Washington (CNN) - AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka and Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Donohue are working together to reach an understanding about a guest worker program. This was the topic of discussion at a recent breakfast between the two men, who usually find themselves on opposing sides of the negotiating table.
The guest worker program has been a flash point in the immigration debate. It divided the labor and business communities during the 2006 immigration battle when the Chamber fought to increase the number of temporary workers and labor pressed to keep that number low in the name of protecting its members.
This time around the two men are teaming up in the hopes of eliminating this major roadblock on the road to immigration reform.
The disagreement is over the number of foreign workers allowed to enter the U.S. on a temporary basis. Business interests want to recruit willing immigrant workers when Americans are unwilling to do the job.
Labor leaders want the number of guest workers to be tied to the health of the U.S. economy. When U.S. unemployment is high and more Americans are looking for jobs, labor leaders believe the number of low-skilled foreign workers allowed to work in the U.S. should be lower. But when U.S. employment is strong and Americans are well-employed, more foreign guest workers should be allowed to enter.
Staff members from both the labor community and the Chamber of Commerce have been talking about finding a reasonable formula that both sides can support.
But this issue isn't the only sticking point between the two communities.
Many in the labor community are concerned about suggestions that immigrants seeking citizenship be required to meet certain work requirements. Depending on how these requirements are defined, it's possible that some workers in the so-called 'shadow economy' may find it difficult to prove employment. Those affected could include household workers and day laborers.
On the other side, many in the business community are concerned about new federal requirements for businesses would conflict with already complex state immigration laws. This could make it difficult for even well-intentioned business owners to avoid illegal hiring.
Business leaders want to ensure that any new federal regulations relating to E-Verify – an internet-based system for determining the legal status of workers – would trump state laws that might be in conflict.