Speech | Labor Law · Immigration

Trumka: Now Is the Time To Get Immigration and Labor Law Reform Done

AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka delivered the following remarks to the House Labor Caucus:

Good afternoon, everyone. 

I want to thank this caucus for your leadership on labor issues.

Since we last spoke, the American Rescue Plan became the law of the land. The ARP is going to save lives and livelihoods.

But you didn't stop there. You know the importance of following relief with recovery. That’s why you formed this caucus. To build back better with unions! 

And that means passing the PRO Act. 

You don’t need me to tell you what the PRO Act will do or how many lives it will improve.

This is arguably the most important piece of legislation in my lifetime. 

On behalf of the 12.5 millions members the AFL-CIO represents, and the 60 million Americans who want a union card in their pocket, I want to thank you.

Thank you for making the PRO Act a priority and passing it in the House with a strong bipartisan majority. 

Mark my words: we’re going to fight like hell to pass it in the Senate and send the PRO Act to President Biden’s desk!  

And we know this caucus is going to help us.

We are thrilled the PRO Act is part of President Biden’s American Jobs Plan. It makes perfect sense. Infrastructure investment, good jobs, worker voice and a cleaner planet is something we should all agree on.

And so is an immigration system that honors workers, families and our nation’s history. 

In particular, let me acknowledge Representative Sánchez for her introduction of the U.S. Citizenship Act and for asking me to come here today to speak about immigration as a workers’ issue.  

That’s not hard for me to do because I come from a family of immigrants.

When immigrants from my parents’ and grandparents’ generation arrived in America, we were the last hired and first fired.

The people who did the hardest and most dangerous work.

The people whose pay was shorted, because we didn’t know the language and were afraid to complain.

Despite all that, we persevered. 

We helped build this country, and we helped build my union, the United Mine Workers. 

That is the history of my family, and it is the story of towns—large and small—across America. 

It is also the story of our labor movement. 

It’s dangerous when we forget our history and allow powerful forces to sow fear and division—repeating a dangerous refrain that immigrants are taking our jobs. 

The people who peddle that fear are wrong—and we know they are wrong.

Immigrants neither moved our plants overseas nor took away our pensions.

Immigrants neither slashed our health care nor hacked away at our right to organize. 

All too often, anti-worker politicians try to make immigrants their scapegoats, instead of taking real steps to defend workers—like supporting the PRO Act. We see right through that. 

All working people are the victims of an economic system designed to keep wages low so corporate profits can grow ever higher.

Just as we did a century ago, we will end this race to the bottom by linking arms and standing up together to demand something better. 

Here are some grave facts. One out of every 20 people in our country showed up to work today without legal rights or protections. Most of them have lived here for more than a decade. 

That is an outrage and it is contributing to the erosion of wages and standards for all working families. 

It’s time to say enough is enough.

America’s labor movement is fiercely committed to transforming the lives of working people through bold, structural changes that remove all barriers to the right to organize. 

We have got to finally get meaningful immigration and labor law reforms over the finish line, and we cannot do that without this caucus.

By creating a broad and swift path to citizenship for all those who have been failed by our unjust system, the U.S. Citizenship Act will help spur a just recovery. 

And it will ensure that we are able to fight together for living wages and safe workplaces. 

This bill provides a strong pro-worker and pro-democracy framework for change. 

Although it does not include all the reforms our system needs, we are heartened to see that it includes many key protections for which workers have long fought.

You see, the right way to use immigration policy to raise wages and standards is by expanding rights and protections for all workers. 

And that’s what this bill does.  

But we are familiar with the compromises that accompany immigration debates in Congress, so we implore Congress not to repeat the mistakes of the past.

This is a moment for bold action. 

Now is not the time to allow amendments that criminalize our immigrant communities, escalate the immigration enforcement regime or expand programs that treat workers as commodities in our global economy.

Let’s not get confused about this: our guest worker programs—as they’re currently structured—are about creating an on-demand, disposable workforce that is entirely disenfranchised.  

Is that the future of work you want in your districts? 

Because it sure isn’t the vision we have for how to empower working people.  

In fact, it’s designed to do quite the opposite—keep us divided and poor.  

Any time we have tiered rights for workers, we all lose.  

So we don’t want to see any expansion of programs that fuel occupational segregation, particularly in this economy where women, immigrants and workers of color have suffered disproportionately.  

What we should do now is reform abusive programs like H-2B and H-1B visas. 

Representatives Castro and Pascrell have good bills to do that. And we hope you’ll support their legislation.

Now, I know there is a lot of concern about moving forward on a constructive immigration agenda, especially with the dynamics at the border.

So let me say this: a bunch of frightened families and children showing up and asking for our help because they aren’t safe in their countries is not a threat to our security.

We have an administration that is working hard to find real solutions to these complex issues. 

It won’t be easy because we all know what a mess they inherited, but shame on us if we let the fear mongers keep us from doing what is right.  

They want us to be afraid of children and families. The truth is we should be afraid for them. 
Now is the time to step up and restore our humanitarian systems because that is what strong nations do.

We urge the Biden administration to send a clear signal on that front. 

We hope they announce ambitious refugee resettlement numbers and TPS designations for Haiti, Cameroon and Mauritania, and all the Central American countries devastated by the recent hurricanes.

That is the leadership we need right now. 

And I hope all of you will join me in calling on them to extend those protections, and in supporting them when they do.  

Border flows are cyclical and we cannot let them paralyze us.

We look forward to working with Congress to ensure that the U.S. Citizenship Act—and its principles—move forward in ways that align with our Workers First Agenda. 

We know we’ve got an uphill battle on this and every other issue we care about in the Senate.

So we urge you to explore every possible vehicle to put working people on a long overdue path to citizenship.

We’re all gearing up right now to pass an infrastructure package—and the bigger the better.  

Building back better and passing the PRO Act is our top priority.

We all know that getting people back to work is going to be critical to the midterm elections, so you have got to deliver.

But let me be clear, we want the jobs created by this investment to be well-paying jobs—jobs where workers have a voice and earn living wages. 

And we want all the working people in our country to be able to access these jobs, rather than continuing to be misclassified and forced into the informal economy.  

So make no mistake: these issues are all connected.

We rely on workers to keep our workplaces safe and fair.

Not just to do the work, but to enforce the labor laws that protect us all—like the COVID-19 workplace standard we were told was coming and hope is issued any day.  

So the labor movement will continue to mobilize to ensure that all workers have the status to assert our rights on the job and in the community. 

Because we know that the best way to strengthen our democracy and our economy is by empowering workers—and that should not have any exclusions. 

Successive waves of immigrants and refugees like my family—and many of yours—have always helped to build, serve, and feed our nation.  

Today is no different.  

These pathways are a source of strength and vitality for our country, our workforce and our unions.  

Immigration is key to creating economic growth but we need that to be sure that growth is inclusive and lifts all boats, which is why we need real rights for everyone who lives and works here.  

Now is the time to get immigration and labor law reform done, so let’s work together to do it.

Thank you.

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