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Guest workers have been a major sticking point in immigration reform efforts in the past and a major subject of negotiation this time around. Over the weekend, though, the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce reached an agreement on the outlines of a guest worker program for non-seasonal, non-agricultural workers.

The basic tension is this: Corporate interests want a big new guest worker program with as few protections as possible for the guest workers and for permanent resident workers. Unions and other worker groups want to be sure that workers in the United States—whether born here or immigrants—don't lose jobs or see their wages undercut as companies turn to guest workers, and that the guest workers' rights aren't limited by having their visas tied to a specific employer. So the question has been how any deal would address these concerns.

The new agreement gives business a substantial new guest worker program, starting at 20,000 visas in the first year and rising in steps to 75,000 in its fourth year. After that, it would rise and fall according to a set of economic indicators including the unemployment rate, never going below 20,000 or above 200,000. Construction visas would be capped at 15,000, and some skilled construction jobs would be excluded from the program. As for other key concerns, Ashley Parker and Steven Greenhouse report:

Labor groups wanted to ensure that guest workers would not be paid less than the median wage in their respective industries, and the two sides compromised by agreeing that guest workers would be paid the higher of the prevailing industry wage as determined by the Labor Department or the actual employer wage.

Under the deal, guest workers would be allowed to pursue a path to citizenship and to change jobs after they arrived in the United States.

If unions had to accept a new guest worker program—and, realistically, they did—this contains enough of what they wanted to be respectable. The guest workers' ability to seek permanent status after a year and the fact that they aren't tied to a single employer are immensely important. But oversight and enforcement of the worker protections, especially around wage levels, will be crucial.

This should help clear the way for immigration reform to move forward. Except that Sen. Marco Rubio responded by, as First Read put it, "tapping the brakes." So look forward to a whole lot more posturing from the Florida Republican as he tries to use immigration reform to further his own political career to the greatest extent possible.

Originally posted to Daily Kos Labor on Mon Apr 01, 2013 at 08:24 AM PDT.

Also republished by Invisible People, In Support of Labor and Unions, and Daily Kos.

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