Sam Bocetta: Louisiana Settlement Sets New Precedent for U.S. Workforce

On August 10th, the Justice Department announced that Barrios Street Realty, LLC, a Lockport, Louisiana–based company, has paid $108,000 to 12 U.S. workers pursuant to a settlement with the department.  The payments pertain to a 2016 settlement resolving claims that Barrios abused the H2B program, which permits companies to hire foreign workers for temporary labor positions.

During the course of the department’s investigation, they discovered that Barrios and its chief agent, Jorge Arturo Guerrero Rodriguez, improperly rejected the applications of U.S. workers seeking positions as laborers or metal roofers and subsequently attempted to fill job vacancies with foreign workers under the H2B visa.  It is the department’s belief that the company’s petition for foreign laborers falsely claimed that it couldn’t find qualified U.S. workers, a belief which is corroborated by the native workers who lodged the complaint.

In the words of Acting Assistant Attorney General John Gore of the Civil Rights Division, “The Department of Justice will not tolerate employers misusing visa programs to discriminate against US workers. We will vigorously prosecute claims against companies that place U.S. workers in a disfavored status.”

The department’s ruling comes at a crucial moment in U.S. history and sets an excellent precedent for American companies to abide by.  At a time when outsourcing and robotics are already driving down the volume of jobs available to the average American, the Barrios settlement demonstrates the importance of local hires.

The number of U.S. jobs outsourced last year totaled 1,457,000.  At the same time, several companies began replacing humans with robots to drive down cost and increase productivity. The International Federation of Robotics estimates that over 400 robots will serve as guides in supermarkets, stores, or museums by the end of 2017.  This includes prevalent U.S. stores like Lowes, which is already implementing such bots in some of their locations.  It doesn’t bode well for the American worker who is in danger of being rendered obsolete.

But what these companies fail to realize is the value of a live human being with hands-on experience. What people can do that machines cannot is recognize social cues, respond to them accordingly and predict consumer behavior.  And while some computer programs may possess algorithms that could find the products a customer wants or calculate what that customer owes, they will always be second-rate at dealing with said customers on an emotional level.

After all, we’re not talking about some movie robot here who can learn how to cherish the heart of an orphaned child. We’re talking about fallible technology designed by fallible men who may or may not understand social cues themselves.

Alternately, outsourcing can become a problem not just for those U.S. workers seeking employment, but also for the companies that opt to ignore them in favor of hiring cheap, overseas staffers. Some of the most disastrous business debacles of modern time have been the result of outsourcing.

In 2003, Boeing, the biggest U.S. airplane manufacturer, decided to farm work out to subcontractors. The result was devastating: Parts didn’t fit; subcontractors didn’t deliver parts on time; work was subcontracted to sub-subcontractors. The whole thing was a joke.

More recently, outsourcing cost 250 tech workers their jobs at Walt Disney World and other Disney locations, leading to a lawsuit in Tampa, FL’s federal court.  One of the two plaintiffs, Dena Moore, said at the time, “they are just doing things to save a buck, and it’s making Americans poor.”

And outsourcing is just the tip of the iceberg.  American businesses are being busted left and right for hiring illegal workers.  In 2014, no fewer than 14 Massachusetts companies were fined after an investigation and audit of Form 1-9 documents by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement’s (ICE) Homeland Security Investigations.

Those 14 employers ended up paying nearly $200,000 for their employment violations. Those who were fined included construction companies, retailers, and service companies.

In 2016, the Justice Department jacked up the penalty for hiring illegals, setting the minimum penalty at $539 and the maximum at $4,313.  In June of that same year, the vegan-friendly, California-based company Mary’s Gone Crackers, Inc., was slapped with a $1.5 million fine after rehiring 13 illegal aliens in the wake of an ICE audit that originally called them out for unfair practices.

In February of 2017, federal prosecutors came down hard on Asplundh Tree Expert, Inc., after it rehired 100 illegal employees by using fake Social Security numbers and bogus ID cards.

It’s been a long road, with Congress passing the Immigration Reform and Control Act in 1986, but people are waking up to the odious and unlawful actions American companies are taking and Barrios Street Realty, LLC’s settlement sends a message to other companies taht collude to prevent their fellow Americans from earning a living.

There are simple steps that one can take to report an employer who is hiring illegal workers. You should gather as much evidence as you can, with an eye toward being able to provide authorities with the company’s name and location as well as the nationalities of the illegal workers and, where possible, the employees’ Social Security numbers.

After writing down everything you know about the company in violation, report the offense anonymously to protect your own identity. Contact ICE and tell them what you know.  Should you choose to waive your right to report anonymously, you can serve as a witness if the agency decides to prosecute the company in question.

You can contact ICE by calling 1-866-DHS-2-ICE.  For those who are hearing impaired, the alternate number is 1-802-872-6196.  Of course, not everyone would be comfortable reporting such an offense over the phone, so there’s an online tip form for people who want to fill in a couple of fields instead of having their voices recorded.  On the form, you simply check off “Employment/Exploitation of Unlawful Workers” and punch in a short summary of the violation you’ve witnessed.

Reporting such violations can be both morally and financially rewarding, as ICE has the ability to provide monetary rewards for information. But the real reward is knowing that you will be doing your part to ensure that American jobs go to the hard-working American people who deserve them.


Sam Bocetta is a retired defense contractor for the U.S. Navy, specializing in electronic warfare and advanced computer systems. He now teaches at Algonquin Community College in Ottawa, Canada as a part time engineering professor and is the ASEAN affairs correspondent for Gun News Daily.

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