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April 15, 2006
Unions Balk At Kennedy's Amnesty Plan

The Democrats may have angered a key component of their political base with their abject pandering to the immigration protests the past few weeks. The head of the largest union has blasted Ted Kennedy for pushing his guest-worker/amnesty plan as an attack on the living standard for American workers:

Labor unions, which are among the Democratic Party's most loyal supporters, are deeply at odds with the party's push for a guest-worker program, and many Capitol Hill aides say erosion of labor's support undermined the Senate immigration-reform bill last week.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney says guest-worker programs supported by top Democrats such as Sens. Edward M. Kennedy and Dianne Feinstein are a "bad idea and harm all workers."

"They cast workers into a perennial second-class status and unfairly put their fates into their employers' hands," said Mr. Sweeney, whose organization represents 13 million workers in 54 unions.

This has split the labor political monolith. The SEIU, which represents most government workers, actively campaigned in the midst of the protests, attempting to expand its base among the demonstrators. The LIUNA joined the SEIU in supporting the guest-worker program. This split looks similar to the problems that the AFL-CIO experienced last year when a number of its component unions left the umbrella organization and formed their own partnership; the political direction of labor continues to fragment.

This does not bode well for Democrats coming into what looks to be a tight midterm election. The activist part of the Democratic Party has fully embraced amnesty and even open-border rhetoric that will continue to worry the unions, who have a tough enough time organizing and maintaining wage growth for its members. Without the ability to increase compensation during contract negotiations, the workers will increasingly reject organization. After all, why pay union dues if they can't put more cash in the workers' pockets?

How will the Democrats react to this mixed message from Big Labor? They risk losing significant support no matter which direction they choose. However, this may work to push Democrats much closer to the moderate Republican position of strong border security first and a more forgiving guest-worker program for those already in the US. That approach would probably mollify the AFL-CIO, as long as concrete steps are taken to block new cross-border traffic. SEIU and LIUNA may not like the idea of a fence at the border, but if some sort of normalization comes for the 12 million illegals as a result, they may live with it.

The Democrats cannot afford to ignore the AFL-CIO in an election year. It may be the only opportunity to get the Democrats in a rational frame of mind on border security, and hopefully the GOP can press that advantage when Congress returns from its recess.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at April 15, 2006 7:42 AM

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