Illegal Workers Found At Construction Sites
By Alex Saitta
September 28, 2010
Told You So:
While the district and board made a good recovery on this issue, I think uncovering the 48 illegal workers on the construction sites (LLR found another 13 this past week) needs to be added to the long list of we told you so’s, concerning the passage of the Greenville Plan. Additionally, unforeseen challenges lie ahead on this issue for the school district and board.
Those who opposed the plan, its size and how it was funded, warned the previous Superintendent and the six board members who voted for it (B. J. Skelton, Shirley Jones, Kevin Kay, Herb Cooper, Jame Brice and June Hay) the board and district lacked the expertise and knowledge to deal with such a massive plan all at one time. After the vote the district and board was sent into a mine field, so it is not surprising the inevitable mistakes in implementing this plan were going to be quite big.
If it was up to me, I would have never put myself and others in a situation where the required expertise and knowledge was way up here, and our abilities were way down here. I would have built one or two schools at a time. Smaller plan = smaller mistakes, and the mistakes would have gotten smaller and smaller as the district and board built one school after another and moved down the learning curve.
Some of the big mistakes have been:
In August 2008, the board majority later voted to buy 23 acres of land across from Daniel High School to put the football stadium there. There was little care by the majority of the cost of $1.4 million ($63,000 per acre) and little thought if the idea was feasible. In the end, someone (still not quite sure) realized it was dangerous to have spectators and students crossing back and forth over highway 133. Now the land isn’t being used.
Another example, the first two years all the district did was buy land and push around a lot of dirt. Millions were wasted as plans were drawn and redrawn and construction fell behind schedule.
Another mine was stepped on in July when LLR found 35 illegal workers on the construction sites, and another 13 last week.
Each Board Member’s Responsibility:
After the board majority dropped the Greenville Plan on the lap of the board, it was each member’s responsibility to do the best he could with every situation this plan shot down the pike, be it issues that dealt with construction, budgeting or personnel.
While I freely admitted at the outset I’m not a construction expert, the size and scope of this plan was beyond my abilities and I resent being put in such a situation, I’ve done the best I could on each issue, providing my input on what I’ve learned, made suggestions to the leadership and voted using common sense.
Illegal Worker Time Line:
Prior to July 1, 2010 only employers with more than 100 employees were required to verify if their workers had proper legal papers. Employers must verify them in one of two ways (Code 41-8-20): using the E-Verify system or ask for a SC driver’s license or a license from another state where the requirements were at least as strict as SC’s. If a employer fails to verify his employees, faces fines from $100 to $1,000 per worker. The fine is waived for first-time violators who correct the problem within three days.
If the employer “knowingly” employs an unauthorized alien (Code 41-8-30), even on the first offense, the employer’s license is suspended for 10 to 30 days. On the second offense, the employer’s license is suspended 30 to 60 days. On the third offense, the employer’s license is revoked.
LLR can’t arrest anyone, and must notify the feds when violations occur. (State Code 41-8-20)
One other point needs to be made here. Construction of the first buildings didn’t start until about Jan. 2010. During the three years prior, not a lot was going-on at the sites.
In November 2009, LLR made an inspection and found only the general contractors on the projects had 100 employees or more. All the general contractors were found to be in compliance with the law.
Once construction of the buildings got going, in early April a couple of people complained to me, saying they knew there were illegal workers on the sites. I asked how do you know? Did you work there and talk to them? Can you give me the name of someone who worked on the site, who will say they knew these workers were illegal? Neither provided such information, nor had been on the sites. I suggested they contact Margaret Thompson, who was gathering information on this.
I then contacted Dr. Hunt and asked what protections were in place?
Code 8-14-40 says the school district was required to obtain a written statement from all contractors and sub-contractors that they would comply with the law. The district had done that but that didn’t sound like much assurance to me. Plus, the board (me included) was pretty clueless on the law and what was or was not going-on on the construction sites.
I then called the board chairman about the situation and he had heard similar complaints.
April School Board Meeting:
About two weeks later four or five people spoke at the public input section of the April board meeting and basically said the same thing.
It is rare an investigation will be launched without any evidence or firsthand testimony, but one was initiated in this case. The next day Dr. Hunt called in LLR and this ball was firmly placed in their hands, the state agency that investigates such things.
