JEFFERSON CITY — Hundreds of union members congregated at the Capitol today urging lawmakers to protect their jobs and punish employers who hire illegal immigrants.
Guy Ott, one of several members of a St. Louis-based operating engineers union who attended the rally, said that it's important for organized labor to remind lawmakers of union members' contributions.
Ott, 51, of Brazito, said he has worked several places where illegal immigrants have also worked. He said that his frustration is with employers who save money by hiring illegal immigrants and paying lower wages.
"It should come under the employers to prove the person has come here legally," he said. "The person who's come here illegally, they're just trying to better themselves."
Both the House and Senate have passed versions of legislation cracking down on illegal immigration. But there has been disagreement about whether employers should have to use the federal E-Verify database to check their workers' immigration status.
In the Senate bill, businesses wouldn't have to use E-Verify, but if they don't and are caught knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant, they could lose their business licenses. Under the bill, businesses found unknowingly employing an illegal immigrant would need to fire the worker and begin using the database.
The House has yet to debate on the floor any legislation punishing employers.
Throughout today's rally, Democratic and Republican lawmakers stood on the Capitol's steps. But only Democrats spoke, and some criticized Republican politicians and the policies they have supported.
"We continue to need to take days off work to tell our elected officials, 'Leave us alone, and we will build a better Missouri,'" said Sen. Tim Green, D-St. Louis.
Attorney General Jay Nixon, a Democrat who is running for governor, pledged to represent organized labor's interests, including on illegal immigration.
The tone of his speech was much like that at a campaign rally. Nixon, several times, mentioned that he's seeking a new job and asked for union members' help in moving from the state building that houses the attorney general to the state Capitol, which includes the governor's office.