I reported last Thursday that workers at a construction site for a heavily subsidized battery plant in Georgia raised safety concerns that had alleged violations of immigration regulations – the third in a series of locations on the site. Local news on Friday revealed that 13 Korean nationals who worked at the site had been arrested, questioning the effectiveness of the measures the company is taking to ensure that all workers at the site are legally entitled to work.
For those who haven’t been following this saga, the state of Georgia and Jackson County (Ga.) Have made a significant investment to build a battery production facility operated by SK Battery America (SKBA), a subsidiary of South Korean company SK Innovation (SKI). After the groundbreaking in March 2019, it has been dubbed “Georgia’s largest employment deal in ten years”. The idea is that the plant will lead to a significant boost in employment in the region where the locals need jobs.
Such business generally has two economic benefits for the local economy.
The first is in the construction phase, where local builders, welders, pipe fitters, bricklayers, etc. are hired to build the physical facility. These are (comparatively) well-paid jobs, but by definition of limited duration. Contractors and subcontractors in the construction business are like the two-sided Janus of mythology who always focuses in two directions: on the current job and looking for the next.
This facility will cost SKI at least $ 1.7 billion, the majority of which would ideally go into the pockets of local builders and their employees. Speaking of mythology, this was such a big deal in Georgia that state business promoters named the facility “Project Hercules” in their “secret offer” to SKI when they tried to land the project in 2018.
The second benefit is when the plant is up and running. This plant makes batteries for electric vehicles – presumably a growth industry as (for example) California announced that the sale of gasoline-powered cars in the Golden State will be banned until 2035.
The Jackson County facility is slated to open in two phases with full production by 2025. Batteries for 250,000 cars (or more) are to be produced annually. The availability of a local workforce was one of the reasons SKI chose the location, and the company has suggested that the thousands of jobs there (including “engineers, quality control experts, assemblers and company employees”) are just the beginning become.
Of course, you need to build the plant for these workers first, and immigration issues came up during the construction phase. In May, CBP stopped 33 Korean nationals at Hartsfield Airport in Atlanta on their way to work.
As a result, Fox’s local partner and the area Congressman Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), Who was on the House’s powerful Judiciary Committee until a Senate run was announced, have begun asking questions about immigration status the worker on the construction site.
Randy Travis of Fox 5 reported that “contractors work overseas rather than using Americans to do some of the basic construction.”
Collins wrote to ICE and CBP in August about the issue, announcing that, after understanding, he had determined that the May incident at Hartsfield was not an isolated incident. Rather, “these Korean nationals were part of a larger program to illegally bring foreign workers into the United States.”
A week later, there were allegations from Collins that more than 200 people – “the vast majority of apparent Korean citizenship” – “were working extensively to train welders on the job on a nearby abandoned chicken farm” the availability of a number of local welders .
SKBA claimed it had “not yet found any information that such an operation existed”, claiming that “all outside workshops are doing welding for the site, not training programs”. Collins and Travis each said work there stopped after local police officers became involved.
In response, as I explained in a September post, SKI introduced “daily document reviews” at the site, “banning” those who lacked a “clear” work permit. The company said it plans to impose “severe penalties, including possible dismissal,” on any contractor who violates US labor law.
For its part, SKBA promised to conduct so-called “ongoing inspections” to ensure that contractors are complying with the law.
All of which brings me to the incident last Wednesday. Travis reported that Georgia State Patrol (GSP) stopped a delivery truck that was supposedly accelerating near the plant, but the soldier was having trouble communicating with the driver due to language problems. This driver provided the soldier with his passport and ID, and ICE Homeland Security Investigation (HSI) agents came to interview those in the van.
According to the GSP, 10 were arrested at this stop (the Korean consulate claims 13 were held in ICE custody). Travis cited a source who stated that “all 13 Koreans arrested this week have now been released and instructed to leave the country by October 10,” and for 10 years from re-entering the United States States are excluded. No immigration fees have been disclosed, but foreigners with status cannot be removed.
On Thursday, Collins made the following statement in which he did not draw any punches:
These arrests confirm what we have suspected all along: For months, SK and its contractors have been running an ongoing program to illegally employ Korean foreigners at their plant in northeast Georgia. These jobs were promised to hardworking Georgians, and SK’s illegal and immoral acts were nothing more than a betrayal of Georgia taxpayers who invested heavily in SK’s development in our state.
For its part, ICE did not comment on the incident on Wednesday and no reference is made to it in its media releases.
This, of course, calls into question the effectiveness of the “document reviews” initiated by SKI at the Jackson County site. As Travis reported, “It is unclear whether the 13 Korean workers who were taken away by ICE this week could still pass this checkpoint every day.”
As I indicated in a previous post, I have some experience in construction law and I know (all too well) that litigation is often associated with such large-scale projects, but claims are usually related to changes that occurred during the construction process or issues that arise arise in relation to contractual terms. Even so, I do not know many who concern the immigration status (or lack thereof) of the workers themselves.
The Korea Times reports that SKI admits they have hired Korean workers, but only to the extent that “they specialize in building battery factories.” If so, it would be legal (and reasonable, provided their skills cannot be reproduced by American workers – citizens and foreign nationals alike – provided the workers themselves abide by U.S. immigration law.
This includes the requirements for the certificate of employment in Section 212 (a) (5) of the Immigration and Citizenship Act (INA). The Congress in it banned the admission of foreigners coming to the United States to carry out skilled and unskilled labor unless the Secretary of Labor certifies that there are not enough equally skilled workers to carry out this work and that the admission of the Foreigners who “do not adversely affect” the wages and working conditions of workers in the United States who are similarly employed. “
This seems to be the big sticking point in Jackson County, Georgia. For the benefit of everyone involved – SKI, SKBA, building contractors and subcontractors, trade unions, local workers and workers from abroad – this is an issue that the company needs to be resolved quickly. The faster the plant is built, the sooner American workers can take on the jobs Georgia was promised.
Speaking of which, SKI announced last week that it has actually recruited the first 60 employees (including production managers, engineers, and “quality / logistics specialists who set up, work and train the electric vehicle battery manufacturing staff”) on staff at this facility. The goal is to have 2,600 permanent jobs by 2024. Let’s hope all of this is resolved so that the hiring goal is met – and exceeded.
No doubt Travis and Collins will watch every step (and any traffic obstruction) along the way.