The AFL-CIO announced Thursday it has launched a nationwide, grass-roots lobbying campaign on immigration reform, with rallies scheduled in 14 cities to encourage Congress to approve a comprehensive plan that includes a path to citizenship for more than 11 million illegal residents.
The effort kicked off Wednesday with an event in Raleigh, N.C., and another is planned for Las Vegas on Monday, organizers said. Other cities on the schedule include Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, Anaheim, Calif., Phoenix, Denver, Houston, Atlanta, Miami, New York and St. Paul, Minn.
The campaign will be similar to the way the AFL-CIO has mobilized around elections and in support of President Obama’s health-care reform bill in 2009, union president Richard Trumka said. The effort will include knocking on doors, telephone calls and leaflets, as well as possibly some television or radio advertising.
“We’re not just relying on optimism. We’re really committed to putting in the hard work,” Trumka said on a conference call with reporters. “The election sent Republicans a strong message that they must work with President Obama to put in a new immigration system and fix the broken system … or else they face political suicide.”
Union officials said they believe that providing citizenship to the undocumented workers already in the country will help improve wages and workplace benefits, including health care, to all workers. The officials said the AFL-CIO will not be satisfied with a comprehensive reform bill that includes giving undocumented immigrants legal status but not a path to citizenship because that would create a second-class of residents without workplace protections.
“Millions of people without the right to elect candidates to office, without being able to say who leads their school districts,” said Marie Elena Durazo, executive secretary-treasurer of the Los Angeles County Federation of Labor. “It’s wrong to keep millions and millions permanently denied the right to vote on so many decisions made in their daily lives and their kids’ lives.”
The AFL-CIO has balked at immigration reform proposals in the past that include an expanded guest–worker program that would allow employers to hire foreigners, but union officials have been negotiating with the Chamber of Commerce over a revamped system that would be based on the unemployment rate and other factors. Trumka expressed optimism that labor and business will strike a deal.