NYC-Area Teamster Council Is Now a ‘Sanctuary Union’; Defies Immigration Law

It’s official: The Teamsters are involved in organized crime. No, it’s not the Old School variety, where the union farms out its dirty work to the Mafia. It’s the kind where the union subverts immigration law and calls it social justice. And it might succeed. Earlier this month, International Brotherhood of Teamsters Joint Council 16, representing about 120,000 workers mainly in the New York City area, sponsored a series of seminars on how to thwart Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) workplace raids for the purpose of arresting unauthorized immigrants. The campaign, supported by the AFL-CIO, follows a council resolution of last September. Council President George Miranda stated then: “Our members can be confident that we stand behind them 100 percent regardless of where they were born or what kinds of papers they have.”

For years, labor unions in this country have been trying to rewrite immigration law. Back in April 2013, Union Corruption Update summarized an immigration overhaul bill unveiled by eight senators – four from each party – to reform our allegedly “broken” system. The full Senate passed the measure that June by a 68-32 margin. But the House could not agree on the specifics, and the bill died. Given the contents, that was to the good. The legislation, known as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act, would have granted amnesty to all illegal immigrants in the U.S. who had arrived prior to 2012; provided green cards to an estimated 4.5 million spouses and other family members of the beneficiaries; and allowed hundreds of thousands of persons (“dreamers”) who had arrived here illegally as minors to remain in the U.S. indefinitely. Significantly, the leader of this “Gang of Eight” was Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., whose view of national borders, for all intents and purposes, is that they shouldn’t exist.

Given the absence of open hearings, people might not have been aware of the crucial role of organized labor – specifically, the AFL-CIO – in shaping the bill. The executive board of the federation, which now consists of 55 unions representing 12.5 million workers, had issued a statement back in 2000 in support of amnesty for undocumented (i.e., illegal) immigrants. The new policy was the culmination of a general shift in viewpoint since the late-1980s from restricting mass immigration to supporting it, legal or otherwise. Rather than viewing low-wage immigrant labor as undercutting their bargaining power, unions now saw unskilled immigrants as prime organizing fodder, a means of reversing long-term relative decline in the unionized private-sector work force and advancing further public-sector unionism.

By the time the Gang of Eight legislation was introduced, labor and business were aligned on the basics. The motives for support of the bill differed – business sought to minimize labor costs while unions sought to maximize membership – but each side shared a “more is better” assumption. A breakthrough came in February 2013 when the AFL-CIO and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce announced they had ironed out key differences. Chamber President Tom Donohue remarked: “I’m working with Mr. (Richard) Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, on a number of issues that we can come to some accommodation.” Ana Avendano, the AFL-CIO’s then-director of immigration issues, also spoke enthusiastically: “The cause of the undocumented is our cause, and the Chamber can be a powerful ally in expanding citizenship to all working people in the United States.” Sovereignty, rule of law and national identity apparently did not register on the radar screen. More recently, the AFL-CIO has been trying to block President’s Trump’s executive order phasing out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program granting amnesty to “dreamers” who came here illegally as minors.

Beyond lobbying, organized labor for several years has been transforming its opposition to immigration law into street-level coalition-building. The AFL-CIO, for example, for years has been helping to lead a national campaign to prevent deportation of Hispanic day laborers in urban areas across the nation. The AFL-CIO was so determined to secure passage of the Gang of Eight amnesty/immigration surge bill that it even ignored objections by one of its own affiliates, the union representing Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. Meanwhile, a Service Employees International Union front group, Fast Food Forward, organized Third World immigrant fast food workers as foot soldiers in a campaign to raise the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour.

Now a major regional affiliate of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters has taken flouting of federal law to a new level. Teamsters Joint Council 16, which represents about 120,000 workers in metro New York City, the Hudson Valley and Puerto Rico, is establishing partnerships with community and legal activists to block Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Department of Homeland Security, from conducting worksite raids. Last September 13, the council declared itself a “sanctuary” union, vowing to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent ICE agents from arresting unauthorized immigrants at their place of employment. And during the past few weeks, the council has been turning words into action.

