Business and Labor Reach Deal on Guest Workers

Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley
March 30 2013 4:26 PM

Agreement on Guest Worker Program Clears Way for Bipartisan Immigration Reform Bill

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Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York has been mediating the dispute between the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce

Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images

It was seen as the last big sticking point that was holding up the bipartisan immigration reform bill and now it appears to have been resolved after a late Friday phone call between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. The business and labor groups had been at odds over a guest worker program but after several days of negotiations they managed to reach a compromise, clearing the way for the Senate immigration reform bill to be introduced soon, reports Reuters.

The final disagreements centered on how much the foreign workers would be paid, which industries would be exempt, and how many guest workers would be allowed to enter the country every year. Businesses wanted 400,000 new visas under the program, but labor unions said that was far too high. Bloomberg notes the agreement would allow for as many as 200,000 visas per year for low skilled workers. But the Washington Post hears word that it would take “many years” before that number is reached, noting businesses would be able to hire 20,000 foreign workers in the first year. By 2020, that number could increase to 75,000.

Labor unions also wanted to make sure the guest workers wouldn’t be paid any less than the median wage in their industries. And while low-skilled construction workers will be part of the program, the unions pushed to keep more skilled construction jobs, such as crane operators and electricians, out of the program, points out the New York Times.

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The bipartisan group of senators known as the Gang of Eight still has to sign off on the deal. But assuming they approve, Senate legislation to overhaul the nation’s immigration system and create a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants could be unveiled by mid-April.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the "Today's Papers" column from 2006 to 2009. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoliti.