Trumka says immigration deal needs worker protections

Neil Munro White House Correspondent
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AFL-CIO chief Richard Trumka said his deputies will be pushing senators to improve worker-protection measures in the Senate’s draft immigration bill.

“Is there every protection I would have liked? No,” he told The Daily Caller after a media event at the White House.

Asked if his union is pushing for more protections, Trumka said, “We are.”

How many? “A couple,” said Trumka, who is supporting passage of the controversial bill.

Asked by TheDC to describe the sought-for protections, Trumka laughed and said, “No.”

Trumka’s push for extra protections may be a problem for the bill’s prospects. In 2006 and 2007, the bills failed amid union opposition to guest-worker programs demanded by business.

Trumka was at the White House today to help Obama champion the immigration bill.

The current bill would bring in or legalize roughly 30 million people in the next 10 years, despite the current high jobless rate.

The bill would also grow the current guest-worker system to bring in roughly 1.3 million guest-workers each year. This inflow includes at least 100,000 “W visas” for blue-collar workers, as well as roughly 500,000 university-trained workers. The inflow is not popular with voters.

The visas last for up to seven years, so the bill will allow a resident guest-worker population of more than 2.5 million university-trained workers.

Union members generally oppose immigration bills. But union leaders work closely with progressive groups and Democratic legislators, who support immigration rules that can bring in more Democratic-leaning voters.

The split is pushing Trumka to support the bill and urge significant changes.

During the May markup of the bill in the Senate Judiciary Committee, Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah won support from Democrats for a measure that rolled back protections for university-trained Americans. Under Hatch’s amendment, worker protections will cover only companies that already hire many guest-workers.

The measure trumped a worker-protection section drafted by Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois.

Prior to 2012, Durbin had worked with Sen. Chuck Grassley to establish worker protections for American graduates facing competition from guest-workers.

Trumka, however, said the bill includes protections.

“First of all, unlike the current system where they can bring them in below the minimum wage, this says any worker that comes in has to be [paid] prevailing wage or market rate, whichever is higher,” he told TheDC.

That section covers the W-Visa workers, but not university-trained guest-workers.

Also, he said, the bill “makes sure they have to actually offer these jobs to Americans,” said Trumka, who heads the huge AFL-CIO trade union movement.

The Senate bill requires employers to advertise jobs before hiring guest-workers, but does not set penalties for companies that consistently hire guest-workers before Americans.

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