds that they would depress the wages and benefits of members. Now it is true that this opposition was motivated far more by self-interest than by patriotic principle. But it was opposition all the same. And it made sense. Explosive growth in the supply of labor reduces worker bargaining power, collectively as well as individually. So why have union leaders since the early Nineties supported amnesty and high levels of immigration? There are two principal reasons.
First, the unionized share of the work force has been in a steady half-century decline. Union members during the mid-50s through the early-60s on average accounted for roughly 30 percent of all U.S. nonagricultural workers. As of the close of 2012, the overall work force figure was 11.3 percent; it was a mere 6.6 percent in the private sector. Labor leaders had recognized the decline well before the Nineties. But during that decade they reversed course. Led by Service Employees International Union President John Sweeney (who would become AFL-CIO President in 1995) and his protégé, Andrew Stern (who would take over the SEIU presidency in 1996), unions adopted the view that mass immigration was the key. It would generate more members and hence more dues revenues. Evidence suggests this strategy backfired insofar as it promoted member welfare. Other than the SEIU, which represents the bottom end of the service sector, it’s hard to think of any union that has grown in numbers as a result of a large influx of Mexican and other Third World newcomers. And even the SEIU has failed to deliver good contracts for new members.
Second, union leaders have joined the multicultural chorus calling for anti-white demographic transformation of this country. In supporting this odd interpretation of “diversity,” they are in good company with the corporations they profess to abhor, not to mention the various ethnic politicians in search of votes. That’s why the AFL-CIO, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the National Council of La Raza worked with each to develop the Senate “Gang of Eight” immigration bill unveiled this April and approved by 68-32 in June. Their differences centered on how to achieve huge increases in immigration, not on whether to achieve it. Unions not only oppose immigration restriction on economic grounds, they are likely to see restriction as unjust and even “racist.”
Third World immigrants might not be driving a union membership revival, but they are prime recruiting grounds for so-called “worker centers.” Numbering at most a half-dozen nationwide only a couple decades ago, they have grown to well over 200. Worker centers aren’t unions. Yet they have the freedom to operate like unions, especially when it comes to organizing and picketing. And they can do this without being subject to federal labor laws that govern unions. Fully aware of this, union officials increasingly are using worker centers as fronts to coax private-sector employers to the negotiating table. The best-known include Fast Food Forward (SEIU), Restaurant Opportunities Centers United (UNITE HERE), and Organization United for Respect at Walmart (United Food and Commercial Workers). Several times this year, Union Corruption Update has described how they operate and why they are deceptively effective.
The day laborer center should be seen as a specific type of worker center. And even more than the other types, its proliferation is a response to explosive growth in immigration. The people they serve, known as “day laborers,” are heavily, if not overwhelmingly, first-generation Mexicans and other Latinos. Many of them live illegally in the U.S. During daytime hours, especially mornings, they can be seen in various metro areas congregating at familiar locations in hopes of being selected by a contractor for a work assignment, usually in residential construction or landscaping. For many, “day laborer” represents a transition to full-time employee; for others, it’s a dead end. In areas with high Hispanic immigrant populations, outdoor congregations often are so large that they have prompted local governments to pass or amend anti-loitering ordinances.
Day laborer isn’t an ideal career choice. And it’s even less attractive in light of frequent employer exploitation. Contractors have been known to cheat workers, especially those in the U.S. illegally, out of their full wages, knowing they aren’t likely to complain to authorities. Day laborer advocacy organizations try to combat this type of abuse. Unfortunately, they do more than stand up for workers’ rights. They also are ethnic politicians of an obnoxious sort, ever ready to facilitate unlimited immigration. They view Hispanic immigrants, regardless of legal status, as having a moral right to live in the U.S. indefinitely, immune from deportation. Many of these groups are affiliated with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON). With the House of Representatives for now undecided over whether to pass amnesty/surge immigration legislation (the Senate passed its version in June), NDLON and its affiliates are taking the lead in pressuring lawmakers into passing an amnesty law – and the Obama administration into calling off all deportations. And they’re using unorthodox methods to get the job done.
The National Day Laborer Organizing Network, founded in 2001, has emerged as a maypole of the ecumenical hard Left. With three dozen member organizations, the Los Angeles-based 501(c)(3) nonprofit group works with local governments, especially in Southern California, to establish day laborer centers. They also line up individual workers with legal and social services. NDLON is intensely political. It was a member of the May Day 2011 Los Angeles Coalition, a project of the avowedly Marxist-Leninist Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER). And it plays ball in the official arena. Its biggest victory occurred in 2006 when its lobbying operation helped persuade the Senate to reject H.R. 4437. This legislation, originally sponsored by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wisc., and passed by the House the previous year, among other features, would have barred churches and nonprofit organizations from providing services to illegal immigrants. NDLON Executive Director Pablo Alvarado, meanwhile, has been feted by people in high places. He has received a fellowship from the Rockefeller Foundation. He was selected by the Ford Foundation’s Leadership for participation in its “Changing World” program. And he was named by Time magazine in 2005 as one of the nation’s 25 most influential Hispanics.
Given that NDLON is as comfortable in the suites as it is in the streets, its strong support from organized labor is hardly surprising. And support, most of all, means the AFL-CIO. Back in August 2006, the Washington, D.C.-based labor federation, which represents more than 50 unions, signed a partnership agreement with NDLON committing itself to strengthening the day laborer movement. Then-AFL-CIO President John Sweeney had high praise for his new partners:
Day laborers in the United States often face the harshest forms of workplace problems, and this exploitation hurts us all because when standards are dragged down for some workers, they are dragged down for all workers. The work being done by worker centers and NDLON in particular is some of the most important work in the labor movement today, and it’s time to bring our organizations closer together. Through this watershed partnership, we will strengthen our ability to promote and enforce the workplace rights for all workers – union and non-union, immigrant and non-immigrant alike.
