Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Sacramento nursery loses most of its staff in immigration crackdown (News10.net)

Sacramento nursery loses most of its staff in immigration crackdown
2:55 PM, Mar 28, 2011

Written by
George Warren

SACRAMENTO, CA - As many as 71 employees of wholesale nursery Matsuda's of Sacramento will collect their final paychecks Friday after an audit by the Department of Homeland Security determined their work documents were "suspect."

The employees under DHS scrutiny represent 85 percent of Matsuda's year-round work force.

"These are good people. We've worked with many of them for up to 20 years," said Matsuda's general manager Ryan Wallace.

Wallace said all 71 employees identified in the audit last week have been given the opportunity to provide bona fide documents, but only a handful said they could do so.

Matsuda's sales manager Tom Wing said the audit could not have come at a worse time as the nursery prepares to ship 130,000 azaleas to its retail customers, which include supermarkets and home centers.

"This is very labor intensive -- to select, clean and load this product. And without the experienced workforce we have, it's going to be that much more difficult to get done," Wing said.

Wing said Matsuda's has contracted with a temporary employment agency to help with short-term staffing.

Among the employees being terminated is Denita, 27, a purchasing agent who came to the United States at the age of 8 and asked that her last name not be used.

"I was raised here in Sacramento. I've been working here (at Matsuda's) for eight years, and now I'm unemployed," she said. Denita's mother also works at Matsuda's and Friday will be her last day, too.

Virginia Kice, a spokeswoman for the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement, said employer audits are lead-driven.

"We have a tip line and that's how we get leads in all kinds of situations," Kice explained. She said leads often come from competitors or disgruntled former employees.

"Our goal with enforcement is not to put a business out of business. It's to gain compliance," Kice said.

Kice said Homeland Security offers a web-based tool called E-Verify that allows employers to check the authenticity of employment documents.

"It's a very useful tool for employers who want to maintain a lawful work force and avoid possible work disruptions," Kice said.

Matsuda's managers said they understood why Homeland Security was taking the enforcement action, but wish they had been given more notice at the start of the busiest time of the year.

"I do wish the government had preceded this with an amnesty program of some sort, but we're having to work with what's been dealt," Wallace said.

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