Leadership

Finding Common Ground: Unions, Chamber Consider Immigration Alliance

By Ernie Smith / Jan 17, 2013 (iStockphoto/Thinkstock)

Three of the most powerful lobbying groups in Washington could prove the driving force behind immigration reform in 2013.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce may not have a lot in common with the AFL-CIO or the Service Employees International Union (SEIU).

When they have their periodic lunches, I think they go through the whole laundry list of issues. Immigration has always been lurking out there, waiting for its appropriate moment in the cycle.

But according to The Hill, the three groups—among Washington, DC’s most prominent lobbies—have found a common issue, immigration reform, that they hope to work together on in an effort to make something happen.

Among the driving forces behind the alliance:

Strong relationships: The two officials most directly behind the collaboration on immigration reform are AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue. Despite their political differences, they’ve been able to strike up a friendship, finding common ground on this issue. “They go to the neighborhood haunts. We are right around the corner from each other,” Chamber Senior Vice President of Communications and Strategy Tom Collamore told The Hill. “When they have their periodic lunches, I think they go through the whole laundry list of issues. Immigration has always been lurking out there, waiting for its appropriate moment in the cycle.” The SEIU was later brought into the fold as a result of this relationship.

A changing political tide: The 2012 election was something of a bellwether for immigration reform, with many on Capitol Hill noting the large turnout of Latino voters. The SEIU’s secretary-treasurer, Eliseo Medina, said this likely softened stances. “In the past, this issue had been utilized by politicians to motivate their bases by demonizing immigrants,” he said. “The November 6 election turned that on its head. Instead of that being a winner for them, it became a loser.”

Sticking points: While the business lobby and the unions agree something needs to be done about immigration, they do have some differences. Unions, for example, worry about the low wages created by temporary-worker programs. And while both see the need to work on the issue, they come at it from opposite directions: The unions see an increasing diversity in their membership, while the Chamber is trying to deal with challenges its members face in filling both seasonal and high-skilled positions.

Reaction from other groups: Immigration reform advocates are welcoming the news, suggesting that collaboration between the Chamber and the unions could help encourage Congress to act. “It bodes very well for the prospects for immigration reform in 2013,” the National Immigration Forum’s Ali Noorani told the newspaper. “When you have Tom Donohue and Richard Trumka saying nice things about each other and immigration reform, it gives you a sense that something might happen after all.”

Your association may not always have friends on the other side of the political divide, but when the opportunity presents itself, how would you take advantage and build alliances on specific issues? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is the social media journalist for Associations Now and a former newspaper guy. More »

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