Last week, comprehensive immigration reform was all but dead. A debate about Syria, an unanticipated distraction, promised to eat up more time from an already short legislative calendar that will face major hurdles on the budget, the debt ceiling and Obamacare.
But poof, Syria suddenly vanished as a priority and now immigration may be back on the front burner, especially if corporate America and pro-immigration lobbyists have their way.
Earlier this week, more than 110 major corporations co-signed a letter addressed to House Speaker John Boehner and minority leader Nancy Pelosi demanding that, in the name of a labor shortage, Congress immediately enact legislation that would legalize 11 million illegal immigrants and thus enable them to compete with unemployed Americans for increasingly scarce jobs. The companies also want new visas created that would allow them to import millions of low-skilled overseas workers.
Among the signatories are some of America’s most well known names including American Express, Disney, Hewlett-Packard, Wendy’s, McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Cisco Systems, The Cheesecake Factory, AT&T and UPS. According to the letter, without expanded immigration, the companies could not fulfill their employment needs and would suffer devastating consequences in the global economy.
Michele Carlin, human resources vice president at Motorola Solutions, another signatory, called the non-existent employment shortage “urgent” and said that to “get the country growing again we have to fill these jobs.”
Carlin and many of the others have a huge credibility problem. As reported by Crane’s Chicago Business, Motorola CEO Greg Brown told analysts in July that he has started cost cutting that would include layoffs. In 2012, Hewlett-Packard laid off 29,000. Cisco Systems announced that it would fire 4,000 this year on top of the 8,000 pink slips it issued during the last two years. American Express recently cut 5,400 jobs; Procter and Gamble reduced staff by 5,700 last year.
To even remotely suggest that Disney, Coke, Wendy’s and The Cheesecake Factory can’t find workers without recruiting them from overseas insults the intelligence. Traditionally, those institutions often hire teenagers for part or full-time work. Other employees historically include recent high school graduates who can’t find better jobs or college students hoping to defray some of their ever-increasing tuitions.
Plenty of potential workers are available. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of working-age (16 to 65) native-born Americans who are not working — that is either unemployed or out of the labor market — hit 57.5 million in the second quarter of 2013. Those unemployed include 25 million with no more than a high school education and 16 million with some education beyond high school but not a diploma, perfect prospects for the service industry like Wendy’s. Unemployed adults have all but given up the job search. In August, the labor force participation rate fell to 63.2 percent, its lowest level in 34 years.
Although the companies listed above are all guilty of shameless greed, Disney may hold the dubious distinction of being the most craven. For years, Disney’s toy-producing plants in China have been investigated for labor abuse and accused of running sweatshops that practice 16-hour work days and pay 40 cents an hour overtime, often withheld for up to six weeks.
Domestically, under the guise of Disney University, the company skirts the cultural exchange intent of the J-1 visa to bring overseas students to work for a pittance at its theme parks. Disney defines cultural opportunities as doing menial tasks for little pay under harsh conditions. Kit Johnson, a University of North Dakota law professor, has studied Disney’s shady hiring practices for years. Johnson concluded that Disney saves nearly $20 million a year by using international students instead of American workers.
If comprehensive immigration reform passes, corporate America will have succeeded in expanding the labor pool by 11 million, doubling legal immigration and undermining immigration law enforcement. Not that this would shame them in any way.
Joe Guzzardi retired from the Lodi Unified School District in 2008. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.