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‘it’s a risk, but you always have a risk’

Unions push to recruit protected immigrants

Labor unions desperate for new members see possible boon in new immigration order

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    Felipe Diosdado speaks about how President Obama’s executive action on immigration will help him and his family during a news conference in Chicago.

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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    Balanoff

    ASSOCIATED PRESS

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Felipe Diosdado speaks about how President Obama’s executive action on immigration will help him and his family during a news conference in Chicago.

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

CHICAGO — Unions across the United States are reaching out to immigrants affected by President Obama’s recent executive action, hoping to expand their dwindling ranks by recruiting millions of workers who entered the U.S. illegally.

Labor leaders say the President’s action, which curbs deportation and gives work permits to some 4 million immigrants, will give new protection to workers who have been reluctant to join for fear of retaliation.

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Balanoff

ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

“I think we’ll see very positive changes” because of the action, said Tom Balanoff, president of Service Employees International Union Local 1. “One of them, I hope, is that more workers will come forward and want to organize.”

SEIU, whose more than 2 million members include janitors and maintenance workers, recently announced a Web site where immigrants can learn about the action.

Labor unions have struggled over the last decade to maintain their membership and political muscle.

The ranks fell by more than 1.2 million between 2003 and 2013, when there were about 14.5 million members nationwide, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Felipe Diosdado, who came to the United States illegally in 1997, said undocumented people he knows are working for cash at small businesses that aren’t unionized because they’re afraid to apply at larger job sites that are more likely to verify a worker’s immigration status.

And while he acknowledged many immigrants are fearful because the protection is temporary and could be undone by a future president, he expects some will sign up.

“It’s a risk, but you always have a risk,” said the 36-year-old father of two, who joined a union while working at a construction site 14 years ago. “Being undocumented, you live with risk every day.”

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