Earlier this month Joint Council 16 sponsored sanctuary workshops at locations throughout the New York City area on how to frustrate immigration law enforcement. Speakers at these events, typically drawn from some of the more reprehensible quarters of the legal profession, explained to attendees what to do if ICE agents pay an unannounced visit to a workplace in search of illegals. Workshop coordinators covered such subjects as how to define a raid, how to avoid an arrest, and how to insert anti-immigration enforcement clauses into a union contract. At one seminar, Richard Blum, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society, summarized an AFL-CIO negotiating guide:

Some laws require an employer to do X – and the union can get language in a contract that says that they will do X but nothing more…Unions can also bargain for notification when something is happening so they can offer help or possibly intervene, or for a guarantee that if a worker is required to get more paperwork, they be given the maximum time available, and returned with full seniority. Or if they can’t return, they get severance, things like that.

Such clauses would appear to cross over the legal line. To refuse to cooperate with immigration enforcement officers amounts to aiding and abetting illegal immigration. And that’s a felony under Title 8, Section 1324 of the U.S. Code.

On specific cases of workplace arrests, a Daily News article revealed the union’s hostility (and its own) toward law enforcement:

At a Wednesday class, funded by the Consortium for Worker Education, Mike Spinelli of (Teamsters) Local 553 listened carefully as trainer Luba Cortes walked everyone through the difference between an administrative warrant and a judicial one…

Spinelli paid particular attention because many of his members – immigrants who work at a Long Island dairy farm – were profoundly shaken when federal agents raided nearly 100 7-Eleven stores last month in a search for undocumented workers.

“We deliver all the dairy to all the 7-Eleven stores in the city – you can imagine how scared some of these guys are,” he said. “It’s a scary time in general, and we’re hoping this can help the workers feel prepared and help protect them – and also so employers know they don’t have to just roll over.

This sort of statement underscores a current unwritten rule for unions: Solidarity comes first; rule of law comes second. These Teamsters activists do not accept the principle that immigration laws should exist to protect the American people. To them, adherence to the law is of passing interest. They could not be more wrong. If workers here illegally profess to be “scared” of deportation, well, they should be scared. Without the prospect of deportation (and attendant fear of it), illegal immigration in this country without question would be far more pronounced. Eliminating the distinctions between legal and illegal residence functions as an invitation to the world to come here without regard for our laws. Employers who hire these workers likewise should be scared. For they, too, are breaking the law, whether or not they continue to peddle the meme that illegal workers “do jobs Americans won’t do.”

The campaign by International Brotherhood of Teamsters Joint Council 16 to thwart workplace enforcement is a logical consequence of its demographic composition. About 40,000 of the 120,000 members of its affiliated locals are immigrants. The trigger event was the arrest of one of its own. Last August 24, a member of Teamsters Local 813, Eber Garcia Vasquez, 54, a Guatemalan living here illegally with a wife and three U.S.-born children, was arrested by ICE agents. Over the next two weeks, he would be detained in Bergen County (N.J.) jail, transferred to Louisiana and deported to Guatemala. Word of his situation got out. Enraged Teamsters picketed in solidarity outside 26 Federal Plaza in Lower Manhattan (see photo), demanding that Garcia be allowed back in America. Joint Council President George Miranda offered Garcia his full support at a sanctuary meeting this month: “We were all appalled at what happened to Eber…Eber is part of our family – we in the Teamsters rely on each other to get through the tough times…When we’re out on strike, we’re all the same on the picket line – what matters is that you’re a Teamster and fighting with us.”

The Teamsters envision a lot of members in the same situation. And they’ve hired outside help – like the aforementioned Luba Cortes – to make the ICE’s job as difficult as possible. Few legal issues surrounding workplace raids, she explained, are as crucial as the difference between a judicial warrant and an administrative warrant. In a describing a training guide handed out to seminar attendees, she said that under the Fourth Amendment, only a judicial warrant allows authorities to search a home or business or make an arrest. “A judicial warrant will be signed by a judge and will have the name of a state or federal court at the top,” said Ms. Cortes. “An administrative warrant will be signed by an ICE supervisor – and that does not allow ICE entry.”

