STATEMENT BY SEN. BERNIE SANDERS ON ANTI-LAYOFF AMENDMENT
Mr. President, I want to speak about an amendment that I will be offering with Senator Grassley to the Immigration Reform Bill, Amendment 1332.
This amendment has been endorsed by the AFL-CIO, the Programmers Guild and the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers.
But, before I speak about the amendment, I want to focus on what is happening in our economy today.
Mr. President, the fact of the matter is that there is a war going on in America today. And, I'm not talking about the War in Iraq or the War in Afghanistan. I'm talking about a war against the American middle class, the American standard of living, and indeed the American dream itself.
The American public understands that since George Bush became President, an additional 5.4 million Americans have slipped out of the middle class and into poverty; nearly 7 million Americans have lost their health insurance; income for the average American family has fallen by $1,273; and 3 million Americans have lost their pensions .
Even college graduates aren't getting ahead. From 2000-2004 we have seen the wages of college graduates decline by 5%.
And, according to a new study by researchers at MIT, earnings of the average U.S. worker with an undergraduate degree have not kept up with gains in productivity over the past 25 years.
In other words, Mr. President, despite an explosion in technology and worker productivity over the past thirty years, millions of American workers, including college graduates, are working longer hours for lower wages.
In America today, the personal savings rate is below zero, which hasn't happened since the Great Depression. Home foreclosures are at their highest level in nearly four decades.
Mr. President, what I fear the most is that if we keep going in the direction that we are headed our children and our grandchildren will have a lower standard of living than we do. We must not allow that to happen.
But, Mr. President, I am afraid that it already is. According to a recent joint study by the Pew Charitable Trust and the Brookings Institution men in their 30s earned on average 12 percent less in 2004 than their fathers did in 1974 after adjusting for inflation.
In addition, Mr. President, it is important to note that over the last six years, this country has lost over 3 million good paying manufacturing jobs.
During the debate over NAFTA and PNTR with China, we were told not to worry about those blue collar jobs which we have lost in droves. Think about all of the white collar information technology jobs we will be gaining.
Well, guess again. From January of 2001 to January of 2006, we have lost 644,000 information sector jobs.
And, Alan Blinder, the former Vice Chairman of the Federal Reserve has told us that between 30 and 40 million jobs in this country are in danger of being shipped overseas.
Mr. President, the middle class is being squeezed twenty four hours a day, seven days a week.
When Americans get up in the morning and take their kids to day care, they find that the price of childcare is skyrocketing.
When they drive to work, they are being squeezed at the gas station, while the big oil companies and OPEC are making out like bandits.
When they go to work, they are being squeezed by their employer, who is cutting back on their healthcare and pension benefits, and threatening to move their jobs to China if they don't accept cuts in pay.
When they come home from work, they open up their mailbox, only to find that the interest on their mortgage payments and their credit cards, in some cases, are doubling or even tripling, while big banks are making record-breaking profits.
When they go to the hospital, they are told by their insurance company that their premiums and co-pays will be going up or, even worse, they aren't covered for the medical procedures they need.
When they want to send their kids to college, they find that the price of college education is becoming ever more unobtainable as college seniors are graduating $20,000 in the hole.
And, now, Mr. President, we have this immigration bill, a bill that would allow employers to hire hundreds of thousands, if not millions of workers from other countries in both low-skilled jobs and high-skilled jobs.
Mr. President, it is important to note, that the same corporate groups who supported NAFTA and PNTR with China, the same businesses that fought against an increase in the minimum wage, the same companies that have outsourced hundreds of thousands of jobs to China, Mexico, Vietnam, India and other low-wage countries are supporting this bill.
The head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce representing the largest business group in this country, the same person who has "urged" companies to outsource American jobs, supports moving this bill forward.
The National Restaurant Association, the Business Roundtable, the American Hotel & Lodging Association, groups that have opposed an increase in the minimum wage, support this legislation.
High-tech companies who have sent hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas support this legislation.
Well, if you listen to them, they will tell you two things. First, in terms of low-skilled jobs they say they need foreign workers to do the jobs Americans just won't do. And, in terms of high-skilled workers they say that they can't find enough Americans who are smart enough to be engineers, to be scientists, to be mathematicians, etc., etc.
In other words, Mr. President, corporate America tells us that they need a new guest-worker program because they can't find any Americans for construction jobs, manufacturing jobs, hotel jobs, restaurant jobs.
Then they tell us they need more foreign agricultural workers because no American is willing to break their back working in the fields picking strawberries or lettuce for poverty level wages and no health care.
