Wood Industry's Undocumented Workers

By Bill Esler | Posted: 07/10/2013 7:48AM


  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.

(Read more about Go Build Alabama, Georgia, and the Construction Users Roundtable's efforts to fill the skilled trades worker pipeline.)

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.


About the Author

Bill Esler, Woodworking Network, WMS

Bill Esler

Bill Esler, Editorial Director, Woodworking Network Bill is responsible for overall content at WoodworkingNetwork.com Woodworking Network magazine, and related newsletters. Bill also manages event programs for Woodworking Network Live conferences at the Woodworking Machinery & Supplies Expo in Toronto and Cabinets & Closets Expo. He developing audience engagement programs using custom digital printing, live lead-generating events, custom websites, and custom digital and print content. Read Bill Esler's woodworking blogs. He can be reached at besler@woodworkingnetwork.com or follow him on Google+.

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