Labor unification could be positive for immigration reform

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A major development is afoot in the labor movement, and it could have interesting implications for long-term care.

I’m talking about American unions’ recent plans to unify. In case you haven’t heard, the leaders of the two major federations and the nation’s 12 largest unions have formed the National Labor Coordinating Committee. The interim body will help form the federation.

Naturally, the thought of one massive union, 16 million members strong, is enough to send shivers down a long-term care employer’s spine. But let’s think about this a minute.

Clearly, a single union could have an impact on unionization. This is the year of the card check, and if the Employee Free Choice Act passes, nursing homes could be facing a serious increase in union activity.

But there also may be at least one area in which nursing homes can benefit from a unified labor front. That is immigration reform. The AFL-CIO and Change to Win federations recently said they are joining forces to support the effort. That includes a path to citizenship for undocumented workers.

So things are looking up. It’s hard to believe, but just a couple years ago, Congress was seriously mulling legalizing 12 million undocumented immigrants and allowing temporary guest workers to enter the country. The American Health Care Association, the largest association of nursing homes, if you will remember, was in favor of a guest worker program that would provide a temporary workforce of skilled and unskilled workers for employers in the future. Given the industry’s reliance on low-wage help, that is not surprising.

While a guest program makes some unions uneasy, the AFL-CIO and Change to Win reportedly have agreed to compromise. Their approach would involve an independent national commission, which would calibrate the size of temporary-worker programs each year, based on labor market conditions. While it may not be an ideal solution, it is, nonetheless, a forward-thinking idea.

So Big Labor, which is getting bigger, in at least one way, might not be so bad for business after all.

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Daily Editors' Notes

McKnight's Daily Editors' Notes features commentary on the latest in long-term care news and issues. Entries are written by Editorial Director John O'Connor, Editor James M. Berklan, Senior Editor Elizabeth Newman and Staff Writer Emily Mongan.