AFL-CIO picks fight with Facebook, Google over immigration bill

The nation's largest labor federation on Monday rallied opposition to changes in the Gang of Eight's immigration bill that are being pushed by the tech industry.

In an email alert to immigration activists, the AFL-CIO panned a series of tech industry-backed amendments from Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), arguing they would "undercut protections for both aspiring citizens and U.S. workers."

The labor federation warned that Facebook, Google and other powerful tech companies are joining forces to see that the changes make it into the final bill. They urged activists to contact Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) to voice their opposition. 

"Hatch’s amendments would change the bill so high-tech companies can hire new immigrant employees without first making the jobs available to American workers," wrote Ana Avendaño, assistant to the president for immigration at the AFL-CIO, in the email. "Hatch’s amendments would mean American corporations could fire American workers in order to bring in new immigrant workers at lower wages."

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These arguments are similar to those voiced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), a member of the Gang of Eight and Judiciary Committee who has pushed back against Hatch's proposed changes. The amendments would soften the requirements that employers would have to follow when hiring foreign highly skilled workers on a temporary worker visa, known as an H-1B.

During the Judiciary Committee's markup of the bill last week, Durbin argued that the amendments would chip away at the protections for U.S. workers that are built into the bill.

A spokesman for Hatch did not respond to a request for comment.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been working with Hatch and Durbin for more than a week to find a compromise on the package of amendments so they can be put to a vote. Leahy is aiming to wrap up the committee's markup of the bill by mid-week.

The Gang of Eight's immigration bill was based, in large part, on a series of compromises struck between the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and the AFL-CIO. Members of the Gang have warned that the bill strikes a careful balance between business and labor that could easily be upset by amendments.

That hasn't stopped the tech industry and other industries from seeking changes during the Judiciary mark-up, however.

Tech companies have argued that new rules and restrictions in the Gang of Eight bill would make it difficult for them to hire foreign talent through the H-1B visa program. Although the bill significantly increases the H-1B visa cap, tech companies say the new regulations folded into the visa program in the bill make it harder for them to secure the visas they need to fill open technical positions.

They also argue that their hiring decisions could be put into question and open them up to legal liability. 

The tech industry has argued that there are not enough U.S. college graduates with the requisite technical skills needed to fill hundreds of open positions at their companies. For this reason, they rely on the H-1B program to hire foreign graduates with advanced degrees in math, science and engineering to fill these specialized roles, as well as recruit top foreign talent to work in the U.S.

Hatch contends the current measures in the H-1B section of the bill would force tech companies to send those jobs abroad rather than go through the hassle of petitioning for an H-1B visa.

Securing Hatch's support of the Gang of Eight's bill is viewed as key to its passage in the Senate because he could sway other on the fence GOP members to back the measure.  

In the email to activists, which had the subject line "Hatch + Google = Bad for workers," Avendaño of the AFL-CIO said the amendments would put qualified American workers at a disadvantage.

"Everybody loses here — American workers aren’t offered jobs they are qualified for and immigrant workers are hired at the lowest wages possible. Tomorrow, the Senate Judiciary Committee could vote on these amendments," Avendaño wrote. "That’s why it’s important that Sen. Leahy — the chair of the committee — hears from you today."