This point is true, but it needs elaboration. An immigration officer may enter the premises with an REP (Reasonable Expectation of Privacy) so long as the property owner gives consent. According to John Seaman, a senior legal instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center, an ICE removal warrant is a purely administrative action based on a finding that the person is removable from the United States. He noted in an interview: “…(W)hat this means is that the ICE officer has the authority to arrest the person named in the warrant, so long as the officer located the person in a public, non-REP, location. For example, the person is located walking down a public sidewalk.” But what if suspect is discovered to be in an REP area, such as his home or workplace, and the property owner does not give consent for entry? If such is the case, says Seaman, ICE agents must “wait it out” until they can locate the individual in a non-REP area.

Without a judicial warrant, then, an ICE agent has roughly the same degree of authority as a police officer who has probable cause to make an arrest but lacks a warrant. And in immigration cases, the decision to issue a bench warrant lies at the discretion of a federal judge. A cabal of federal judges since President Trump took office in January 2017 have been undercutting his authority to issue executive orders limiting immigration even on grounds of protecting national security. There is a self-fulfilling prophecy here. Knowing that many federal judges are unwilling to issue a search warrant, open borders activists effectively can put ICE agents in a position where they are limited in making arrests anywhere. In practice, the Teamsters aren’t just reacting to arrests of members at their places of work; they are reacting to arrests of members at any location.

One of the consequences of the creation of legal obstacles to workplace raids is a greater incentive for employers and unions to join forces. True, they differ by motive. A union doesn’t want present and potential members removed from the country, while an employer doesn’t want to be arrested on account of the discovery of fraudulent I-9 Employment Verification forms (as it is, employers have three days’ prior notice to prepare for an audit). But both have an interest in thwarting workplace raids. This can be achieved legally through collective bargaining. The Teamsters, for one, are eagerly looking forward to inserting contractual clauses forcing employers to follow certain procedures before granting access to immigration authorities. It follows that the more unscrupulous the employer’s hiring practices, the more likely the employer will agree to such clauses. He would have everything to gain.

The Teamsters aren’t the only labor organization throwing wrenches into the gears of immigration law enforcement. The AFL-CIO website makes clear that it is fully on board with this blocking of workplace immigration law enforcement. In a recent posting, “We Will Defend and Resist,” the labor federation delivered a blast of lawbreaking advocacy barely distinguishable from that promoted by the National Council of La Raza, recently re-branded as UnidosUS. In typically overheated and sentimental language, the AFL-CIO introduces its goal:

This toolkit seeks to equip labor and community organizers, advocates and law practitioners with the necessary information to navigate escalating attacks on immigrant workers and their families. Under the previous administration, worksite enforcement mainly was pursued through I-9 audits, or “silent raids,” in which Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents review an employer’s I-9 records for irregularities and target individuals for enforcement based on that information. However, in the current political climate, we expect a return of more aggressive workplace enforcement actions, including raids that result in the immediate arrest of workers.

Nowhere, needless to say, does this “toolkit” make mention of the fact that these workers are living in this country illegally, and in so doing, are depressing entry-level wages, exploiting our system of public benefits and distorting our politics. To admit as much would be tantamount to suggesting that these workers ought to be deported. Arrests of workers illegally in this country are not “attacks” on them. They are necessary to protect our nation and the integrity of our laws.

At the Department of Labor, the change in presidential administrations doesn’t seem to be affecting immigration enforcement policy. President Obama’s first- and second-term labor secretaries, respectively, Hilda Solis and Thomas Perez, exhibited no interest in enforcing immigration law in the workplace. Perez, who is now Democratic National Chairman, in particular showed contempt for this task. Yet President Trump’s secretary of labor, Alex Acosta, seems intent on continuing that legacy. Acosta has not even replaced any of the Obama-era members of the DOL’s Administrative Review Board, which issues final rulings in disputes over worker protection laws. Such inaction sends a signal not just to the Teamsters, but to all unions, that union solidarity matters more than national sovereignty or even elementary respect for the law.