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Senate Hopeful's Defense on Hiring Immigrant Labor Raising Questions

A state Senate candidate and contractor is entangled in charges that his company is using immigrant labor for a school project in Wayne County. (Swope for Senate)
A state Senate candidate and contractor is entangled in charges that his company is using immigrant labor for a school project in Wayne County. (Swope for Senate)
August 29, 2016

CHARLESTON, W.V. — Republican state Senate candidate Chandler Swope refuted criticism that his construction company is using immigrant labor to build a Wayne County school. But that defense is now drawing scrutiny.

A YouTube video posted this spring showed an unidentified Honduran man working on a concrete crew at the new school site in Crum. The man said the rest of the crew is from Mexico.

Swope did not return calls to his campaign office or to Swope Construction, but in a video posted on Facebook by a voter, Swope said he is no longer involved with the company.

"My name is Chandler Swope and I was the founder of Swope Construction company, and retired and have not had anything to do with day-to-day operations at that company for the last four years,” Swope said in the video. "So I don't have any direct connection with who gets hired or not gets hired on that job."

That claim is now in question. The company's latest annual corporate report from the spring of 2016 lists Swope as it's treasurer. His campaign manager is the firm's president and majority stockholder. And a Swope campaign filing lists him as still having a financial interest in the company.

Swope praised the repeal of West Virginia's prevailing-wage law, a move that critics say has caused a race to the bottom on public construction projects - encouraging out-of-state contractors to undercut West Virginians' wages.

The Crum concrete crew appears to have been brought in by a Virginia company.

Swope defended Swope Contracting by claiming its subcontractors are the ones hiring immigrant labor.

"Anywhere from five to ten employees on a school job would be employed directly by Swope, and the remainder would be employed by subcontractors,” Swope said. "And if the bidder we believe is qualified, we'll use the lowest bids that we get. We do not ask them do they hire foreign employees."

But according to the Affiliated Construction Trades group, Swope Contracting filed a contract document saying the firm would be doing the concrete work itself. The union officials stress they bear no ill-will towards the immigrants themselves.

“They're just working stiffs, trying to make a living and support their families,” one official said.

But, he added, with so many unemployed in West Virginia, those jobs should go to state residents.

Dan Heyman, Public News Service - WV