Pennsylvania House Overwhelmingly Passes E-Verify Bill for Construction Industry
By David Jaroslav | July 2, 2019
Bipartisan support for immigration enforcement is unusual these days. But in Pennsylvania recently, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle came together to pass a bill expanding the Keystone State’s mandatory E-Verify requirement, despite significant opposition from open-borders groups. Although only a piecemeal improvement over the status quo, it could still be a model for some other states to look to.
Pennsylvania has required E-Verify for government contracts since 2013. House Bill (HB) 1170 would expand that requirement to cover all employers in the construction industry. In brief, the bill:
- Defines the construction industry broadly, including both subcontractors and temporary or staffing agencies that supply workers to employers in the industry;
- Requires every employer in the construction industry to use E-Verify to check the employment eligibility of all employees they hire in the future, and to keep records of those checks for at least three years;
- Requires the state’s Department of Labor & Industry (DLI) to investigate complaints of non-compliance;
- Authorizes the Pennsylvania Attorney General (AG) to sue non-compliant employers for staggered sanctions depending on the severity and frequency of violations, up to and including permanent revocation of an employer’s business licenses;
- Grants whistleblower protections to employees who make complaints to DLI; and
- Protects employers from lawsuits for wrongful discharge by formerly employed illegal aliens if the employer used E-Verify.
The bill’s sponsor, State Representative John Galloway of Bucks County, is a Democrat. First elected in 2000, he’s been advocating for E-Verify legislation since at least 2009. He’s repeatedly stressed that “bad-acting employers” who hire illegal aliens “are hurting the construction industry by driving down wages, creating an unlevel playing field for other employers[.]” His lead cosponsor on the bill, Republican Rep. Ryan Mackenzie of Lehigh County, agrees.
Galloway introduced HB 1170 in April. It sat in the House Committee on Labor & Industry for months, but as soon as it was taken up, it moved rapidly through the process with overwhelming support: first being voted out of that committee on June 4, out of the Rules Committee on June 12, out of Appropriations on June 17, and then passing the House floor later that same day by a vote of 170-28.
It hasn’t been without its critics, of course; in particular, it’s exposed a rift in organized labor between the skilled building trades unions, which have largely supported it, and bigger more often politically-oriented unions like the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), which have opposed it.
On behalf of the former, Frank Sirianni, president of the Pennsylvania State Building and Construction Trades Council, said the status quo without E-Verify “hurts the contractors who are trying to do the right thing and are playing by all the rules because they can’t compete with all the contractors who are cheating like this[.]” By contrast, Gabe Morgan—VP of SEIU’s Pennsylvania and Delaware local—said “this flawed bill will push immigrants further into the shadows, rewarding unscrupulous off-the-books employers[.]” Other open-borders group mouthed their standard opposition talking points, with the regional director of CASA saying, “[t]his anti-immigrant, anti-worker legislation is bad for Pennsylvania.”
Now that it’s been received by the Senate, HB 1170 has been moving along at a comparably rapid clip in the upper chamber as well, passing its Labor & Industry Committee on June 24 by a vote of 9-2.
Should he receive the bill, Governor Tom Wolf (D) has not set out a clear position on whether he’d sign or veto it. According to his spokesman, while he “understands the challenges faced by construction workers, the Governor has concerns with this bill. He will make a final decision when it reaches his desk[.]”
However, if Gov. Wolf does decide to veto it, given the wide bipartisan margin of the bill’s passage on the House floor and in every committee, the legislature appears to have the votes to override him. Under the Pennsylvania Constitution, this would take a two-thirds supermajority, which would be 136 members in the House and 34 in the Senate.