President's Message

John J. Flynn
JAMES BOLAND
President

Let's Grow the Middle Class, Not Chip Away at It

Journal: Issue 01 - 2013

One of the few things on which President Obama and Republican leaders appear to agree these days is that our immigration system is broken. And while differences remain among legislators as to the approach and specific provisions of immigration reform, as this Journal goes to press I am encouraged by the progress Senate negotiators have made in initiating a number of core worker protections in this bill.

As trade unionists, our main concern is that all workers deserve dignity and freedom from exploitation. In a recent membership survey, 71% of BAC members supported a path to citizenship for undocumented workers. We are also painfully aware that current system is inexorably tied to policies that have created a low-wage economy that has kept wages down for all U. S. workers for more than three decades.

Over time, rigid barriers to citizenship in the U.S. and the explosion of networks that maintain a steady flow of undocumented workers to crooked employers have institutionalized a sub-economy where employers have all the power and benefits and workers are subject to grave dangers and exploitation. You don't have to be an economist to know that exploitation on this scale depresses and perpetuates low wages and substandard working conditions for all workers. Or, that it makes it impossible to adjust our immigration policies to labor market needs.

BAC is proud to stand with our sister unions and a broad coalition of community, faith-based, worker advocacy groups and many responsible business partners in our commitment to securing meaningful immigration reform – reform that includes a path to citizenship for those who have already contributed so much to the vitality and creativity of our country; a rational approach to securing our borders; an independent commission to evaluate labor shortages; and a work authorization system that holds employers accountable for unlawful practices.

We've already seen the non-union use the recession as a subtext for driving down wages, ignoring unsafe working conditions and shirking tax and benefit obligations. Now, fearful that immigration reform will cut into its ready, easily exploited workforce, they're trying to convince lawmakers that legions of low-skilled temporary foreign workers are necessary to address U.S. workforce "shortages" in the construction sector. Shortages – really? Even as general unemployment edges downward, construction unemployment remains almost double the national rate, which is projected to stay in double digits through 2014.

BAC will continue to advocate for fair and equitable immigration reform and temporary worker policies that reflect the under- and unemployment realities of our members. Bringing workers out of the shadows that have consigned them to unsafe, exploitative jobsites and into our mainstream economy is the right thing to do, the Union thing to do, and the democratic thing to do. We need to grow our middles class, not continue to chip away at it.

I encourage you to stay informed on this issue and others that impact you and your families at the "Legislative/Political" section of www.bacweb.org and to visit us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/IUBAC .

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