A Sustainable Workforce Starts With You

Immigration Reform Must Raise the Bar for Workers and Level the Playing Field for Ethical Businesses

As a longtime supporter of comprehensive immigration reform, I am more optimistic than ever about a real solution coming out of Washington.  The partisanship and ideology surrounding the issue are melting away, replaced by pragmatism and a realization that we cannot continue the status quo.

As a conservative Republican businessman, I've been disappointed over the years to see many in my own party become completely intractable on the issue.  But, there are real leaders emerging who want to set aside the divisions of the past, roll up their sleeves, and craft reform that improves our economy and corrects years of social injustice.  GOP Texas Congressmen Ted Poe, Sam Johnson, John Carter and Pete Olson all now support comprehensive reform that includes a robust guest worker program.

Despite this hope, I am concerned that one huge piece of the puzzle might be lost in the shuffle.  There are far too many workers right now who are not only undocumented, but are also the victims of payroll fraud.  This kind of fraud is also known as worker misclassification.  NPR recently called it a “fundamental sickness”.  In their reporting, NPR cited a recent study by the University of Texas that found more than 40 percent of construction workers in Texas are misclassified.  In addition, over 60 percent of workers have no workers' compensation nor do they receive overtime pay for long hours.

Intentional worker misclassification happens when companies pretend their workers are independent subcontractors when, by law, they should be classified as employees.  They do this to avoid payroll taxes, health insurance and the requirement that all employers verify that their employees are authorized to work in the United States.  Not only is that a terrible situation for the people doing hot, hard, sweaty labor, but it also gives those companies a significant competitive advantage.  Avoiding payroll taxes allows unethical businesses to underbid those who play by the rules by more than 25 percent.

Some leaders in the Texas Legislature have been working to crack down on this harmful practice.  Their efforts are starting to have success.  Governor Rick Perry has signed a bill intended to root out misclassification on government contracts throughout Texas, but more must be done.  That’s why it’s extra critical for federal immigration reform to address worker misclassification.  If we get a bill through congress that includes legal status for the eleven million workers already illegally in the country, the bill must stipulate that they work for an employer who pays and matches taxes.  Allowing the newly “legalized” workers to be paid as independent subcontractors would accomplish little in leveling the playing field.

And that’s what this should be about.  When ethical companies can compete, wages will rise and US-born young men and women will be presented with a real career path in the building trades.  It would be difficult to overstate how far that would go toward restoring a vibrant American middle class.  With a much more secure border, we should no longer rely on nearly as much immigrant labor to build our future.

The Senate has passed a bill that isn’t perfect, but it makes real progress toward achieving the goal.  Please contact your representative in the United States House and tell them you support immigration reform.

Who represents you in Congress?

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