Alabama Contractors Scramble to Replace Hispanic Workers ~

Alabama’s tough new law targeting undocumented Mexican and Central American workers has resulted in a sudden shortage of skilled labor for builders and commercial construction contractors, according to a report in the Birmingham News (“ Birmingham construction job fair seeks new workers,” by Roy L. Williams). Backers of the new law have argued that removing illegal competition from the market would allow American-born workers to find employment and lower the state’s 10 percent unemployment rate. But contractors say that the skilled labor they lost may not be readily replaced from the remaining workforce. Bill Caton, an executive with the Alabama Association of General Contractors, told the paper, "The new law is causing a problem in that contractors are losing not just labor, but skilled labor, the people who do the complex work on large commercial jobs and on homes. It's not a matter of just finding someone off the street to do these jobs. They must be filled by trained, experienced construction tradespeople." According to Caton, unofficial figures indicate that a quarter of the state’s skilled construction workforce may have left the state because of the new law. Bart Fletcher, executive officer for the Birmingham Home Builders Association, said one builder told him that a concrete finishing company he employs went from 83 workers to just 3 in one day following the passage of the new law. Contractors are worried about the harsh penalties the law promises for employers who hire undocumented workers, particularly with regard to construction schedules. A business found to have hired an illegal worker would be shut down for 15 days for the first offense; for the second offense, the contractor’s license could be suspended, and for the third offense, the license may be permanently revoked. Said AGC chief executive Henry Hagood, “Say I'm a contractor doing a job for a school that has to be ready by September first. If I am shut down for 15 days, I can't finish the job on time. That would punish the public as well as the contractor." And Hagood took issue with the perception that contractors hire Hispanic workers because they’re cheaper. "In reality, Hispanic workers were being paid about the same as others or in cases more than others because they are better, more dependable workers," Hagood told the Birmingham News. "They will show up on time, work hard and you can count on them to do the job well."