Jackson Furniture in Cleveland, TN recently found itself the target of an immigration audit, with Federal authorities checking credentials of its employees. A total 245 were dismissed or left voluntarily. The case provides dramatic evidence of the impact immigration issues can have on wood products manufacturing businesses.
After Alabama passed a highly restrictive immigration laws in 2011 - laws that outlawed harboring or transporting undocumented workers - home builders and construction workers protested. Even then, when housing was still in a very a depressed state, the threat to the labor supply was significant.
Anecdotal evidence suggests the building trades - whose activities that include general carpentry construction, cabinetry and flooring installation, as well as plumbing, electrical, and the like - is also heavily reliant on semi-skilled immigrant workers. And it is well established that there is a shortage of labor in the building trades.
In fact, just as the Alabama immigration law took effect, the Alabama Workforce Development Initiative - which seeks to fill the pipeline of trained workers in the construction industries - was expanding into neighboring Georgia.
Likewise, in production level wood manufacturing in many areas of the country, immigrant workers are a significant source of the labor supply. As we tour larger plants for our reports, informational signs for workers are posted in multiple languages. In Jackson Furniture's case, one-third, or 300 of of its 900 employees, were audited; 245 had used fake IDs to establish falsely they were eligible to work.
The woodworking industries are obviously not alone here: 15% of those living in America are foreign born. (In 1965 that figure was 5%). And 11 million individuals are expected to be affected by the immigration reform law before Congress.