Unfortunately for union leaders, they must constantly encourage the problem they wish to alleviate. Union bosses make their living from strikes and from raising wages and worker benefits. But every time they demand additional worker benefits, they risk heightening the incentive for businesses to dump union members altogether and hire illegals instead. It is no coincidence that in October, Wal-Mart was investigated for hiring 250 illegal immigrants in 61 stores across 21 states. It is also no coincidence that Wal-Mart is eating its competition.
Union leaders have attempted to cope with the problem of the illegal immigrant labor market by bringing illegals into the fold. They hope that if illegal immigrants join unions, the illegal immigrant community will not undercut union members in the work market. "We don't care if they have a green card; we just care if they have a union card," explains Bernie Hesse, special projects organizer of the UFCW Local 789 in South St. Paul.
President Bush's plan aims to do the same. By offering temporary work visas and dangling the prospect of green cards, President Bush hopes to bring illegal immigrants under the jurisdiction of American labor law, thereby preventing illegals from working for less.
The plan will not work. Even if all working illegals sign up for the Bush program, illegal immigration will skyrocket. Those who were formerly working for lower wages will now work at union rates. Companies will once again search for non-registered illegal immigrants willing to work for less. A new tidal wave of illegal immigration will swamp the lower-end job market. Illegal immigrants foolhardy enough to join the Bush program will lose their jobs to new illegal immigrants not subject to labor laws.
"Living wage" is the issue. Politicians like John Kerry use it as a political football. Unions use it to justify their existence. Illegal immigrants use it to get jobs. Until wages are allowed to drop to their market value, an illegal underclass will always be present to work for less. And companies will always be willing to hire them.