S.C. company follows law loses workers to those who don't
USA Today
May. 1, 2006

Ron Barnett
GREENVILLE, S.C. - Jimmy Orders got a letter from the federal government about four years ago notifying him that the Social Security numbers some of his workers gave him to get hired weren't valid.

Orders now contacts the Social Security Administration about every new applicant.

As he takes what he calls "extraordinary" measures to ensure that Hispanic workers at his family-owned mattress factory are in the country legally, Orders sees a great irony in immigration policy. His lawyers have told him that if he discovers that any of his employees used phony documentation to get hired, he should "take that person to the edge of your property and tell them not to come back." But Orders, 53, says it's hard to run the business without them.

"You've got a person here who's probably been with you a year, they're doing a good job, they're punctual," he says. "You're not having any issues at all, and they just want you to take them and dump them out in the street.

"And you know all they're going to do is walk across the street to the next guy."

About 25 percent of the 230 or so employees at his company, Park Place Corp., are Hispanic. The business is in Greenville County, where the Hispanic population grew nearly 50 percent from 2000 to 2004. It is now about 5 percent of the total, the Census Bureau says.

Upstate South Carolina - the northwestern corner of the state - began attracting Hispanics in the 1990s, lured by construction jobs during a housing boom that continues today. They came from California and from Mexico, Colombia and other Latin American countries as word spread from family to family.

Orders says that the company, founded by his grandfather in 1931, had never reached out to the Hispanic community to fill jobs, but that he has found Hispanics to be good workers and pays them the same as everyone else.

He won't divulge his wages for competitive reasons but says the pay scale starts "significantly" above minimum wage. Finding local workers to fill the jobs isn't always easy, Orders says.

Only English on the job
The company decided years ago to abandon attempts at operating on a bilingual basis and uses English only, Orders says. That, he believes, has helped "bring us closer together" and simplified the work.

"It's a good job," says Jose Coronel, 39, a native of Monterrey, Mexico, who has lived in the United States for 14 years. But he adds, "It's hard for people to be legal."

Deporting all Hispanics who are here illegally "would be a national crisis,"
Orders says. "But the likelihood of that happening is zero."

Orders says employees who skip work for today's economic boycott are considered unexcused. If any participated in past rallies, he says, it wasn't noticed.

He is urging lawmakers to either enforce the law or change it. "Just tell me how the game's going to be played," Orders says. "Don't put me in a position where I'm automatically breaking the law and my only alternative is basically to put a gun to my head and blow my own brains out because I don't want to be a corporate criminal."


Barnett reports daily for The Greenville News.