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Business, labor still at odds on temporary workers

Published on NewsOK Modified: March 15, 2013 at 4:01 pm •  Published: March 15, 2013
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Current programs for temporary workers in the U.S. are woefully inadequate to meet demand, business leaders say. There is a small visa program for seasonal, short-term, low-skilled workers but it only offers 66,000 visas a year. Meanwhile there are numerous industries — hotels, construction and nursing homes among them — that operate year-round and have labor shortages but no good way to sign on foreign workers. These industries and others end up employing large numbers of illegal workers.

The new visa program the chamber and AFL-CIO envision would fill that void. Separately, Senate negotiators are working on programs for high-tech and agricultural workers.

Johnson said workers coming in on the new lower-skilled visa program would not be tied to one employer, as short-term-worker visa holders now are, but would be able to move from one job to another. That's seen as an important detail for the workability of such a program. The cap on the number of visas would also fluctuate according to demand.

Other unresolved details in the business-labor negotiations include the legal status of the workers coming in on the new visas. The AFL-CIO says all the workers should be able to petition for permanent resident visas that would allow them eventual citizenship, but the chamber says not all of the workers may be eligible for permanent residency.

The chamber and AFL also have agreed to create a new federal bureau to inform Congress and the public about labor supply issues, but the role of that entity remains unclear. The AFL-CIO had pushed for a commission with authority to determine labor market needs, while the chamber has argued that businesses themselves were best suited to make such determinations.

Separately Friday, there were signs of progress from a House bipartisan group that's been meeting in secret to write an immigration bill. Most attention has focused on the Senate because it's expected to act first, but Democrats in the House group met Thursday to brief House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, while the group's Republicans met Friday with House Speaker John Boehner. Through spokesmen, both leaders praised the group's efforts.

The House group is now expected to unveil its legislation sometime in April, though details remain unclear, including the shape of any path to legal status or citizenship for illegal immigrants.

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Follow Erica Werner on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ericawerner