The United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW) and its predecessor unions have been fighting for more than a hundred years to organize, represent, and improve wages and working conditions for immigrant workers, particularly in the meatpacking and food processing industries. A hundred years ago, Polish, Italian, and Southern European immigrants worked in our nation’s packing plants. Today, immigrants from Asia, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and Africa work the processing lines of the packing, poultry, food processing, and other manufacturing sectors, as well as working in the retail and retail food sectors.
Our Union is responsible for representing and protecting UFCW members and is committed to ensuring that all working people—immigrant and native-born—are able to improve their lives and realize the American dream.
We acknowledge that economic globalization and harmful U.S. trade policies are at the root of our failed immigration system. U.S. trade policies have consequences for workers around the world. Thirteen years of NAFTA have resulted in the loss of millions of American jobs. In Mexico, real wages have declined by 20 percent, millions of farmers have been dislocated, and millions more consigned to poverty, fueling the labor flight into the U.S.
Our lawmakers must choose to revise harmful policies on trade, to craft meaningful international labor standards, and to work with unions, corporations, and community organizations around the globe to promote better jobs, living standards, and stable communities everywhere, otherwise the pressure for illegal immigration will persist.
We can craft trade policies in an era of globalization while respecting the rights and dignity of working people and their families throughout the world. To ignore these big picture issues and disregard wages, benefits, working conditions, and democratic values throughout the world, is to betray all working people.
U.S. immigration policy must be reformed to end the cycle of exploitation that exists in today’s workplaces—exploitation that drags down wages, benefits, and working conditions for all workers.
America’s immigration system requires comprehensive reform that serves everyone who lives and works in America.
Our country’s outdated immigration policy is incapable of dealing with the 21st century immigration patterns or economic realities. In effect, it undermines the very ideals and values our country was built on, and serves neither business nor workers.
The employment verification process is an abject failure.
Enforcement activities—such as the raids conducted by Immigration, Customs and Enforcement (ICE) agents at the Swift & Company meat processing plants in December 2006—disrupt families, workplaces, the economy, and communities. Such raids, as well as other ill-advised enforcement actions, simply force immigrant workers deeper into the shadows and harm the government’s reputation to execute appropriate immigration enforcement.
Each year, approximately 500,000 immigrants—the majority without authorization status—are absorbed into the U.S. labor force. These numbers will continue to burgeon until U.S. immigration laws are reformed to adequately address the global economic realities of the 21st century.
The militarization of our borders has cost taxpayers millions of dollars and escalated discrimination, hatred, and violence. Border security must be made effective through a realistic, enforceable process to regulate movement in and out of the country.
UFCW Principles for Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Immigration reform is a component of a shared prosperity agenda that focuses on improving productivity and quality; limiting wage competition; strengthening labor standards, especially the right of workers to organize and bargain collectively; and providing social safety nets and high quality lifelong education and training for workers and their families. To achieve this goal, immigration reform must fully protect U. S. workers, reduce the exploitation of immigrant workers, and reduce the employers’ incentive to hire undocumented workers rather than U.S. workers. The most effective way to do that is for all workers—immigrant and native-born—to have full and complete access to the protection of labor, health and safety and other laws. Comprehensive immigration reform must complement a strong, well-resourced and effective labor standards enforcement initiative that prioritizes workers’ rights and workplace protections. This approach will ensure that immigration does not depress wages and working conditions or encourage marginal low-wage industries that depend heavily on substandard wages, benefits, and working conditions.
This approach to immigration reform has five major interconnected pieces: (1) an independent commission to assess and manage future flows, based on labor market shortages that are determined on the basis of actual need; (2) a secure and effective worker authorization mechanism; (3) rational operational control of the border; (4) adjustment of status for the current undocumented population; and (5) improvement, not expansion, of temporary worker programs, limited to temporary or seasonal, not permanent, jobs.
Family reunification is an important goal of immigration policy and it is the national interest for it to remain that way. First, families strongly influence individual and national welfare. Families have historically facilitated the assimilation of immigrants into American life. Second, the failure to allow family reunification creates strong pressures for unauthorized immigration, as happened with IRCA’s amnesty provisions. Third, families are the most basic learning institutions, teaching children values as well as skills to succeed in school, society, and at work. Finally, families are important economic units that provide valuable sources of entrepreneurship, job training, support for members who are unemployed and information and networking for better labor market information.
The long-term solution to uncontrolled immigration is to stop promoting failed globalization policies and encourage just and humane economic integration, which will eliminate the enormous social and economic inequalities at both national and international levels. U.S. immigration policy should consider the effects of immigration reforms on immigrant source countries, especially Mexico. It is in our national interest for Mexico to be a prosperous and democratic country able to provide good jobs for most of its adult population, thereby ameliorating strong pressures for emigration. Much of the emigration from Mexico in recent years resulted from the disruption caused by NAFTA, which displaced millions of Mexicans from subsistence agriculture and enterprises that could not compete in a global market. Thus, an essential component of the long term solution is a fair trade and globalization model that uplifts all workers, promotes the creation of free trade unions around the world, ensures the enforcement of labor rights, and guarantees all workers core labor protections.