The Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO have been working together for several weeks now in an effort to come up a temporary guest worker program they can both back as part of a comprehensive immigration reform bill. Whether they can do this will likely be a key factor in whether any such legislation passes Congress. The failure to strike a deal on this was one of the reasons the 2007 McCain-Kennedy effort failed.
Today they issued a joint press release announcing that … they’re still working on that. The release says that they have at least agreed on three principles to guide any legislation. Those principles are: Americans should have first crack at the jobs in question; that the guest worker system be less bureaucratic; and, that the system needs to be more transparent. That’s all pretty much the usual boilerplate. Those principles don’t call for any specific policies.
But buried in the press release’s paragraph on the second principle is this passage:
Our challenge is to create a mechanism that responds to the needs of business in a market-driven way, while also fully protecting the wages and working conditions of U.S. and immigrant workers. Among other things, this requires a new kind of worker visa program that does not keep all workers in a permanent temporary status, provides labor mobility in a way that still gives American workers a first shot at available jobs, and that automatically adjusts as the American economy expands and contracts.
In other words, the temporary guest work program must allow those guest workers the opportunity to become legal immigrants as opposed to guest workers. Which is kind of the opposite of a temporary program. It would essentially turn the guest worker program into a new legal immigration category instead.
This would address a major concern of Big Labor regarding these programs by making it possible to organize those immigrant workers. For Big Business, it means getting labor’s backing for a program in any legislation, improving its odds in Congress. The fact that the two groups don’t spell out how this would work suggests they don’t yet know how to sell it to Congress.