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Unions Look to Immigrant Workers to Boost Membership
by Greg Siskind and Amy Ballentine

Membership in labor unions has been in a steep decline over the past decade, and union leaders have begun to change the way they look at immigrants. Labor unions were one of the driving forces behind the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA), which, while granting amnesty to many undocumented workers in the US, also created numerous sanctions on hiring undocumented immigrants. Now, unions are actively supporting another amnesty for workers, and are reaching out more and more to immigrants, both documented and undocumented.

There are two large factors for the shift in the union position. First, immigrant workers are everywhere, there are large numbers of them, and they are often employed in traditionally unionized jobs. Second, one part of IRCA has produced results strongly opposed by unions. Because it is against the law to employ an undocumented worker, employers often intimidate workers into not considering unionizing, and also simply fire undocumented workers who are involved in unions. ď

There is also the fact that for unions to continue to represent the current portion of the US workforce that they currently do, 13.5 percent, 400,000 workers must join unions each year. The AFL-CIO has announced a target of unionizing 1 million workers a year, and last year announced its support for an amnesty and the repeal of laws against hiring undocumented workers.

Unions were active in last yearís presidential election and some view the various anti-union moves of the new Bush Administration as a form of retaliation for their support of former Vice-President Al Gore. Regardless of whether this is the case, it will take an increase in membership for unions to be able to influence policy in the Republican controlled Congress and White House. Despite this, unions think that they may be able to accomplish some of their goals. They hope to build a coalition of Democrats and moderate Republicans, churches and community organizations and some businesses. And even if this is not successful, they try to look at failure as a way to unite opposition against anti-immigrant sentiment.

President Bush made clear during the campaign that he does not support a general amnesty, but has indicated his support of proposed guest worker programs, including the one backed by Sen. Phil Gramm (R-TX). It would offer one-year visas to workers already in the US, and then to workers in Mexico. Those who oppose such a program have compared it to the bracero program started in the 1940s, which created a form of contract-labor and led to substantial abuse of the workers. The AFL-CIO opposes such a program, and the expansion of existing guest worker programs.

Unions plan on introducing a comprehensive statement of their positions on immigrant workers later this year. According to a representative, it will call for the legalization of workers already in the US, a repeal of employer sanctions laws, and for a law stating that all workers, regardless of their immigration status, receive the protection of US labor law. It may also call for increased protection of the right to organize and an easing of the rules on family reunification.


About The Author

Gregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

After graduating magna cum laude from Vanderbilt University, Gregory Siskind went on to receive his law degree from the University of Chicago. For the past several years, he has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association and he currently serves as a member of the organization's Technology Committee. He is the current committee chair for the Nashville Bar Association's International Section. Greg is a member of the American Bar Association where he serves on the LPM PublishGregory Siskind has experience handling all aspects of immigration and nationality law and has represented numerous clients throughout the world. Mr. Siskind provides consultations to corporations and individuals on immigration law issues and handles cases before the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the Department of State, the Department of Labor and other government agencies. Gregory Siskind is also committed to community service. He regularly provides free legal services to indigent immigration clients and speaks at community forums to offer information on immigration issues.

Greg regularly writes on the subject of immigration law. He has written several hundred articles on the subject and is also the author of the new book The J Visa Guidebook, published by Matthew Bender and Company, one of the nation's leading legal publishers. He is working on another book for Matthew Bender on entertainment and sports immigration.

Greg is also, in many ways, a pioneer in the use of the Internet in the legal profession. He was one of the first lawyers in the country (and the very first immigration lawyer) to set up a web site for his practice. And he was the first attorney in the world to distribute a firm newsletter via e-mail listserv. Mr. Siskind is the author of the American Bar Association's best selling book, The Lawyer's Guide to Marketing on the Internet. He has been interviewed and profiled in a number of leading publications and media including USA Today, the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Lawyers Weekly, the ABA Journal, the National Law Journal, American Lawyer, Law Practice Management Magazine, National Public Radio's All Things Considered and the Washington Post. As one of the leading experts in the country on the use of the Internet in a legal practice, Greg speaks regularly at forums across the United States, Canada and Europe.

In his personal life, Greg is the husband of Audrey Siskind and the proud father of Eden Shoshana and Lily Jordana. He also enjoys collecting rare newspapers and running in marathons and triathlons. He can be reached by email at GSiskind@visalaw.com

Amy Ballentine is an associate in Siskind, Susser & Haas's Memphis, Tennessee office. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from Rhodes College in 1994. While in law school at the University of Memphis she was a member of the law review staff as well as a published author. She also worked with the local public defenderís office in death penalty cases. In May 1999, she graduated Cum Laude from the University of Memphis Law School. She is a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association. She can be reached by email at aballentine@visalaw.com


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