Washington’s most powerful business lobby and prominent union leaders are discussing a joint push on immigration reform this year, according to a report in The Hill this week.  The U.S. Chamber of Commerce is in discussions with the AFL-CIO and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) about shared principles for reforming the immigration system.

The two officials most directly behind the collaboration on immigration reform are Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue and AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka.  The Chamber is also reaching out to the SEIU, which pushed immigration reform hard during the 2012 campaign.  Eliseo Medina, SEIU’s secretary-treasurer, said he has had serious discussions with the business lobby about what it will take to get legislation through a new Congress.

 “I’m working personally with Mr. Trumka, the head of the AFL-CIO, on a number of issues that we can come to some accommodation,” Donohue said last week to reporters when asked about immigration reform.  He said those talks “should speed the process.” Advocates for immigration reform say a coalition between business and labor would be a blockbuster development that could lend momentum to their cause.

Talks about an immigration proposal are reportedly occurring at the staff level at the Chamber and and AFL-CIO.  One topic being discussed is how best to treat temporary-worker programs–an issue that divided labor during the last attempt at immigration reform in 2007.   Both sides want to improve temporary-worker programs.  The Chamber wants to pursue access to labor outside the United States for jobs where U.S. workers cannot be found.  Unions, however, are concerned that such programs could lead to low wages, and less-than-stellar working conditions, for immigrant workers.

Unions have become more involved on immigration issues in recent years, which reflects the growing diversity of their membership.  Businesses have a strong interest in seeing the system reformed as well, often struggling to fill seasonal and high-skilled positions.  “Business and labor are feeling a different motivation to reach a compromise.  For labor, it’s a  diversifying membership.  For business, its an increasingly agitated membership,” said Ali Noorani, executive director of the National Immigration Forum.  “Both memberships are bearing the brunt of massive immigration enforcement.”

Randy Johnson, the Chamber’s senior vice president for labor, immigration, and employee benefits, said he hopes labor and business can coalesce behind one bill as lawmakers consider immigration reform.  “In this case, it would be obviously better if we were unified behind one piece of legislation,” Johnson said.  “I hope we will be able to support legislation that’s introduced in the Senate, and possibly the House.”