HR Intel: The Battle Over Immigration Heats Up

FencesA round up of workplace developments and legal trends to help keep HR ahead of the curve

Throughout the presidential election primary season, immigration has been used as a wedge issue by the candidates on both sides.

For the Republican party, the crux of the immigration debate revolves around public safety and national security. What self-respecting liberal wouldn’t care about gang warfare in the suburbs?

For the Democratic party, the focus has been on pragmatism and the economic impact of tighter rules and enforcement. What red-blooded conservative doesn’t care about the economy?

On the sidelines, business owners and HR professionals are left to watch as the sparks fly back and forth, beholden to the results of the debate, but without a significant impact on the outcome.

Nevertheless, a resolution may be drawing closer after the US Supreme Court heard oral argument in United States v. Texas on April 18, a closely-watched case involving President Obama’s executive order to shield millions of undocumented workers from deportation. Most indications are that the Court will again split down ideological lines in a 4-4 tie, adding to the fallout from the death of Justice Antonin Scalia.

The effect of a tie in this case would be to invalidate President Obama’s “Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents” (DAPA) directive, which would have allowed undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. and apply for work permits, but only if they could demonstrate residence in the US for five or more years without a criminal record.

While this plays out, parallel stories are popping up all over the country regarding worker shortages in industries that typically rely on immigrant labor. This is where the HR impact is mostly felt, with recruiters, staffing managers, “seasonal” employers and employers who rely on contingent workers feeling the pressure.

In the Twin Cities, the company that staffs the Target Field (home of the Minnesota Twins) concession stands is unable to fill concession jobs with local manpower. Instead, it has been forced to bus in workers from Chicago and Milwaukee to handle the jobs. Of course, officials claim that they’d prefer to hire local workers, but here’s the rub: the locals don’t want the jobs. Nor do they seem to want jobs in restaurants and hotels in the Twin Cities, many of which are “desperate for workers” to fill full-time jobs that offer benefits packages and vacation time.

Consider Arizona, where there has been an “exodus” of illegal immigrants from the state due to ramped up enforcement. According to Moody’s analytics for the Wall Street Journal, despite the tighter enforcement, only about 10% of the jobs vacated by illegal immigrants have gone to “legal” immigrants. The “sobering” lesson from that conclusion is that the real victim of the immigration debate is the American economy. With fewer workers to fill jobs amidst uncertainty, hiring and productivity will trend downward, leading to a downturn in overall business output.

Now, extrapolate the mentality of local residents in the Twin Cities and in Arizona to the rest of the country and it illustrates not only why immigration is such a hot button issue, but the real-world effect that the immigration debate is having and will have on American businesses and the economy.

Often, politicians contextualize the immigration debate around the impact of wages of Americans and public safety with immigrants flowing through the borders unchecked. But they ignore or marginalize a pretty glaring concern – if we make it harder for immigrants to reach the US, who is going to do the jobs that Americans don’t seem to want? And what impact will that have on the economy?

Along the same lines, how should HR professionals and business owners deal with shortages in the labor force, particularly in industries like construction, maintenance and transportation, which disproportionately rely on an immigrant labor force?

With the Supreme Court’s decision pending, the best bet for employers is to be proactive when it comes to tackling turnover, engagement, benefits, compensation and culture. Collectively, these are the things that will draw interest from the most applicants and keep the most employee butts in their proverbial seats as the debate rages on.

Hello Mudder, Hello Fadder

The closer you are to the coast, the more likely you are to have good parental leave benefits.

New York passed a “revolutionary” paid family leave law on April 4, expanding the amount of paid leave time to 12 weeks per year, during which time eligible workers can care for a family member with a serious health condition, bond with a newborn child, adopted child or foster child for the first 12 months after birth or adoption or address a FMLA “qualifying exigency” related to a family member’s military service. Qualifying employees will get between half and two-thirds of their regular pay, covering the effective period of the statute from 2018 – 2021.

Not to be outdone, San Francisco said “I see your 12 weeks of partially paid leave per year, New York” and responded by becoming the first city in the country to require fully paid parental leave for six weeks per year. This would be in addition to the partially-paid family leave already required under state law, meaning employers in San Francisco are required to make up the difference between leave benefit payments and the employee’s regular salary.

And of course, no discussion of parental leave would be complete without a mention of Silicon Valley – as much an HR laboratory as a hotbed of technology. Again, Silicon Valley is under fire, but this time it’s not sexual harassment or toxic cultures. Now it’s parental leave. And the criticism is levied at the likes of Twitter and Facebook, where about 65% and 68% of the companies are staffed by men, respectively. Over at Netflix, 80% of the company’s tech jobs are staffed by men. Etsy is the exception to the rule, with 54% of staff identifying as female.

So the question becomes: is Silicon Valley offering cushy parental leave benefits to do the right thing, or are companies there able to do so because a smaller percentage of their work forces are women? Or maybe it’s because men are culturally less likely to use all of their parental leave? Is this some dastardly scheme to attract talent or (gasp) make money? Or is it all of the above?

HR Grab Bag

There’s continued fallout over the passage of the “bathroom bills” in North Carolina and Mississippi with dozens of entertainers and businesses pulling out of the states and making waves about it. Recently “The Boss” (Bruce Springsteen), Pearl Jam, Boston, Ringo Starr and comedian Tracy Morgan have all canceled appearances in the states, citing concerns over the anti-LGBT laws and the impact of “legalized discrimination” against people who are already marginalized.

April is National Distracted Driver Awareness Month (you’re not reading this while driving, are you?). Motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of work-related death in the US and more than one quarter of all accidents involve someone driving for a living. Car crashes cost employers about $25,000 per incident and $68,000 per injury when you include things like workers’ compensation and time off.

Compensation Force, an employee compensation blog, has tracked turnover by industry dating back to 2008. It’s fascinating to see the spread throughout industries, but also how turnover seems to pace the performance of the economy. When the economy is chugging along, people are more likely to “voluntarily” resign in search of greener pastures. When things are tight, employees are more likely to hold onto their jobs. Not quite revolutionary, but informative insofar as predicting future rates of turnover for HR professionals.

Score one for the good guys! A former HR manager will collect $188,000 to settle a lawsuit against his former employer alleging disability discrimination. The EEOC prosecuted the case on his behalf, claiming that his employer failed to reasonably accommodate his need for disability leave following open heart surgery. What a wuss!

How is this song related to HR?

In the last edition of HR Intel, we asked you how “People Are Strange” by The Doors is related to HR. As you know, people are quite strange, but it’s not so much how strange they are as much as what you’re going to do about it. From an HR professional’s perspective, in the 21st century, it behooves you to adjust your managerial style to cater to the variety of personalities you will encounter, rather than expect them to conform to your managerial style. Getting the most out of a workforce with four different generations in the office at once requires being an HR chameleon capable of finding the right camouflage for every situation.

We leave you with “Helplessness Blues” by Fleet Foxes.

Tell us how you think this song is related to HR in the comments section below.


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