Driver cards’ business-union alliance harms law-abiding employers, low-skilled Oregonians

The Bulletin
News article

To see how industry lobbyists and Big Labor can collaborate to harm both law-abiding employers and low-skilled Americans, look no further than the new political action committee formed to push for illegal-immigrant driver cards.

Two trade-association executives head the PAC: Bill Perry of the Oregon Restaurant and Lodging Association and Jeff Stone of the Oregon Association of Nurseries. Among the PAC’s first donors: the political arm of the Service Employees International Union, which has contributed $20,000. The PAC will work to garner “yes” votes for the November ballot measure via which Oregon voters will approve or reject driving privileges for illegal immigrants.

Perry’s and Stone’s support of driver cards is easily explained. Illegal immigrants inflate Oregon’s supply of low-skilled labor. By doing so, they depress wages. This juices the profits of the restaurants and nurseries that knowingly hire those illegal immigrants or make no effort to ascertain their presence in their workforces. Driver cards would better enable illegal immigrants to get to the jobs these businesses provide.

But they’d do something else as well: namely, wrong Oregon employers who, via the free federal E-Verify worker-verification system, strive voluntarily to avoid illegal labor and assure their compliance with laws mandating employees’ legal U.S. presence.

Among those employers are some in the very industries Perry’s and Stone’s lobbies purport to represent. They include Shari’s Restaurants, Albany Taco Bell Inc. and several Portland-area Baskin-Robbins outlets; the Benson Hotel in Portland and Phoenix Inns in Eugene and Bend; and Woodburn’s Amaral, McMinnville’s Country Garden and Ashland’s Valley View nurseries. By using E-Verify, these conscientious employers put themselves on the right side of the law — but at a disadvantage to competitors who knowingly use cheap and often paid-under-the-table illegal labor.

And the SEIU? The union decries fast-food workers’ low pay and agitates for their trendy new cause — the $15-an-hour wage. Indeed, USA Today reported last month, the Center for Union Facts has estimated the SEIU “has spent more than $15 million supporting (fast-food workers’) protests since January 2013.”

The irony? By championing driver cards, the SEIU works to assure the continued oversupply of low-skilled labor, which dampens fast-food workers’ wages. Even the liberal Center for American Progress, according to Eric Ruark and Matthew Graham of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, has admitted that “reducing the illegal-immigrant population in the United States by one-third would raise the income of unskilled workers by $400 a year.” “The average high-school dropout,” writes National Public Radio’s Adam Davidson, would see “about a $25 a week raise if there were no job competition from immigrants.”

In April and May 2013, the Legislature passed and Gov. John Kitzhaber signed the law granting driver cards to illegal immigrants. It was “rammed through the Legislature so quickly,” wrote Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, “that most Oregonians barely got the chance to scrutinize it and weigh in with their opinions.” But over the next five months, the law’s opponents, led by the citizen activists of Oregonians for Immigration Reform, collected the signatures of more than 71,000 Oregon voters and successfully referred the law to the November 2014 statewide ballot.

This fall, Oregon voters should reject illegal-immigrant driver cards. By doing so, they’ll reward the honest businesses that reject cheap illegal labor and help raise wages for their low-skilled fellow citizens.

Cynthia Kendoll is president of Oregonians for Immigration Reform and authorized agent of Protect Oregon Driver Licenses.