So what’s changed? For one, unions have a much stronger relationship with the current Democratic administration, which bailed out the auto industry and adopted other pro-labor policies. And as the fast-growing Hispanic community demonstrated its political power in the 2008 and 2012 elections, immigration reform rose to the top of the labor movement’s agenda.
A survey of AFL-CIO members in December found 62 percent favor comprehensive immigration reform that includes a route to citizenship.
“Opinion throughout the country has changed a lot, and labor has been at the forefront,” said Michael Podhorzer, political director of the umbrella organization over 57 unions and 12 million workers. “There’s a greater awareness that when immigrants have the same rights of other workers, that helps all workers.”
But the political gamesmanship is already beginning. While immigrant advocates and Democrats largely blame the conservative wing of the GOP for sinking the 2007 legislation — and fear it will again — Republicans point to labor’s ongoing concerns about a new guest worker program. That’s a priority for the business community, particularly the agricultural industry, which relies on low-wage, seasonal labor. Unions worry about an easily exploited underclass.