On Sanctuary Unions: Because Standing Up For Immigrants Is Standing Up For Workers

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Learning to stand up for themselves. Photo by Marcus Santos

Offering a powerful middle finger to Trump's divide-and-conquer rhetoric on immigration and the horrific ICE abuses it's sparked - see here, here, here and here - over 120,000 Teamsters in an umbrella group of 27 locals in and around New York City have voted to declare themselves a "sanctuary union” to protect its undocumented members. Like a growing number of unions, cities and states, Teamsters Joint Council 16 has vowed to use its political leverage to resist efforts by ICE and other federal officials to deport any immigrant workers, who number about 40,000 and make up a third of their ranks. From truck drivers to mechanics to farm and airline workers, the union cites the same fundamental rule of labor: Union solidarity first, immigration status second. “Supporting workers and supporting immigrants are completely intertwined,” says one official. "If you allow immigrants to be exploited, (you just) lower the wages and working conditions of everybody.”

The Teamsters' action stemmed from the loss of one of their own: Eber Garcia Vasquez, a Guatemalan sanitation worker and  Teamsters member for 27 years, whose wife and three kids were U.S. citizens, was deported last year. After angry Teamsters picketed for his return - “We were all appalled. Eber is part of our family" - they vowed to "do all that is in our power to keep our immigrant members safe and keep their families together." The sanctuary resolution calls for actions from refusing to cooperate with ICE agents who turn up at job sites to running "Know Your Rights" training sessions with local attorneys to explain ICE procedures, immigrant laws and negotiations guidelines to protect workers. Like teachers', healthcare, legal workers' and other unions, they insist on the need to fight back against Trump's assault on the working class. Taking the long view, they also hope against hope it's not too late. “The attacks on immigrants (demand) action from America’s labor movement,” wrote George Miranda, president of Council 16. “We deserve our share of the blame for not doing more to engage our members (on) racial justice and immigrant rights...When we fail to talk (about) these issues, bigotry festers.”

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