Apple plant may lay off 100s after immigration-status audit

Some workers say they worked years, never showed papers

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CASHMERE — Hundreds of workers at a central Washington apple-packaging company could be laid off after a federal immigration audit.

Crunch Pak notified its employees 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, 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 were notified.

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 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 who are 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 and disrupted business practices.

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

On Friday, around 50 workers walked out to protest the looming layoffs. Most of those on the sidewalk, still wearing hardhats and hairnets, had 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.”

“All these years with the company only to find out they’re throwing us out,” agreed Maria Maldonado, another longtime employee.

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.