Immigration Alert Forum

Immigration Alert Forum
Teamsters Local 952
Orange, California
January 21, 2006

I. Objectives

On January 21, 2006, Teamsters Local 952 held an Immigration Alert Forum at its hall in Orange, CA. The process of organizing it started when principal officer Patrick D. Kelly felt we had to make better sense of the different legislation coming from the Washington DC belt way. In conversations with advocates, labor leaders and elected public officials, everyone recognized the need to hold this kind of forum. We felt it was necessary to understand the legislation currently in Congress, and the way each legislative proposal would affect workers, unions and community organizations.

We need to define the issues of immigration reform out here where we experience the problems, and not allow Washington DC advocates to be the sole authors and spokespeople about the solutions to these problems.

Additionally, we felt a need to challenge the pejorative depiction of immigrants throughout Orange Country. Here in Orange County we intend to find common ground and organize against the xenophobia. In our area founders of the Minutemen run for Congress, solely on a platform of immigrant bashing. We anticipate more of this.

II. Participants

The panel was comprised of labor leaders, elected public officials and immigrant rights advocates. The panelists were as follows:

David Bacon, Journalist, photographer and immigrant rights activist;
Maria Elena Hincapie, Attorney for the National Immigration Law Center;
Xiomara E. Corpeño Director of Organizing for the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA);
Lucio Reyes, Secretary-Treasurer, Teamsters Local 601 and IBT International Representative
Nativo Lopez, President Mexican American Political Association (MAPA);
Loretta Sanchez, Congressional Representative
Katrina Foley, Costa Mesa City Council Member
Mike García, President SEIU Local #1877;
Diana Tellefson, United Farm Workers of America National Immigration Reform Field Director;
Robert Ruiz, Secretary Treasurer LIUNA Local #652,
Yvette Pena Lopes, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Legislative Representative;
Al Ybarra, Secretary-Treasurer Orange County Central Labor Council;
Patrick D. Kelly, Secretary-Treasurer Teamsters Local #952.

The Forum was open to the public. Union staff and members attended from Teamsters, Laborers, HERE/UNITE!, SEIU, and the Orange County Central Labor Council, along with advocates, community leaders, policy makers, law firms, and other interested people.

III. Message

… Patrick D. Kelly facilitated the discussion and expressed serious concern regarding any legislation that allows for guest workers. It undermines unionization and the ability to improve good wages and working conditions.

… Yvette Pena Lopes depicted how bad the legislation is and explained the Teamsters Union's opposition to Guest Workers provision in the McCain Kennedy bill. The union has not endorsed the bill for that reason.

… David Bacon gave an overview and reality check about causes of migration. He outlined the reasons why big corporations want guest worker programs, and said increased employer sanctions would be disastrous for unions and immigrant workers. We should stop Congress from acting on immigration reform, since any proposal likely to pass would be harmful. We need time to get together our own agenda for reform, but if we do, he said, we can win if we find common ground between labor, Latinos and African Americans based on fighting for immigration reform, civil rights and jobs.

… Maria Elena Hincapie went over the extremely negative provisions of the Real ID Act. She also said we may have to stop Congress from acting on any immigration reform to prevent harmful bills from passing.

… Robert Ruiz asked that everyone take back what they have learned in this forum to their membership, and emphasized that the Laborers Union was committed to immigrant rights.

… Xiomara Corpeño from CHIRLA said that McCain Kennedy is a politically realistic bill. They consulted immigrants, and while the bill disturbed some, others wanted the legalization provisions. Immigrants have to have a larger voice in the debate, she emphasized.

… Lucio Reyes said that we need a new amnesty, and proposed that anyone in country for a year should get a green card. This was the kind of provision passed in 1986, he said. Guest worker proposals will be used to attack workers and unions, he warned.

… Diana Tellefson called for support of the AGjobs bill and said it would facilitate legalization for agricultural workers if they meet a requirement of being employed in the industry for a specific period of time.

… Nativo Lopez gave a summary of the racism and xenophobia that went back many years and that the Labor Movement itself had played a role in the early years. Our criteria for what we support should be what helps immigrants to organize. For that reason, guest worker proposals and sanctions should be opposed, since employers use them to attack immigrants and labor. He called for a boycott of Costa Mesa businesses that support the Police enforcement of immigration law, and the whole exclusion and deportation approach.

… Loretta Sanchez said that there's a big labor shortage, so employers need guest workers, and Congress has to respond. The rightwing in Congress is so powerful, however, that it's hard to fight bills like the Real ID Act. We may have to try to kill any immigration reform bill, since they're all so bad.

… Mike Garcia asserted that immigrants have been scape-goated and are under attack. He elaborated on the fact that we are losing the war on the issue of immigrant bashing. Employers profit on the basis of exploitation of immigrant workers. He closed with a multi-point plan that puts emphasis on political power through organizing workers and building a strong labor movement.

… Katrina Foley requested support for her efforts to oppose her Local Police Department from doing ICE enforcement. She called for a fight against the racism driving this concept.

… Al Ybarra said that racism from the past is rearing its ugly head again as if it were a cycle.

Comments from the audience included concern about the City of Costa Mesa Police performing immigration enforcement work, and the extension of this idea to other Orange County police departments. Audience members wanted the labor movement to do more to help organize immigrant workers, and to oppose the anti immigrant attacks in City Hall. People also called for organizing naturalization workshops.

IV. Summary

There is a growing concern about the legislation being proposed in Washington. Racist, anti worker, anti union and anti immigrant voices have been louder than progressive ones. This requires a rapid response from a labor/community alliance. Attacks against immigrants have gone without a powerful outcry and it is time to turn the tables.

As a local union we have taken a position on a defining issue at a critical time. For the labor movement to grow, it must take a stand against the inhumane treatment of workers and their families -- in and out of the workplace. It must build alliances with other progressive forces to build power and increase union density in specific industries.

There is also concern about proposals in Washington that would establish guest worker programs, and increase enforcement of employer sanctions. Both of these would be used to attack workers and unions. Instead of compromising with rightwing forces and big corporations, we need our own agenda for immigration reform. We have to build alliances with other communities of workers, especially African Americans, to win those demands.

V. Action

As with many good conferences, success is measured not only in the quality of panelists or speakers, or the scale of attendance, but in the follow up work that has to be done.

This event called for organizing and coalition building. As a first step we should create a coalition to organize a rapid response team to fight all proposals attacking and blaming immigrants.

We need a strong local labor movement that speaks out for immigrants and their families. We should identify industries and workers we want to organize, and actively support sister unions that are organizing immigrant workers.

We should oppose those proposals for immigration reform that will make it harder for workers to organize, and weaken our efforts to build strong unions. Two of the most dangerous proposals are guest workers and employer sanctions.

It is also imperative to engage our members, foreign born and native born alike. We have to educate native-born members so that they see, as trade unionists, that defending the rights of immigrant workers affects their own collective bargaining power. Then we have to mobilize our members, foreign born and native born, to flood the streets, city hall chambers, and phone banks - harnessing their anger and converting it into proactive action.

For more information, contact:

Ernesto Medrano
Business Representative/Organizer
Teamsters Local 952
140 South Marks Way
Orange, California 92868
Phone (714) 740-6246