Bipartisan bill bans illegal workers from construction, affects publicly funded work

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HARRISBURG -- Legislation to prevent undocumented workers from being hired by construction companies took a long time -- six years -- to make its way through the state Legislature, but the final vote Saturday was lopsided.

Senate Bill 637 by Sen. Kim Ward, R-Westmoreland, won final approval from the Senate on a 42-7 vote. The bill passed the House Thursday, also by a wide bipartisan margin.

The ban on illegal workers on publicly funded construction jobs in Pennsylvania is the product of several years of work by Ms. Ward and Reps. John Galloway, D-Bucks, and Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry. They argued that by hiring people who have entered the U.S. improperly, contractors are taking construction jobs away from U.S. citizens and immigrants who have the proper papers.

The state Labor and Industry Department will have to check to make sure that all contractors and subcontractors have verified that all their workers and prospective workers were born in the U.S. or are here legally. They will be required to check workers' Social Security numbers to make sure they aren't stolen and to use a federal Homeland Security identification system called E-Verify.

The checks are aimed at making sure Social Security numbers haven't been stolen and that workers aren't in the United States illegally. Companies that intentionally hire illegal workers will face a variety of penalties, from a warning on the first offense to being banned from publicly funded projects for up to three years and facing fines of up to $1,000.

Projects covered by the law are those using state, municipal or county funds. Projects funded totally by private money aren't affected by the law.

The federal Homeland Security Department, since 2009, has required contractors to use E-Verify to make sure workers on federally funded projects are here legally. Pennsylvania is the 18th state to make similar requirements.

Ms. Ward said contractors sometimes hire illegal immigrants and pay them substandard wages with no benefits in order to hold down labor costs.

"This bill ensures that our workers aren't left on the unemployment lines because of workers who aren't permitted to be here in the first place," Ms. Ward said during Senate debate.

The bill now goes to Gov. Tom Corbett, who is expected to sign it. Ms. Ward said the wording of the bill was worked out by the staffers for the Senate, House and the administration earlier this week.

Most of the no votes were Philadelphia Democrats. In earlier debate, critics said the bill was discriminatory against immigrants, who may not be able to produce needed paperwork. The American Civil Liberties Union had also criticized the bill.

Ms. Ward denied there is any discrimination involved. "It makes sense that construction projects funded by public tax dollars employ workers who are taxpayers and that legal construction workers who need jobs can get them," she said.

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First Published July 1, 2012 12:00 AM


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