U.S. Senate kills immigration bill

Boilermakers, other trades lobbied against measure

THE HIGHLY CONTROVERSIAL Senate bill to reform immigration went down in flames for the second time June 28 as supporters came up 14 votes short on a cloture motion. Cloture is the process whereby the Senate ends debate and moves a bill to a final vote. Sixty votes are needed for cloture to succeed.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) had attempted cloture on two separate occasions. The latest attempt resulted in a vote of 46 for cloture, 53 against. It is now nearly certain that the bill will not be resurrected in its present form.

Construction unions opposed the bill

BOILERMAKERS AND OTHER trades strongly opposed the immigration bill and launched a dramatic and forceful grassroots campaign to stop it. The campaign was spearheaded by the Building and Construction Trades Department of the AFL-CIO and the BCTD’s 11 affiliated unions, representing over two million workers. BCTD affiliates mobilized their members to call, email, and meet with their senators, to write letters to the editor, and to call in to radio talk shows. The BCTD focused on key states where senators were undecided on the bill.

The BCTD made it quite clear to politicians that this issue is non-negotiable for the BCTD and its member unions. The immigration reform bill would have undermined Boilermaker programs, developed under current law, that enable us to bring skilled union members from other nations into the United States during labor shortages. BCTD President Ed Sullivan and AFL-CIO President John Sweeney both drafted strongly-worded letters to Senate leaders making clear that organized labor vehemently opposed the bill and would consider its passage an enormous setback for labor.

Senate staffers reported that their phones were ringing off the hook, and emails were flooding their computer systems. Not only was organized labor making an impact, so were many other groups of Americans. Indeed, Americans across all political spectrums were deeply divided over the bill.

Reform measures would have put unions at risk

A KEY REASON the Brotherhood opposed the bill was a provision that would have treated unions as “employers” when they engaged in referring immigrants for jobs. As “employers,” unions would have been legally liable for any immigrant workers referred by them who later were found to be illegal. Referring workers to jobs is a fundamental part of how Boilermakers and other construction trades operate.

“That requirement would have placed an incredible burden on our union,” said IP Newton B. Jones, “especially at a time when the construction industry faces a nationwide manpower shortage.” He noted that the federal government has had great difficulty in identifying and tracking illegal immigrants itself. “For the government to shift that responsibility to unions — and make us legally liable — would have been unreasonable, unfair, and unacceptable.”

Another major flaw in the bill was a guest worker program that would have created a pool of hundreds of thousands of low-wage earners who would be subject to exploitation by unscrupulous employers. This workforce would also have created additional downward pressure on wages, benefits, and working conditions.

Issue is not likely to go away

ALTHOUGH THE RECENT immigration bill died on the Senate floor, the issue of reform is not likely to go away anytime soon. Immigrants still cross the border each day looking for work. Many employers continue to exploit them.

Alarmed by the Senate’s reckless approach to comprehensive immigration reform this year, organized labor will demand to be heard on any future bill at the beginning of the process — not merely at the end of it.