Hispanic workers are the backbone of the construction and supply industry. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Hispanics make up 27.3% of jobs in the construction industry and 16.1% of the jobs in the wholesale and retail industry. In this time of severe labor shortage, dependence on Hispanic workers is especially critical.
According to the Labor Department, there are 146.3 million Hispanics currently employed in the American workforce. A recent Pew Research study shows there are about 8 million undocumented immigrant workers in the country, with 5.8 million, or 52%, coming from Mexico. In the prism of all the heated political rhetoric over the last year, there are two facts that everyone must understand. First, the vast majority of Hispanic workers in the U.S. are hard-working, patriotic Americans. Second, construction and related industries rely heavily on Hispanic labor.
What is most troubling about the vitriolic immigration debate is that the knife cuts both ways. Illegal immigration must be resolved, but I’m concerned that the word “solidarity” will become popular if this issue isn’t resolved properly. You’ll recall that Solidarity was the trade union and social movement that helped end Soviet repression of Poland in the 1980s. If the U.S. government begins a heavy-handed approach of deportation of Hispanic families, there is little doubt there will be backlash from the millions of Hispanic workers here legally. American construction, agriculture, hospitality, and other industries need the Hispanic workforce as badly as that workforce needs the jobs.
I am reminded of a name from the past: Cesar Chavez. Chavez was an American Hispanic leader who co-founded the National Farm Workers of America. During the 1960s and 1970s, there was a huge anti-immigration movement and many farmers treated workers horribly. Chavez organized field workers, led strikes and boycotts, and is credited for forcing farmers and companies to treat workers humanely. Could another charismatic Hispanic leader emerge to counter the current rhetoric? Absolutely, but this time, he or she would have the backing of the second-largest and fastest-growing minority group in America.
With the high percentage of Hispanics in the supply chain workforce, most companies are affected by this issue whether they like it or not. I shudder to think what would occur if hardline immigration policies forced Hispanic workers to call for Solidarity-style strikes in construction, agriculture, and hospitality. It would cripple the economy and grind everything to a halt. It is imperative that all executives in related industry groups push for immigration reform that will bind the country, not tear it apart.
Many executives are vocal about the results of the election, but you must understand that the Hispanic workers you count on every day have a different perspective. In fact, many are afraid, as someone they love or trust is undocumented. Your Hispanic workers will feel solidarity to those affected by new immigration laws.
Understanding that all employees are important, company leaders should take stances that protect the interests of those employees. Executives should reach out to them to calm fears and demonstrate that their company will do the right thing. Many construction-related firms that are innocent bystanders in this controversy could get tangled up in the spokes of something much bigger. Now is the time to stand up for your Hispanic employees.