|AFL-CIO Embraces Immigrants In Pact With Day-Laborer Group
By KRIS MAHER
August 10, 2006; Page A2
The AFL-CIO reached an agreement with a big national day-laborer association to press for tougher enforcement of wage and safety laws, signaling the mainstream labor movement's wider embrace of immigrant workers.
The labor federation reached the agreement with the National Day Laborer Organizing Network, a group seeking to represent the immigrant work force tapped by construction contractors and homeowners for physical, often off-the-books work. The two groups said the move will give day laborers the ability to use the federation's clout to press for better enforcement of wage and hour laws and health and safety regulations, among other protections.
It also gives the AFL-CIO greater access to an increasingly important segment of the U.S. work force. While the agreement doesn't mean day laborers will become union members, it states that the network's 40 nationwide centers can affiliate with the federation and receive representation on local labor councils. Separately, the day-laborers network plans to announce today joint organizing efforts with the Laborers' International Union of North America.
Roughly 117,000 people seek day-labor work each day in the U.S., and many are regularly denied wages and exposed to hazardous conditions, according to a study released earlier this year by the Center for the Study of Urban Poverty at the University of California at Los Angeles.
"It's time to bring our organizations closer together," said John Sweeney, president of the AFL-CIO, whose 53 affiliated unions represent nine million workers. Worker centers typically provide a space for day laborers to assemble and set minimum-wage rates, and offer services such as legal representation to recover unpaid wages, English classes and access to health clinics.
Organized labor once opposed undocumented workers, but has shifted its stance in recent years as it has sought to organize janitors, laundry workers and other service-based industries where immigrants often predominate. Some experts see the move as an attempt by the AFL-CIO to leverage the energy and dynamism of the fast-growing day-laborer movement. "It's a bold move by the AFL-CIO of targeting an increasingly critical part of the work force that could well be receptive to unions," said Harley Shaiken, a labor and economics professor at the University of California at Berkeley.
The move is also likely to provoke criticism from groups calling for limits on immigration, because many day laborers are illegal immigrants. Indeed, the two organizations are expected to work toward immigration overhauls that could lead to amnesty for the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.
Pablo Alvarado, national coordinator of the Los Angeles-based group, said day laborers need the political support of the AFL-CIO. "Our day-laborer centers are really having a hard time lately, because in a way day laborers are becoming the public face of immigrants," he said. "We need to build all the alliances that we can."
It isn't clear how many of the 40 worker centers in the day-workers network will ultimately affiliate with the AFL-CIO, Mr. Alvarado said. In some cities, the groups already have close working relationships.
Hilary Stern, executive director of a worker center in downtown Seattle called Casa Latina, said the group would seek to affiliate with the AFL-CIO's King County Labor Council. About 100 workers visit the center each day and earn an average of $11.40 an hour, doing gardening, landscaping or construction work for homeowners or contractors.
Ms. Stern said she wants to work with the AFL-CIO group to improve enforcement of wage violations and hazardous working conditions for day laborers in Seattle.
"With this agreement, we have the blessing of the AFL-CIO," she said. "We'll be able to work together on maintaining laws and conditions in Washington state that protect all workers."
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