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AFL-CIO chief calls for legalizing undocumented workers

LOS ANGELES (AP) – The head of the powerful AFL-CIO used a Labor Day speech to call for legalizing millions of undocumented workers on the eve of meetings between President George W. Bush and Mexico’s leader over immigration reform.

”We’re a nation of immigrants, yet we daily visit injustice upon new arrivals to our shores – a cruel irony not lost on those of us who share experiences as children of immigrants,” union President John Sweeney said in a speech at St. Vincent’s Roman Catholic Church.

Sweeney also condemned efforts to export jobs.



”We can no longer allow multinational corporations to scavenge the world for cheaper and cheaper sources of labor, pitting workers against workers in a cruel contest for more profits,” he said.

Mexican President Vicente Fox was to leave for Washington Tuesday to meet with Bush and press the case for immigration changes, including a massive work visa program and amnesty for undocumented immigrants.



During a special Labor Day Mass, Cardinal Roger Mahony urged Congress and the Bush administration to create ”new opportunities” for immigrants to become permanent residents and citizens.

Gov. Gray Davis also attended the service, one of hundreds around the country involving attempts by union leaders to rebuild slipping membership.

The Democratic governor told reporters afterward that he was not specifically suggesting amnesty or any other program, but ”I do think we, as a society, have to recognize that much of our prosperity was built on the backs of people who are immigrants, some legal, some not.”

”I believe that we’re all God’s children. We’re all working to make America productive.”

The AFL-CIO, traditionally a Democratic ally, is well aware of the clout Hispanic voters are increasingly wielding.

In recent years, Los Angeles has been at the center of a national effort to organize immigrant workers and harness their political power. In 1999 alone, more than 90,000 workers were added to union rolls in Los Angeles County.

Sweeney’s speech was punctuated by applause from an overwhelmingly Hispanic audience packed with members of various unions. Many wore brightly colored T-shirts emblazoned with Spanish slogans calling for the legalization of undocumented workers.

Salvador Madrigal of Delano was among two dozen members of the United Farm Workers who drove more than 100 miles from California’s agricultural Central Valley to attend the service.

They wore bright red T-shirts emblazoned with the black UFW eagle and ”Respeto con Legalizacion,” Spanish for ”respect with legalization.”

The members want to see a legalization program rather than an expansion of agricultural guest worker programs that grant Mexicans temporary U.S. work visas.

”We don’t want the braceros here. We don’t need them,” Madrigal said, referring to a much-disliked program of the World War II era in which immigrants were invited to work the fields, then kicked out as illegal aliens.

After the meeting, audience members were urged to register to vote and to sign postcards urging Bush to give all immigrants a chance to earn legal status.

In the San Francisco area, Labor Day was celebrated with union rallies.

Members of the Hotel and Restaurant Employees Union Local 2 gathered in front of the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco, where they have been fighting for five years to establish a union.

About 150 miles down the coast, James P. Hoffa, president of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, joined workers who recently won a contract with ConAgra-owned Basic Vegetable Products.

A mariachi band played while about 2,000 people marched from a local school to the Basic Vegetable plant to celebrate the contract, which ended a two-year strike.

”It’s a contract where people can go back through the gates with their heads held high,” said Teamsters spokesman Brian Rainville.


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