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Is ICE Investigation in the Midst of a Labor Dispute Proper? We Think Not.

Imagine that a company is in engaged in a labor dispute with a union over the conditions of employment. Soon after a tentative agreement is made, but not signed, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) sends a subpoena for I-9 forms and notice of inspection.  Based on the ICE inspection, the company disregards its agreement, hires temporary workers, and asks its union workers to train the temporary workers.  Soon thereafter, it begins firing its union worker on the basis of “suspect” work authorization documentation.  The immigration attorneys of Zneimer & Zneimer PC think that if anything is “suspect,” it would be the insertion of ICE in the middle of a labor dispute.

The above story is not hypothetical.  It is happening to union workers in Ruprecht Company in Mundelein, Illinois.  Citing the ICE investigation, Ruprecht disregarded its bargaining obligation to UNITE HERE Local 1 and began firing workers after having them train their replacements.

ICE needs to step out of the fray.  The Revised Memorandum of Understanding between the Departments of Homeland Security and Labor Concerning Enforcement Activities at Worksites is not ambiguous.  It states:

Except as noted in paragraph C, ICE agrees to refrain from engaging in civil worksite enforcement activities at a worksite that is the subject of an existing DOL investigation of a labor dispute during the pendency of the DOL investigation and any related proceeding. ICE will continue its existing practice of assessing whether tips and leads it receives concerning worksite enforcement involve a worksite with a pending labor dispute. DOL agrees to assist ICE’s efforts under this paragraph by providing ICE with timely and accurate information to allow for identification of overlapping enforcement activity.

Paragraph C states:

Notwithstanding paragraph A, ICE may engage in worksite enforcement activities at a worksite that is the subject of a pending labor dispute if-

  • the Director or Deputy Director of ICE determines the enforcement activity is independently necessary to advance an investigation relating to national security, the protection of critical infrastructure (e.g., ports, power plants, or defense facilities), or a federal crime other than a violation relating to unauthorized employment;
  • the enforcement activity is directed by the Secretary of Homeland Security; or
  • the enforcement activity is requested by the Secretary of labor, the Solicitor of labor, or
    another Department of labor official designated by the Secretary of labor.

Ruprecht is a meatpacking plant, which does not implicate national security, nor has the Department of Labor requested enforcement activity.   The involvement of ICE is highly suspect as it provides a pretext to the company to fire union workers. 

Of note is paragraph B of this same Memorandum, which is trying to prevent the precise manipulation mentioned in the paragraph.  ICE agrees “to be alert to and thwart attempts by other parties to manipulate its worksite enforcement activities for illicit or improper purposes.”   It seems to us that trying to bust a union is an improper purpose and ICE should be “alert” to the effects of its involvement at this stage.  Perhaps ICE needs to alert DOL if ICE decides that the “tips and leads” it received concerning this particular plant were “motivated by an improper desire to manipulate a pending labor dispute, retaliate against employees for exercising labor rights, or otherwise frustrate the enforcement of labor laws.”

Update in the ongoing dispute is ICE worksite investigation in the middle of labor dispute by UNITE HERE Local 1.

Attorneys Sofia Zneimer and Robert Dadourian as well as legal assistant Ana Villarreal of Zneimer & Zneimer participated in the Legal Clinic for affected Ruprecht immigrant workers last Friday.  We believe that what is happening to these immigrant workers


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