And, then, and this is what really gets me Mr. President, they tell us they need more H-1B visas because Americans aren't smart enough to be computer professionals, engineers, university professors, accountants, financial analysts, nurses, psychologists, lawyers, elementary school teachers, etc., etc.
I ask, Mr. President. If Americans won't take low-skill jobs that pay poverty level wages and they aren't smart enough to receive high-skilled jobs, exactly what jobs will be there for them? I think this Senate should be spending much more of its time making it easier to create decent-paying jobs for American workers, instead of allowing corporate America to drive down wages by importing more and more workers from overseas.
Mr. President, as someone who as a young man worked in a hotel, and worked in a restaurant, I can tell you that the guest worker provisions, for the most part, have nothing to do with a shortage of workers, but have everything to do with a concerted effort by corporate America to drive down wages for American workers.
Mr. President, one of the businesses supporting this bill is Wal-Mart. Oh, they don't go out and say this directly. They let special interest groups like the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition do their dirty work for them.
Mr. President, is there a shortage of Americans willing to work at Wal-Mart? Well, let's see. Two years ago, when Wal-Mart announced the opening of a new store in Oakland, California, guess how many people showed-up for a job? 11,000, Mr. President. 11,000 people in Oakland filled out applications for about 400 jobs at Wal-Mart just two years ago.
In other words, there is no shortage of labor when it comes to Wal-Mart, the largest employer in America, a company I might add, that just a few years ago was paying its clerks a poverty-level wage of $8.23 an hour.
But, you might say, that was two years ago, ancient history. Well, guess again.
In January of 2006, it happened again. When Wal-Mart announced the opening of a store in Evergreen Park just outside of Chicago, 24,500 applied for 325 jobs at this store.
And, Wal-Mart says that there is a labor shortage. Give me a break.
So, we know who supports an expansion in low-skilled visas and what their motivations are.
But, of course, this bill also includes a major expansion of high-skilled visas.
Who supports an increase in high-skilled immigrants?
Motorola, Dell, Hewlett-Packard, IBM, Microsoft, Intel, and Boeing, just to name a few.
I should add that these companies, like Wal-Mart, have outsourced hundreds of thousands of jobs overseas.
Now, I find it interesting that while these companies claim that they can't find workers in the United States, some of these same companies have recently announced major lay-offs of thousands of American workers.
Let me give you some examples:
Just a few days ago, the Los Angeles Times reported that Dell would be eliminating 10% of its workforce slashing 8,800 jobs.
Meanwhile, Mr. President, as Dell has eliminated decent-paying jobs in the United States, it applied for nearly 400 H-1B visas last year.
But, Dell is not alone. On May 31st, the Financial Times reported that Motorola would be cutting 4,000 jobs on top of an earlier 3,500 job reduction designed to generate annual savings (http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/18948389/##) of $400 million.
Yet, last year alone, Motorola received 760 H-1B visas.
On May 30th, Reuters reported that IBM will be laying-off more than 1,500 U.S. workers. Last year alone, IBM received over 1,300 H-1B visas.
In April, CBS Market-Watch reported that CitiGroup announced that it would be laying-off 17,000 workers.
Meanwhile, CitiGroup received over 330 H-1B visas in 2006.
Last September, the Associated Press reported that Intel would be laying-off 10,500 workers. In 2006, Intel received over 800 H-1B visas.
Last March, Oracle, announced that it would be laying off 2,000 workers. Meanwhile, it received over 1,000 H-1B visas in 2006.
And, on and on it goes.
So we have a situation, Mr. President, where on the one hand these companies say they cannot find highly-skilled American workers, while on the other hand they are eliminating thousands of American jobs.
Mr. President, if there is truly a shortage of workers in the U.S., why would some of the largest companies in this country be destroying thousands of American jobs? The answer is they shouldn't.
Therefore, the amendment that I am offering today with Senator Grassley would prohibit companies that have announced mass lay-offs from receiving new visas of any kind, unless these companies could prove that overall employment at their companies would not be reduced by these lay-offs.
Mr. President, those companies that are truly experiencing labor shortages would not be impacted by this amendment and could continue to receive an increase in foreign workers. But, companies that are reducing their U.S. workforce by laying-off thousands of Americans would be prevented from importing workers from overseas.
Mr. President, the bottom-line is that companies that are laying-off thousands of Americans shouldn't be allowed to import workers from overseas.
Let's stand up for American workers. Let's support this amendment.