Business, labor reach deal on some aspects of low-skilled worker program

Liz Goodwin
The Ticket

Leaders of the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce released a statement of "shared principles" on immigration reform on Thursday as the groups continue to hammer out a deal over what a low-skilled immigrant worker program should look like.

The statement does not settle one of the central disputes between the two groups: whether there should be caps on the number of visas granted each year and who should decide on those caps. In the past, business and labor groups have been unable to see eye-to-eye on a system for employers to bring low-skilled legal workers to the country, a disagreement that has helped scuttle previous attempts at immigration reform.

Once the nation's illegal immigrant population is legalized and tougher barriers are put in place for the hiring of undocumented workers, employers in some industries say they'll need to be able to sponsor and import more legal workers to perform jobs that most Americans don't want to do. Unions have argued that low-skilled temporary guest-worker programs encourage employer abuse and lower wages for U.S.-based workers.

Now, the two groups have been tasked by a Senate working group on immigration reform to come to a compromise.

In the statement, Chamber President Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka called for a "a new kind of worker visa program that does not keep all workers in a permanent temporary status," suggesting that some of the low-skilled workers should be able to become permanent legal immigrants to the U.S.

Unions, led by the AFL-CIO, have argued that an independent commission of experts should use economic data to decide how many workers need to come into the country each year. Business, led by the chamber, has had reservations about letting an independent group set caps.

In the statement, the groups said they agree an independent bureau should be set up to study this issue. But it appears they did not reach an agreement on whether the group should have the power to set caps on how many workers are needed each year.

"We agree that a professional bureau in a federal executive agency, with political independence analogous to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, should be established to inform Congress and the public about these issues," Trumka and Donahue said in the joint statement.

The leaders acknowledged that they—and Congress—have a long way to go before immigration reform passes, saying, "We are now in the middle—not the end—of this process."