Illegal Aliens Hurt Wages, Working Conditions: GAO

Associated Press

Illegal aliens are depressing wages and worsening working conditions for legal immigrants and U.S.-born workers in low-skilled and low-wage jobs, the General Accounting Office says in a new report.

Citing empirical data and several case studies, the congressional watchdog agency said both U.S.-born workers and legally documented immigrants are being hurt, especially those working as janitors and farm and food-processing workers.

The most dramatic examples were among janitors and farm and food-processing workers in California.


For example, janitors in downtown Los Angeles office buildings--most of them blacks or legal Latino immigrants--had won wage and benefits reaching a peak of $12 an hour by 1983 under labor contracts negotiated by the Service Employees International Union.

Non-Union Firms Move In

However, in the 1980s a group of aggressive non-union janitorial services hiring predominantly illegal immigrants began wresting the best building contracts away from the unionized firms, driving the union scale down to $4 an hour and below.

Of 2,500 black janitors working under high-wage contracts in 1977, only 100 still enjoyed comparative wages by 1985. The union still had 600 working members, but 500 of them had suffered large pay cuts.

Similar events occurred in the Southern California citrus and tomato fields, where farm labor contractors using illegal immigrants have driven down wages and benefits of legal migrant crop pickers from Mexico by 18% between 1975 and 1985.

The report identified restaurants and companies producing auto parts, shoes and clothing as others that often employ illegal aliens.

The willingness of illegal aliens to work in low-skill jobs for less than the minimum wage in those industries has depressed wages and benefits for comparable native and legal immigrant workers, the GAO said.


Indirect Benefit Noted

But it also concluded that the low wages paid to illegal aliens allow some of the businesses to grow or survive foreign competition, indirectly expanding job opportunities and wages for higher-skilled workers in the same trades.