In the case of housekeepers, for example, the chamber proposal would mean $8.44 per hour, which falls below the federal poverty level for a family of four, while the AFL-CIO position was $11.39 per hour, according to one official familiar with the labor perspective. The new visas would cover dozens of professions such as long-term care workers and hotel and hospitality employees.
As the day wore on, senators met hour after hour in a private chamber just off the Senate floor, and the chamber and AFL-CIO traded jabs, each accusing the other side of imperiling negotiations.
A proposal from the Gang of Eight that would divide the workers into three wage categories — two of them beneath median wage — was rejected by the AFL as insufficient, said Ana Avendano, assistant to the AFL-CIO president for immigration and community action. Avendano said the AFL proposed language stipulating that the new visas only should be used when employing foreign workers would not hurt wages and working conditions of U.S. workers, but that Republicans rejected that.
“It’s shocking to us that the Republicans are willing to hold up the bill and they’re saying that this bill is not moving forward without poverty level wages,” Avendano said. “So we’re hopeful that they will see the light and recognize how important this issue is and agree to move forward.”
Randy Johnson, the chamber’s senior vice president for labor, immigration and employee benefits, said the chamber simply wanted to stick with current law requiring that temporary workers be paid whichever is greater: what comparable American workers make or the prevailing wage as determined by the Labor Department.
“We’re puzzled as to why the unions would risk jeopardizing the negotiations by pushing for a provision that would drive up wages for immigrant workers above American workers,” Johnson said in a statement.