On January 1 of this year, the Legal Arizona Worker’s Act became law. Not located in the Grand Canyon State? Don’t breathe a sigh of relief yet. Similar legislation could be coming soon to your area.
The law states that all business owners in Arizona risk losing their state and local licenses if they knowingly or intentionally hire undocumented workers after January 1. To its credit, the new law distinguishes between “knowingly” and “intentionally” hiring undocumented workers and offers amnesty for workers hired before the new year. Businesses hiring undocumented workers after that date can have their licenses suspended for 10 days or longer for a first offense and revoked altogether for a second offense. To comply with the new law, Arizona employers must check the legal status of any new hires using E-Verify, a free online federal program that checks names and identification documents to ensure that new employees are eligible to work.
On the surface, the Legal Arizona Worker’s Act seems fair enough. But it has problems that can and will affect law-abiding professional landscapers in the state. Most problematic is that licensed landscapers will bear additional costs as they verify, document and file paperwork related to the new law. Also, ensuring that all new workers are documented will no doubt drive wages up. And all of these costs will eventually be passed on to customers.
Unlicensed landscapers don’t face these economic constraints. They will continue to fly under the radar screen, not bothering to hire documented workers and paying cut-throat wages besides. And while the penalties for violating the new law are indeed stiff for legit Arizona landscapers, the threat of a suspended or revoked business license isn’t much of a deterrent for someone who doesn’t have one in the first place.
For now, Arizona landscapers are playing the game. But the threat to their businesses and even the state’s overall economy is a real one. Arizona landscapers may be the guinea pig for immigrant worker legislation, but all U.S. landscapers should keep an eye on this issue and see how it plays out in the coming months.