Skip to comments.Wal-Mart's lesson on immigration: This could be you
Posted on 11/20/2003 11:52:55 AM PST by LibertySailor
Wal-Mart's lesson on immigration: This could be you
David Twiddy Staff Writer
The immigration mess surrounding retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. may be more than an excuse for competitors and critics to mutter about karma.
Local immigration and employment lawyers said the nation's largest private employer should act as a poster child for companies that rely on immigrant labor but don't maintain the proper paperwork showing that those employees are legal -- even if they work for a contractor.
"If it can happen to Wal-Mart, it can happen to other companies," said Marty Hereford, an immigration lawyer at Armstrong Teasdale LLP. "We've received a few calls from people who have contracted services out, and they don't believe some of the workers are legal. It's an interesting time."
Especially if you're with Wal-Mart.
Federal immigration officials raided the company's headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., and 60 of its stores last month, rounding up 250 janitors they determined were working without legal documentation.
The company also received a letter saying it could be the focus of a federal grand jury investigation. On Nov. 10, nine of the illegal workers filed a class-action suit, saying Wal-Mart swindled them out of overtime pay.
Wal-Mart has said that the employees worked for contractors and that officials didn't know the workers were illegal. It has not responded to the class-action suit.
Wal-Mart has a Harrisonville distribution center that employs 597 people, spokeswoman Sharon Weber said.
Weber said the company has strict procedures in place to ensure that third-party contractors always hire legal workers.
The company hasn't changed the way it documents third-party workers since the raid last month, she said, "but we're looking at what happened in those cases."
Attorneys acknowledged that much of the case against Wal-Mart rests on what proof immigration officials have that the company knew contractors were using undocumented workers.
Lawyers said companies should take lessons from the case, especially with the post-Sept. 11 immigration clampdown increasing the likelihood of raids. Likely targets include companies with large numbers of low-wage, unskilled jobs, such as manufacturing, agriculture and cleaning services.
They should make sure they have adequate proof that all employees are legal, said Mike Blumenthal, a lawyer at Constangy Brooks & Smith LLC.
"Unfortunately, it's an area where I don't get a call until after they've gotten a call from the INS," Blumenthal said.
Because the Wal-Mart case involved contractors, which don't usually turn over documentation to customers, lawyer Judy Bordeau of Eisberg & Bordeau suggested that companies check contracts to see whether they can either get verification that employees are legal or indemnification in the event they are proved otherwise.
Bordeau said companies can't cross the line between verifying that a worker is legal and singling him or her out.
"It's clear from reading the law how difficult it is for employers in that they can't discriminate against a worker for having a foreign-sounding name or an accent but then facing penalties if that person is found to be illegal," she said.
Bordeau and fellow immigration lawyer Mira Mdivani of Klamann & Hubbard PA in Overland Park said they hope the Wal-Mart case attracts attention to the growing backlash toward immigration and forces changes to the law, which has made their jobs much tougher in the past two years.
Mdivani said immigration raids like this in other parts of the country have resulted in the target's competitors and its legal employees suing the target for using illegal labor to force down wages and prices.
"I don't think it registers with the executives that the danger is there," Mdivani said. "The law sounds good, but what it does is it criminalizes the behavior of the businesses that have tried to survive."
Reach David Twiddy at 816-421-5900 or email@example.com.
© 2003 American City Business Journals Inc.
When we sign for purchases in the military, we have to sign a statement that "to the best of our knowledge no ozone-depleting chemicals were used in the manufacture of the items....". Talk about a crock of **it. As if most of us have an idea of whether or not manufacturers are breaking federal laws...
Me too. The lawyers are going after WalMart because it has deep pockets, but it's still a dangerous precedent. In theory, every homeowner would be liable if a housecleaning service or painting contractor had an illegal on the job.
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