E-Verify program prompts brief East Bay garbage strike

March 15, 2013 5:37:25 PM PDT
Workers at an East Bay trash collection company went on strike Friday morning over the company's use of "E-Verify." That's a government database program that employers can use to verify a person's eligibility to work.

The word we're getting out of Washington D.C. is that E-Verify will be part of immigration reform. Both Congress and the White House have signaled that, which is raising some concerns.

Around 3 a.m. hundreds of workers at Waste Management facilities in Oakland, San Leandro, Hayward, and Livermore formed picket lines and shut down operations for about five hours over what they say was the company's abuse of E-Verify.

"The company wasn't supposed to use it without consulting with workers," ILWU spokesperson Craig Merrilees said. "They violated that rule and they also used it improperly. That resulted in some workers losing their jobs. And it's also been used as a tactic by the company to threaten and intimidate workers."

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union is accusing Waste Management of retaliating against employees. The company, however, says it ran the employee names through the voluntary E-Verify program and the database said some were not documented.

"When we instituted E-Verify and identified some employees who did not have the proper requirements to be employed they were given time to go and correct it, provide us documentations, and they had about six to eight months to do that, and they didn't do it," Waste Management spokesperson David Tucker said. "And so essentially there were three employees who did not comply and were let go."

It's the latest in a series of disputes over the E-Verify program. Last year Pacific Steel withdrew from the program as part of a settlement with its union after 200 were let go by the company. And the Mi Pueblo Markets' participation in E-Verify caused union activists and others to call for a boycott of the chain.

Now with President Obama and Congress looking to expand E-Verify and make it mandatory, experts are warning of pitfalls.

"What advocates say is if you are going to have employment verification it has to come with a road map to legalization," said immigration policy expert Aarti Kohli. "You can't just have one without the other."

Kohli is a former Director of Immigration Policy at the Warren Institute at U.C. Berkeley's School of Law. She says studies show the database has errors. And if it's implemented, workers need time to correct those errors.

"If you apply for a job, you get the job, and then the employer does a check, and it comes back saying you're not eligible to work," Kohli said. "Can that employer just move on to candidate number two?"

Kohli says there need to be safeguards, noting that there are groups that tend to be excluded at higher rates than other groups. Women and people with hyphenated names, she says, are particularly problematic.

The truck drivers were not on strike Friday morning, but joined in solidarity. That's where customers will feel the impact, as the trucks rolled out hours late.

"Normally the drivers for residential will hit the streets around 6 a.m.," Tucker said. "And so we're probably delayed by a couple hours, but we'll be on the road until about 6 p.m. tonight."

If you live in Alameda County and your trash is not picked up by 6 p.m. Friday, Waste Management says to leave your cans on the curb and they'll be picked up Saturday.


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