Hundreds face layoffs after immigration audit of Cashmere firm

CASHMERE — Hundreds of workers at a central Washington apple packaging company could be facing layoffs after a federal immigration audit.

Crunch Pak notified its employees on Friday that they need to provide documents proving they can work in the United States legally after a U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement audit unveiled discrepancies in the payroll, The Wenatchee World reported Saturday.

Company spokeswoman Amy Philpott confirmed the audit but did not say how many employees were affected. The audit began in August 2013, and workers under review were notified the next month, she said.

Vicky Castro of East Wenatchee estimated that 90 percent of the people she works with received notifications.

Crunch Pak, which packages apple slices, employs about 900 people in Cashmere. The layoffs could begin May 19.

“What the company wants is for every employee to have the chance to correct their information or amend their paperwork,” Philpott said.

Under an I-9 audit, employees are given 10 days to correct any discrepancies. The affected employees received their paychecks Friday attached to a notification letter and a blank immigration-information form that they could use to correct, if possible, any errors in their records.

The number of audits under President Barack Obama’s administration has grown to thousands, and ICE promotes them to deter companies from hiring workers in the country illegally. Companies face fines and, in some cases, criminal charges for hiring people not allowed to work in the country.

Immigrant advocates say the audits have pushed workers further underground by causing mass layoffs and disrupted business practices.

An ICE spokesman in Seattle said the company does not confirm pending audits.

On Friday, around 50 workers organized a walkout to protest the looming layoffs. Most of those who walked out to the sidewalk, still wearing hardhats and hairnets, received the notices. Several said they had worked at Crunch Pak for a dozen years, and most said they were supporting children, either alone or with a spouse.

“They promised us when we started working here . they said, ‘Help us build the company now and we’ll all share the benefits,”’ Maria Rosas, an employee of 14 years, said Friday. “I’ve been working five years without even a 5 cent pay increase, working day and night, as long as 16-hour days. Fourteen years making apples and not a single time have I ever been asked for documents.”

Maria Maldonado, a longtime employee of the company that opened in 2001, agreed.

“All these years with the company only to find out they’re throwing us out,” she said.

Several workers complained that the company exploited their lack of legal status to assign long hours, with no paid vacation time, pay raises or health benefits.

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