I give Dr. Hunt and the board leadership credit for their quick reaction to the complaints and calling LLR when really no firsthand evidence was provided. I can tell you, most school districts would have pressed the speakers for hard evidence and when they produced none, they wouldn’t have lifted a finger.
Additional LLR Inspections:
In May another LLR inspection was conducted, and one subcontractor was found to employ 100 or more workers, and therefore was subject to the law’s requirements. The subcontractor was found to be employing three illegal workers. The employer terminated the workers, and LLR notified Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), as required by the code of laws.
Even though construction on the sites was now in full swing, you have to keep in mind the law at the time. LLR could only ask workers for verification who worked for companies with 100 or more employees.
On July 1, 2010, the law got stricter, so LLR could then do a complete review. The law then re
quired all employers working on the construction projects to check their employees, regardless of the number of employees.
Since July 1, LLR has checked 47 contractors and 5 were found in violation, with 35 illegal aliens. One company has been fined by LLR. They found another 13 this past week.
If You Are Still Concerned:
The law clearly states (code 41-8-50) a state, county or local official must not attempt to independently determine if an alien is authorized to work in the U.S. Hence, the district couldn’t send the project manager or a group of 8th grade Spanish teachers out to the construction sites to ask employees to show proof of residence.
The district did what was required (got the signed statements of compliance from its contractors and subs) and then it did what it should have (called in LLR to investigate the complaints).
And Dr. Hunt has said, “We have continually stressed to our general contractors that the district expects, and our contracts require, general contractors and all subcontractors to follow all laws and regulations in constructing our schools.”
I believe that was done, but how strongly and consistently the district and board did that is a matter of debate. Either way, 42 of the 48 contractors listened. Six did not.
At some point LLR will finish its investigation, finish handing out its punishment and drop a final report on the lap of the school board, putting the ball back in the district/ board’s court. LRR can not stay on these sites 24-7.
The question I have is, did the employers violate 41-8-20 and fail to verify? If that is the case, then they are looking at fines. Or did they “knowingly” employ unauthorized aliens? If they did that, their licenses will be suspended. I have no idea how LLR would determine if the employers knowingly employed unauthorized aliens. However, looking at their initial report, it appears the violations were of 41-8-20, so I doubt any employer’s license was suspended.
To keep this from happening again two things need to occur: deterrence and patrols.
When LLR issues its final report, the board will look at the contracts of those who violated the law and see if their violations constitute a breech their contract. If that occurred, the board may or may not take further steps. My understanding is the board then has the option to take those cases to the state Material Management Office and try to get the contracts broken. Breaking such contracts will make it very clear to the remaining contractors they need to follow the law on the issue of illegal workers.
I support that and the leadership needs to look into that.
This is the tougher issue of the two.
Reading statue 41-8-50 the district is prohibited from attempting to determine if an alien is authorized to work in the United States. The law gives that authority to LLR. I doubt LLR investigators can be on the sites every day.
That begs the question, can the sites be successfully patrolled?
This is just another example that those who pushed through this plan never thought all this stuff through. Additionally, if the district did one school at a time, instead of facing this problem at 7 schools, we’d only be facing it at 1. That would be easier to patrol.
I’m not surprised this happened. In my opinion, the board (me included) and district were not proactive on this issue. The board and district were out-matched on the issue in terms of knowledge of the law and experience in dealing with this issue, particularly in the initial phase when the affidavits were signed by the contractors. My bet is if the district with the full support of the board gave the contractors a table pounding warning that a thorough reviews would be coming down the pike that probably would have cleaned up the sites, without LLR ever having to be called.
Who knew how critical that was at the time? No one ever experienced this before. Nor did we know the law or how it worked. Again, I blame the six who voted for this plan for putting the district and board in a situation where they had no experience and really no clue.
Once the complaints came forward, the district/ board did a very good job of reacting to them. Remember, we are not talking about a private firm, teamed with investigators and scholars in labor law. We are talking about a public education bureaucracy, dealing with something it doesn’t normally deal with, nor is educated or trained in.
The problem going forward will be with deterrence and patrols. These schools won’t be done for months.
I read that a few national news outlets picked up the story of finding and then terminating 35 illegal workers. We’ve had an illegal worker problem in our country for more than 2 decades. Evidently, we may be one of the first to actually be doing something about it. Maybe it will start a national trend.
I credit Margaret Thompson and those people who spoke up, Dr. Hunt and LLR for their effort on this.