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Legislative Showdown over Immigrant Labor

March 4, 2008

Smithtown, NY - A legislative showdown is expected today over a controversial proposal to force contractors to investigate the eligibility of Long Island immigrant workers. The Suffolk County Legislature is holding a day-long session with public testimony on a bill that would revoke the licenses of housing and service contractors if they fail to sign papers stating they have paid payroll taxes and verified their employees' federal work eligibility.

Legislator Brian Beedenbender says his bill is meant to level the labor playing field.

"If you don't pay taxes on your employees, or you hire people that are not eligible to work in the United States, your costs are lower than a business that follows the rules. So you can offer a lower price and take business away simply because you are cheating and somebody else isn't."

Luis Valenzuela with the Long Island Immigrant Alliance says the bill is less about fairness to contractors than it is about unfairness to Island immigrants, because federal regulations already cover the bill's labor and tax issues.

"This is an anti-immigrant bill that is poorly disguised as something else. The federal government regulates immigration. Suffolk County does not have the authority to ask people whether they pay their taxes or not. That's also the purview of the federal government."

According to Valenzuela, labor equity would be better served by legislating protections for all of the area's contract workers, both immigrant and native-born.

"If you really want to level the playing field, what you have to do is enforce worker protection laws. Make sure that any worker who is threatened, abused or exploited is able to complain and has whistleblower protection. That would quickly level the playing field."

The bill also is opposed by the region's biggest business alliance, the Long Island Association. The organization contends that the county proposal duplicates existing rules and places an unfair burden on contractors with the additional threat that they could lose their local licenses.

Robert Knight/Kevin Clay, Public News Service - NY