By Bendix Anderson
Thousands of union workers gathered in Manhattan on May 1st to celebrate May Day and demand Congress pass comprehensive immigration reform for the roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants now working in the U.S.
“The time is now,” said John Delgado, Business Manager for Local 79 of the Construction & General Building Laborers Union.
The May Day rally was one of dozens for immigration reform held in cities across the country. Immigration became a hot topic in recent weeks, after the State of Arizona passed a law requiring police to stop and question people they think may be in the country illegally.
“Shame on Arizona,” called May Day demonstrators in New York City. “No human being is illegal.”
Congressional Democrats now plan to make comprehensive immigration reform their next legislative priority, according to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. However, Congress has attempted immigration reform before and union advocates worry the change they call for may brushed aside again to address other priorities.
“There will always be something else that we are told is more important,” said Stuart Applebaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union. “Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Immigration is an important issue for unions, many of which now actively recruit new members in communities of recent immigrants.
“Immigrants continue to be the labor force,” said Raymond Pochino, Vice-President of the Laborers’ International Union of North America. “If we don’t organize them we are going to be left behind.”
Union leaders also say that when the rights of immigrant workers are protected all workers benefit. “They are not taking our jobs — whether they are documented or undocumented, they’re here.” said John Durso, President of Local 338 of the Retail, Wholesale, and Department Store Union. “There should be a fair path to citizenship.”
If the millions of undocumented workers in the U.S. were put on a path to citizenship, that would remove a huge temptation for employers to hire undocumented workers and pay them less than the law requires. Putting undocumented workers on the books would also help fill massive holes in state and federal budgets, said Local 79’s Delgado.
“We want to bring people out of the shadows,” said George Miranda, President of Joint Council 16 of the Teamsters Union. In his union, roughly 20 percent of the members are immigrants.