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COTTERELL: Would you attribute the increase in claims to the difficulty in the economy and the labor market? It seems like before they would have said, “He can stick it. I’m going over here,” whereas now they don’t have that opportunity.
WHALEN: I attribute the increase in claims to three things. First, as more adverse decisions are made about people’s employment—for example, layoffs—more people are affected by that and they question the fairness of those decisions. So with the layoffs that have occurred in the Utah economy over the last couple of years, you saw many employees, especially older workers, ask how was that selection made and why me.
Second, employees are becoming more educated about their rights, which is not necessarily a bad thing, but what that means is that they are less likely to sit idly by when they feel that a law has been broken.
And third, there is a lot of stress in the workplace among employees, as well as among management and executives. When there is tension and stress, if leaders retreat into their offices and don’t continue positive communication and good employee relations initiatives, then you begin to get an us versus them culture. With the increased stress in companies, there has been a side effect that when you run into communication breakdowns or tension problems, employees are more quick to jump to conclusions that the employer is doing the wrong thing and challenging them on that.
How is HB 116 impacting human resources? Are we seeing Utah becoming a magnet for more illegal immigration?
TSAI: We’ve got about 12 to 15 million undocumented people in the United States, about 120,000 in Utah. That is equivalent to Provo’s population. We’ve seen a decrease in terms of the number of undocumented flowing into the United States through the southern border. Usually it’s about a half a million a year. It’s decreased to about 300,000 and that’s partly because there are not as many jobs.
But at the same time, within the last decade, there has been a huge flow into Utah and other states. Are we unique? I was just in Reno, Nevada. They are the magnet. They have the highest percentage of undocumented workers and undocumented people—close to about 10 percent of their overall population. In Utah, 40 percent of all new Utahns in the last decade are minorities—not just Hispanic, but Asian, Pacific Islanders. Utah is number two in terms of growth of the Asian American population.
The Utah Legislature has dealt with immigration in the last four sessions, and I’m sure they will continue to deal with it in the next four. The bill that you mentioned, 116, really doesn’t go into effect for quite a while. You see states all over the country trying to introduce their own legislation in order to create a solution to this problem, which is that a whole lot of people don’t have real immigration options. Most of those people would be waiting decades to try to get into the country. So at this point, we say, “We want you for work, but we don’t want you to be here.”
And so 116 was a really innovative solution. It was headed by the Salt Lake Chamber and supported by the LDS Church, and it was pushed by the Utah Compact. It was pretty amazing what a conservative state could push forward.
In terms of overall federal action, what we are seeing is the federal government is still enforcing on employers; you cannot have undocumented workers. Every six months or so you will see in the headlines—there are 1,000 employers that are audited on their I9s, and the average fine of those I9 audits is usually around $30,000 to $50,000.
Then there is also this new technology with the E-Verify, which has been voluntary for most employers for the last five years. But that will likely become mandatory. Utah is now one of four states that mandates E-Verify.
So at this point, we don’t have a solution. States will continue to push on creating their own laws, and they will be spurred by the fact that Arizona’s law mandating E-Verify and other sorts of restrictions was upheld by the Supreme Court.
SUNDER: What you find if you speak to some business owners in Arizona is that the law has not helped them. When you have undocumented workers, you generally have what they call blended families. So one person may be undocumented but the other people in the family may be legal to work here, but for fear of the undocumented worker being caught in a raid or something, they leave. So you lose the documented workers as well as the undocumented workers, which is what has happened in Arizona.
It’s really a futile effort to try to drive these undocumented workers out, no matter what you put into place. They are part of the community for a reason. They pay taxes on gasoline. They pay taxes on food. They pay taxes through their rent. And if they are working with an illegal card, they are getting their Social Security and Medicare taxes taken out. They are basically maintaining the system because they will never get it back. They can’t go and apply for those things because they are here illegally.