The agreement explicitly supported amnesty and eventual citizenship for workers in this country illegally:
The AFL-CIO and NDLON will work together for state and local enforcement of rights as well as the development of new protections in areas including wage and hour laws, health and safety regulations, immigrants’ rights and employee misclassification. They will also work together for comprehensive immigration reform that supports workplace rights and includes path to citizenship and political equality for immigrant workers – and punitive, anti-immigrant, anti-worker legislation.
Worker centers operate as grassroots mediating institutions providing support to communities of low-wage workers, many of them new immigrants and people of color. Increasingly popular models for low-wage and immigrant worker organizing, the centers provide community spaces where employers and laborers can meet with a staff equipped to handle workplace violations. The majority of centers provide a variety of services ranging from legal representation to recover unpaid wages; English classes; worker rights education and access to health clinics. Through creative strategies, worker centers have had significant success improving working conditions and raising wages for low-wage workers in high-turnover industries and impermanent employment relationships.
It may not have been in the fine print, but day laborer advocacy also includes demonstrations – and not necessarily peaceful ones. Over the last several months, the National Day Laborer Organizing Network and allied groups have been escalating their ongoing campaign in Southern California and elsewhere to block the deportation of illegal immigrants. And with disturbing frequency, they are resorting to criminal intimidation. Even when marches/rallies are peaceful, the campaign remains driven by the slogan, “Not one more!” This refers to the protestors’ conviction that not even one “undocumented” (i.e., illegal) immigrant should be deported. The following is a summary of recent protest activity.
Los Angeles. Hundreds of protestors on the afternoon of Saturday, October 5, marched along the west side demanding amnesty and citizenship for “undocumented” immigrants. The event was peaceful, but noisy. The crowd frequently chanted, “Si, se puede” (“Yes, we can”). By late morning, the intersection of Hollywood Boulevard and Western Avenue was packed with people holding banners, blowing air horns and waiting their turn to tell personal stories to the crowd. Jorge Garavito, who was three years old when his father had been deported back home to Colombia, told his own story, concluding: “It’s unfair that this happened to me, so I want to correct the system. It’s a human rights issue.” Jorge-Mario Cabrera, communications director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, likewise played the sympathy card. “In addition to us facing an economic crisis today with the (government) shutdown, we are also facing as moral crisis, given the deportations, family separations, children without their parents, folks being fired from their jobs.” The rally was one of several staged in Southern California that day and was in addition to annual May Day rallies in Los Angeles to end deportations.
San Francisco. Things were decidedly not peaceful up the coast. On Thursday night, October 19, immigration activists in San Francisco conducted a violent protest against Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents. Rioters surrounded a bus that carried illegal immigrants who were in ICE custody. Activists repeatedly shouted “Undocumented, unafraid,” as they prevented the bus from moving forward. They also taped a hot pink sign onto the bus that read: “Shut Down ICE.” Federal officials confronted the activists and threatened to make arrests if they did not back away. A number of activists continued to block passage, which resulted in their arrest. The bus then proceeded forward.
Phoenix. Like Southern California, Arizona has been a hotbed of illegal Hispanic immigration. About 250 supporters made their point in downtown Phoenix on Columbus Day, October 14, a day the local ICE office was closed. Chanting “no more deportations” and “shut down the ICE,” protestors swarmed the building parking lot. A NDLON member who helped organize the event, Marisa Franco, gave the party line: “We’re tired of the policies that are deporting our communities. We think it’s illogical and unjust that while Congress is debating reform, the people who could benefit from that reform are being deported.” In the same vein was Adelina Nicholls, an activist from the Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights who had traveled to Phoenix for the occasion: “We want to send a message to President Obama to stop deportations. There’s been enough suffering already. We need to reunite families.”
Washington, D.C. The nation’s capital is a logical place to conduct this guerrilla theater. And activists already have made their presence known. On September 18, seven illegal immigrants, at least three of them from Arizona, handcuffed themselves to the White House fence, as they chanted, “Not one more,” in English and in Spanish, with tourists looking on. Police showed up within minutes before finally making arrests. Spokespersons filled in the blanks. “Many of them [unauthorized immigrants] live in risk every day,” said Jacinta Gonzalez, lead organizer for another day laborers group, the Congress of Day Laborers. She said of President Obama, “We will not permit the president to be a bystander and we ask him to take action now.” An unauthorized immigrant, Fernando Lopez, a former Arizona resident, vowed to step up the illegal protests: “People will come from across the country to have conversations on how to stop deportations, and continue to shut down ICE offices to make sure there are no more deportations in the community. We have to act, and we will do everything we could because nobody else is going to do it.”
These are the kinds of activists with whom America’s labor leaders have chosen to ally themselves. Unions somehow believe that by making common cause, they are furthering the interests of America’s working population. They are tragically mistaken. Enabling lawbreaking, whether to promote illegal immigration or (adding insult to injury) to engage in menacing public protest in support of it, is not in the interests of U.S. workers, including union members. The AFL-CIO and other labor organizations, obsessed with expanding membership and supporting ethnic/racial “diversity,” are leading this nation’s immigration policy down a dangerous and possibly irreversible path. As for immigrants here illegally, they, too, have a path. It leads back to their country of origin, not to U.S. citizenship.