Faced with a growing stream of aliens illegally crossing the border to work in the Southwest's farms and factories, some trade unions have begun openly organizing and aiding these undocumented workers.
Officials of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union (ILGWU) and the United Farm Workers claim that leaving illegal aliens unorganized threatens the job security and pay rates of native-born American workers. The unions' organizing drives have placed them in direct conflict with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the federal agency charged with finding, apprehending and deporting these illegal alien workers.
"We try to organize all unorganized workers. It's not of interest to us what their status is except their status as exploited workers," said Frederick Siems, executive vice president of the ILGWU."This is the newest group and this is the group we must organize."
The ILGWU drive runs counter to one of the basic thrusts of the American labor movement: preventing foreign workers from taking jobs in the nation's farms and factories. Earlier this year the union, bolting from the official ALF-CIO position, endorsed a proposal to grant unconditional amnesty to all illegal aliens now residing in the United States. The AFL-CIO supports legislation to grant amnesty only to aliens who can prove U.S. residence dating from 1970.
The ILGWU's increasing interest in undocumented workers stems from their increased presence in the industrial work force. According to INS spokesman BoB Seitz, more than 40 percent of them now find their work in the industrial rather than the agricultural sector of the economy.
ILGWU officials in Los Angeles say their membership, now an estimated 8,000 here, has shot up since they began organizing heavily in garment plants employing large numbers of illegal aliens. Many of these plants, according to union organizer Mario Vasquez, employ as many as 80 percent Hispanic workers; sometimes a majority are illegals.
To help organize these workers, very few of whom speak any English, the ILGWU over the last three years has put 10 Hispanics on its 13-member organizing task force here. The common language at the union's office here is Spanish, and most posters, leaflets and pamphlets lying around are in that language.
"The union is simply adapting to new conditions," said organizer Vasquez, native of Mexico and long-time community activist. "The ILG was built by immagrants and really could not get away from it. The only difference now is it's not legal to immigrate, but it's all the same thing."
The ILGWU and other unions attempting to organize illegals are finding themselves at loggerheads with INS. Federal raids on factories employing illegal aliens are disrupting unionizing efforts and violating constitutional rights of both legal and illegal workers, union officials say.
Last month ILGWU attorneys filed suit in federal court here to force restrictions on INS raids on garment factories in search of illegal aliens. The suit charges current INS practices violate due process, privacy and search and seizure rights."
Joining the ILGWU as plantiffs are four Hispanic union members in America legally who were interrogated by INS agents during a raid.
The immigration service is also being sued by a group of predominantly Hispanic workers arrested in May at the Sbicca of California factory in El Monte, east of Los Angeles.
That raid took place six days after the company turned back a representation bid by the Retail Clerks Union. Sbicca Co. spokesman Gordon Swain denies worker charges that the employer called in the INS, but he would provide to further comment on the case.
Bob Seitz, INS spokesman for the southwest region, insists it is extremely rare for federal agents to raid a factory without permission of the employer. "I'm not sure of it in this case, but in about all these big cases we have the support of the employers," Seitz said.
INS tries to steer clear of labor disputes, although sometimes "this can happen," he said.
Seitz believes the attorneys pressing the Sbicca and ILGWU suits are trying to "get illegals all the rights they can." He said most big unions, such as the United Mine Workers and United Auto Workers, support his Agencey's work because it protects the jobs of Americans from unfair competition from noncitizens.
The INS spokesman denied charges, leveled in both suits, that the service employed racist methods in its raids because only Hispanic-looking workers were questioned. Seitz said an experienced officer knows almost immediately which worker is legal and which is not.
"The average Mexican national is very polite and probably frightened," Seitz said with a grin, 'while the average Chicano will look at you and say, 'I don't have to talk to you, pig.'"
Seitz believes the only way to cut illegal immigartion to "manageable levels" is to raid factories where large numbers of illegal workers are suspected. He warned that union moves to restrict INS activities - such as requiring individual search warrants for each alien and full Miranda self-incrimination warnings for each arrested worker - could further over burden the service.
Many labor leaders working with illegals, however, claim no amount of police power can stop the tide of immigration until countries like Mexico begin providing more jobs for their citizens. "There will be no long-range solution until Mexico gets on the ball," said Marc Grossman, spokesman for the United Farm Workers.
His solution has large numbers of illegal aliens Grossman admits but we're not the government, we don't bring them here, the employer do. But when they de, we'll organize them.
Grossman said these illegal workers are extremely vulnerable to employer pressure because of fears about "Migra," as INS is known to Hispaic John Moore, attorney for the California Agriculture Labor Relations Board in Fresno, said veiled employers threats about deportation and the very presence of INS attempts to organize undocumented farm workers.
"The effect of the INS comes through the whole social system in the field," Moore said. "When the Migra comes to a place like Giumarra Vineyards and starts popping people like locusts in the fields just before the (unionization) election, what do you think the effect is? If you're an illegal, you're scared. You have no choices, your survival depends on doing what the employer tells you."
Giumarra Vineyards, just east of Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley, was the site of a disputed election last year in which a UFW representation bid was defeated. The election itself and the employer tactics are being investigated by the California Farm Labor Board.
For many illegal workers, a union job seems the best protection from the alleged abuses of employers and the dreaded Migra.
"We have to have the union to help us," said Arturo Vlallejo, who comes from an impoverished town south of Mexico City and was arrested during the INS raid at Sbicca. "I think that with our union maybe we will have some representation. Without it we have no protection, no benefits."
Currently allowed in to testify on the Sbicca case, the 30-year-old worker is determined to stay in this country and help his fellow illegals organize into unions. "You can't stay in Mexico," Vlallejo said. "The political and economic situation is terrible there. People without jobs keep growing. People have nothing and have to come here to live better." CAPTION: Picture[TEXT OMITTED FROM SOURCE]es M. Thresher - The Washington Post