Organizers said the company targeted employees involved in the union and jumped the gun on new regulations.
The Woodfin Suite Hotel in Emeryville fired 21 housekeepers in December 2006, also allegedly due to no-match letters. The workers claim the Woodfin retaliated against them for organizing with the East Bay Alliance for a Sustainable Economy, a labor-affiliated think tank, to enforce the living-wage law (see "Calling in the Feds," 6/13/07).
A yearlong campaign targeting the Woodfin has brought the issue to a national audience.
Organizers say the regulations are far less strict than the news media has portrayed them, adding to an atmosphere of hysteria and fear among employers and workers. Francisco Ugarte, a lawyer with the Oakland firm of Leonard Carder, held up several San Francisco Chronicle articles at a Sept. 13 workshop for union organizers as examples of media inaccuracies.
An employer is not required to fire an employee after 90 days, as news accounts have stated. The employer has 90 days to fix discrepancies, and the worker has three days after that to fill out another I-9 form with a new Social Security number. If it appears credible, employers must accept the new I-9, Ugarte said.
The ICE insert in the SSA letter will terrify employers, he predicted, but the rule does not create any new information sharing between the SSA and other governmental agencies. The SSA is actually prohibited by law from sharing private data with any other governmental agencies.
There are also no automatic fines assessed to employers, as news accounts have implied. ICE will only levy fines if it raids employers and finds that they did not address no-match discrepancies. It is unlikely that the DHS will be able to enforce the regulations; in announcing them, Chertoff said the agency would rely largely on self-policing.
Even if this is the case, organizers fear that the DHS's no-match regulation will provide employers with another tool to squelch immigrant workers' rights. Comprehensive immigration reform is still needed to reconcile employers' demands for workers, immigrants' needs for employment, and US immigration policy.*
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