Unions unite for worker-centered immigration reform

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OAKLAND – Unions and community groups who represent or work with immigrants gathered on Thursday to strategize about how to ensure any potential immigration reform plan benefits all workers.

Some 50 staffers from unions and community groups attended the meeting, organized by the Alameda Labor Council, an AFL-CIO umbrella group of unions, and SEIU-USWW, which represents janitors, security officers, airport workers and other property service employees, organized the meeting. It’s one of several being held by Labor Councils’ throughout California as part of the AFL-CIO’s push for comprehensive, worker-centered approach to immigration reform.

“We now have an opportunity we need to seize,” said Josie Camacho, executive secretary-treasurer of the Alameda Labor Council, one the meeting’s organizers.

President Obama and members of Congress have said they want to overhaul the nation’s immigration system by passing a bill this year, renewing the immigration discussion in Congress.

Unions want any plan to include stronger protections for immigrant workers against exploitation and abuse by employers who take advantage immigrant labor to drive down wages and workplace standards for all.

Many of the unions at the meeting represent garment workers, janitors, longshoremen and home care workers — jobs with a large contingent of immigrant workers.

They’ve seen their members lose their jobs following U.S. Immigrations and Customs enforcement audits and have their families divided by deportations. Other unions, such as those representing educators and non-profit employees, serve immigrants and refugees.

During the meeting they brainstormed local, state and federal actions to gain visibility for immigration reform, mobilize community members and lobby lawmakers. Attendees signed up for working groups and agreed to continue meeting to gear up for a series of upcoming events in support of immigration reform that includes a path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and family reunification.

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Michael Applegate

Pacific Media Workers Executive Officer