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Labor unions begin to embrace immigrant support

Jeff Tyler Apr 29, 2011
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Jeremy Hobson: Well hundreds of thousands of people who are not going to Omaha this weekend will hit the streets for International Worker’s Day. Also known as May Day. Many demonstrators will be representing unions and immigrant-rights groups.

As Marketplace’s Jeff Tyler reports, the relationship between those two groups hasn’t always been friendly.


Jeff Tyler: Demonstrations are scheduled across the country on Sunday to highlight the record number of deportations under the Obama Administration. In the past, labor unions might have cheered. Historically, they feared that immigrants would compete for union jobs. But in the last two decades, that’s changed. Latinos have risen to leadership positions in many unions.

Mike Garcia is president of SEIU United Service Workers West.

Mike Garcia: We were able to move labor in the direction of organizing undocumented and immigrant workers. Understanding that we’re not going to revive our labor movement unless we have a plan to organize these workers.

Union membership typically does not require a green card.

Garcia: Whether they’re documented or you’re here legally, we don’t draw a distinction in the labor movement.

In return, unions provide undocumented workers with wage and safety protections. And labor lobbyists have been pushing hard for immigration reform in Washington. The divisions in Congress over the issue could bring the two sides even closer on Sunday, as they bond over their shared political frustrations.

I’m Jeff Tyler for Marketplace.

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