MCAA, PHCC concerned that system may over-burden PHC employers; could affect millions of workers.

The Department of Homeland Security has designated E-Verify as the electronic employment eligibility verification system that all federal contractors must use as required by a June 6 amendment to Executive Order 12989.

E-Verify is a free Internet-based system operated by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in partnership with the Social Security Administration. It allows enrolled employers to quickly confirm the legal status of new hires.

“The basic principle is this: if you’re working for the federal government and you’re being paid with federal taxes, you ought to make sure that your employees are obeying federal law when it comes to their employment authorization, and this executive order as implemented in detail by the regulation will do precisely that,” stated Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.

President George W. Bush amended Executive Order 12989 in order to direct all federal departments and agencies to require contractors to agree to use E-Verify to attest to the employment eligibility of all persons hired during the contract term and all persons performing work within the United States on the federal contract. It could involve millions of workers, Chertoff noted.

John McNerney, general counsel for the Mechanical Contractors Association of America, said that the proposed regulations came out after the executive order with “lightning speed.” “It goes to show how ready they were to do this,” he said.

After comments on the regulations end Aug. 11, direct federal construction prime and subcontractors, with contract values of $3,000 or more, must use E-Verify for all new hires employed while the firm is performing covered contracts.

“This issue is linked to immigration, national security and overall workforce integrity,” McNerney told PM. And while MCAA recognizes the “inevitability” of proliferating identification and security credentials, it hopes the job can be done efficiently and without over-burdening businesses. The group intends to comment before the Aug. 11 moratorium. “There are still a number of questions.”

The Plumbing-Heating-Cooling Contractors-National Association has, in the past, come out against mandatory E-Verify compliance and has written multiple letters to lawmakers voicing its concerns.

On June 10, PHCC submitted a joint statement for the record at a hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on immigration, citizenship, refugees, border security and international law regarding the issue of E-Verify. PHCC cites errors in the Social Security Administration’s database, burdens on small businesses, a “labyrinth of conflicting laws and regulations,” and the potential for liability.

While this executive order currently affects federal contractors, Jessica Johnson Bennett, director of government relations for PHCC, thinks it may influence individual states to follow suit.

“Unfortunately, more and more states are working toward mandatory use of E-Verify by introducing legislation in state legislatures,” she told PM. “In the absence of a comprehensive strategy at the federal level, states feel pressure to act. This is increasingly problematic for PHC contractors who operate in multiple states and are now forced to deal with a patchwork of state laws.”

According to the DHS, more than 69,000 employers currently rely on E-Verify to determine that new hires are authorized to work in the United States. Employers have run more than 4 million employment verification queries so far in fiscal year 2008. Of those queries, 99.5 percent of qualified employees are cleared automatically by E-Verify.

To view the executive order, visit www.whitehouse.gov.