IBEW to Lawmakers: Reduce Immigrant Construction Work Force, Create American Jobs

June 24, 2013

The Senate side of the U.S. Capitol, where an immigration bill is being debated

As the construction industry is still trying to mount a comeback following the Great Recession, a recent poll shows a strong majority of citizens opposing the use of more foreign guest workers in the trades. And labor leaders are bringing that message to lawmakers as they debate new immigration proposals that would have far-reaching effects on the industry.

Sixty-one percent of respondents in a June poll – commissioned by the National Journal and United Technologies to gauge Americans’ attitudes towards immigration and the work force – said that the U.S. already has too many guest construction workers, while only 30 percent said we need more.


That’s a powerful argument for strengthening job creation for high-skilled union members who have been hit particularly

hard by the economic downturn, said AFL-CIO Building Trades President Sean McGarvey. “The poll provides us with additional support for our contention that the U.S. construction industry does not suffer from a shortage of workers, but rather a shortage of job opportunities,” he said.


IBEW leaders agree. In a June 20 letter addressed to U.S. senators, IBEW International President Edwin D. Hill urged lawmakers to protect American jobs, especially in the construction sector – while highlighting the fact that guest workers are frequently less skilled, underpaid and lack proper safety protections from unscrupulous employers.


“As immigration reform is debated on the floor of the Senate, particularly during this time of high unemployment, I urge you to support amendments that increase protections for American workers,” Hill wrote to lawmakers:

The IBEW supports amendments that would:

1. Increase wages for all guest workers, so that employers would lose the incentive to hire cheaper foreign labor.

2. Require employers, in a meaningful way, to first offer jobs to American workers who are equally or better qualified than the temporary worker sought.

3. Hold the cap for [high skilled] guest workers at its present level of 65,000 issued per year.

4. Limit the availability of visas for all guest worker programs if the United States economy is not at full employment.


Senators are debating a wide-ranging bill that could provide more visas for highly-skilled tech workers, while establishing new programs for immigrant farm workers and those with lower skill levels looking to enter the country. According to Democrats who met with Republican House Speaker John Boehner last week, the House is looking to pass its own version of a bill this summer, and a compromise bill from Congress is anticipated by the end of the year.


To read Hill’s full letter to U.S. senators,click here.


Read more reporting on the construction sector’s tentative recovery in the March issue of The Electrical Worker.


Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user Ron Cogswell.