Coming To America...Legally
As this issue was going to press, a grand jury considered retail giant Wal-Mart’s role in hiring illegal immigrants to clean floors. Investigations of this nature could become rarer in the near future, if a “temporary worker program,” proposed by President Bush, becomes law.
Nobody’s sure how many undocumented immigrants work in this country; I’ve heard estimates of up to 10 million. The majority of these employees perform their jobs diligently, and are otherwise law-abiding. Many are grateful simply to have a job.
Many details still haven’t been worked out, and the measure has yet to clear Congress, but already, this proposal’s getting whacked by critics on all sides of the political spectrum.
While Bush touts his program as offering wage, hour and safety protections for immigrants, as well as allowing them to leave and return to the country at will, labor advocates — many of whom want full legalization of undocumented workers already in the United States — say it doesn’t go far enough. Other critics claim it rewards people who break the law, and worry that it will result in a flood of new workers coming in from Mexico and elsewhere to take jobs from Americans.
But both supporters and critics of the proposal haven’t yet said much about its impact on business. Will this proposal help the cleaning industry? I’m torn.
On one hand, if this program comes with the muscle necessary to enforce minimum-wage, overtime and health and safety regulations, this could root out one of the more unsavory elements of the contract-cleaning industry — those few unscrupulous contractors who hire undocumented workers at below-market (or below-minimum) wages, and undercut their competitors’ bids by breaking the law. I’d like to see any immigrant-worker law provide whistleblower protections for people who turn in these exploitative companies.
Also, finding good workers is notoriously difficult for BSCs, regardless of the economy. If this measure opens up the labor pool, it could help ease some hiring and turnover difficulties.
On the other hand, this proposal could end up doing little for many BSCs. It could create an even bigger paperwork burden for managers, for example.
Also, what happens to the current employers of the illegal immigrant who apply for work visas? While I wouldn’t want to see a company get punished harshly for an honest mistake, there shouldn’t be amnesty for those who flagrantly flout the law, either. There needs to be the right balance.
Will this proposal, or the version of it that eventually passes, be good for workers? Good for BSCs? I guess time — and Congress — will tell.