AFL-CIO’s Convoluted Response to Trump Guestworker EO

During a recent interview on Fox’s “Mornings with Maria,” host Maria Bartiromo spoke with Richard Trumka – the president of the largest federation of labor unions in the U.S., the AFL-CIO (American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations) – on a wide range of issues. Among the issues discussed was President Trump’s new proclamation temporarily suspending foreign guestworker entries.

The June 22 executive action affects the H-1B program, and several other nonimmigrant guestworker programs, H-2B, J, and L, in addition to foreign citizens accompanying or following to join such guestworkers. The proclamation – which is in effect until December 31, 2020, but may be extended – is expected to free up approximately 600,000 jobs for American workers.

To this, the AFL-CIO president responded: “Look, why did he do that temporarily? We’ve been saying this for 10 years. If the visa system was structured properly, you would only be able to bring people in when there was a real need, and only when they pay them an adequate wage and an adequate benefit [sic]. (…) It’s time for us now to say – these visa laws don’t work. Don’t just do this temporarily, let’s do this and make it a sane system, so that when there is a real need we can get people, but when there isn’t a real need we shouldn’t be able to bring people in to lower the wages of American workers.”

Of course, Mr. Trumka has a point. The guestworker halt should be made permanent, and the system needs to be reformed to only bring in those highly-skilled workers we don’t have to fill legitimate and temporary labor shortages – not to serve as a permanent cheap foreign labor subsidy for large corporations in Big Tech and other sectors. Nevertheless, the EO is a step in the right direction and deserves credit as such. And comprehensive guestworker program reform in the spirit envisaged by Mr. Trumka would require action by Congress.

The irony is that the presidential candidate endorsed by Trumka and his AFL-CIO is Joe Biden, who blasted Trump’s pro-worker proclamation as an “attempt to distract” from COVID-19 and to “scapegoat his way out of this crisis.” Biden also added the usual obligatory pro-mass migration talking point that “immigrants help grow our economy and create jobs” (never mind that the guestworker programs in question serve primarily to displace Americans and keep down their wages while primarily growing the bank accounts of corporate CEOs). Other top Democrats have attacked the presidential proclamation with similar slogans, which is not to deny that some Republican politicians have voiced similarly misguided criticism of the president’s attempt to put American workers first.

On June 25, the AFL-CIO finally got around to publishing an official statement on the proclamation. Predictably, the communiqué (which did not mention Mr. Trumka) echoed the talking points of Joe Biden and other Democratic leaders, claiming that President Trump is attempting, “under the guise of protecting workers,” to “distract from his failure to lead us through this pandemic by returning to one of his favorite themes⁠—scapegoating immigrants.” It neglected to mention that guestworkers are, by definition, nonimmigrants. At the same time, the press release called for “restructur[ing]work visa programs so they can only ever be used in cases of real need” – which is something FAIR has been advocating for a very long time, and towards which the presidential EO is a step. In other words, the AFL-CIO seems to be saying “this is a bad thing … but it also doesn’t go far enough.” This leaves many union members to scratch their heads wondering which is it. What they can (and should do) is press their leadership to push President Trump, Congress, and even Joe Biden to implement the comprehensive overhaul that Trumka called for on Maria Bartiromo’s program.

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