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CIS Proposes Unique Approach to Union Organizing

What’s the best way to help workers form a union in a workplace where managers have spent years wantonly violating labor laws by threatening and intimidating workers into resisting unionization? If you’re the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), the answer would seem to be “get rid of the workers.” At least, that is one of the main recommendations contained within a rather confusing new CIS report on the aftermath of the January 2007 immigration raids conducted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at the Smithfield pork plant in Tar Heel, North Carolina. Holding up Smithfield as a prototype for the nation, the CIS report vaguely suggests that destructive immigration raids and a flawed electronic employment-verification system will not only succeed in draining millions of unauthorized immigrants from the United States, but bolster unionization for American workers, too. These are fanciful notions at best.

The CIS report details how, over the course of several years, Smithfield’s management threatened to sic immigration authorities on its unauthorized Latino workers if they voted to unionize. After the ICE raids, according to the report, the Latino workers were gone, the identity documents of new hires were more carefully checked, and Smithfield’s employees became predominantly native-born blacks who could not be threatened with deportation and who eventually succeeded in forming a union. The report then reaches the dubious conclusion, unsubstantiated by anything more than this single anecdote, that immigration raids and electronic employment-verification boost unionization.

In spinning this web of supposition, the CIS report neglects to mention a few poignant facts. Like the fact that immigration raids, and the threat of immigration raids, have long been used to bust unions, not boost them. Or the fact that breaking apart families and communities with immigration raids entails enormously high human costs. Or the fact that the federal government’s own researchers have concluded that creating a mandatory, electronic employment-verification system would be a costly and ineffective endeavor which would require tens-of-billions of dollars to implement, reduce tax revenue as more workers are paid “under the table,” and snag millions of job-seeking U.S. citizens in database errors—all without actually stopping identity fraud.

None of these outcomes seems particularly desirable at a time of gaping budget deficits and high unemployment. Nor do these outcomes seem to be promising means of either persuading unauthorized immigrants to leave the country or of boosting unionization. American workers and union organizers would benefit more from stronger enforcement of labor laws against union-busting employers than from large-scale immigration raids against the most exploited workers. Moreover, allowing unauthorized immigrants already in the country to earn legal status would eliminate the ability of union-busting employers to use the threat of deportation as a weapon against their immigrant workers.

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