Recently it was my honor to be elected to CLINIC’s Board of Directors. CLINIC has been providing a life-saving service to immigrants across the country since 1988. Many of the 300,000 members of the union I serve are themselves immigrants, and many have been helped by CLINIC’s important work. So in this Labor Day reflection I’d like to focus on the reality of immigrant workers and what they face every day.
According to the Migration Policy Institute, immigrant workers make up about 14.7% of the overall U.S. workforce. It is estimated that by 2030 between a third and a half of the U.S. workforce will be made up of immigrants. This growth is most notable in the leisure, hospitality and service industries with which I am most familiar. These workers are hardworking people who just want the opportunity to provide for their families.
Their lives are not easy. The trend in the hotel and food service industries, for example, is to eliminate full-time, decent-paying jobs with health benefits through outsourcing. This reduces jobs to unstable employment, often at minimum wage with uncertain hours and no health plan. This is often the fate of immigrant workers.For undocumented immigrant workers life is even more precarious. Wage theft, dangerous work conditions, and the constant fear of deportation and family separation are daily fare for those who must live in the shadows.
As a student at Georgetown I learned some of the basic tenets of Rerum Novarum: workers are entitled to a living wage that allows them to provide for their family and set aside some savings. Workers have a right to “care for their soul,” rest from work, and have healthcare. Today too many immigrant workers have no living wage; no healthcare access; no time to care for their soul. The New Evangelization definitely needs to “go to the workers” who cannot make it to church. In the view of too many employers, workers are no longer an asset to develop, but insteadare simply a cost line to be reduced. Pope Leo XIII and every Pope since haveheld up unions as the strongest protection for workers. That remains especially true for immigrant workers today.
The Catholic Bishops, the folks at CLINIC, and, I am proud to say, the American labor movement all see comprehensive immigration reform as a tantamount moral imperative. To enact comprehensive immigration reform would be the best way to honor immigrant workers this Labor Day.
President D. Taylor, President
UNITE HERE International Union