A MAY 1 NATIONAL BOYCOTT DESIGNED to demonstrate the economic power of immigrants had varying degrees of impact on home builders, many of whom depend on immigrants for the bulk of their workforce.
The boycott, dubbed by organizers as “A Day Without Immigrants,” called for both legal and illegal immigrants to stay home from work and school and to not make any purchases to show how much they contribute to the U.S. economy. That contribution was certainly evident in Central Florida, where many jobsites came to a standstill, says Edie Ousley, director of public affairs for the Florida HBA.
“One of our production builders has 100 houses under construction and was starting 60 more,” Ousley says. “He was effectively shut down for the entire day. ... In Lake County, there was not a trim carpenter to be found.”
In Atlanta, builders reported a significant absence of labor in some trades but noted that delays are common in home building and are built into the schedule.
“It did hamper some of our development, but we continued with the crews we had,” says Peggy Sullivan, vice president of sales and marketing for Pathway Communities of Peachtree City, Ga. “In construction, we lose time due to many factors—weather, supplies availability, labor, etc. A one-day boycott is not critical.”
“Our largest painting contractor, with 1,000 employees, said that they all came in and worked Sunday,” Caruso notes. “We found that to be somewhat of a trend.”
Ousley says that the builder members in Florida expressed hope that the rallies and the boycott would be an “effective tool to send a message to Congress.”
“Our builders down in South Florida are very concerned,” she says. “There are a lot of rumors about [government] spot checks on being legal and builders having workers' comp. Whether the agency is state, local, or INS, [the immigrants] see them as the same—government. Rumors begin, and people start to flee. ... Those that are legal and are on jobsites, they are just as afraid of government coming on the property because they know when they show that paperwork, they'll be detained because the paperwork will be questioned. It happens time and time again. They'll leave just as the illegals do ... and the builder is rendered paralyzed until those workers feel comfortable to come back.”
Other builders, while sympathetic to the cause of immigration reform, say that they aren't sure a boycott was the best way to get the point across that immigrants play an important role in the nation's economy.
“While it is obvious that a large share of the manual labor in this country is being performed by immigrants, not working for a day here and there just angers employers and consumers,” says Stephen Palmer, CFO of Duluth, Ga.–based Bowen Family Homes.
“It does not make people rally to their cause,” Palmer says. “I do not believe the American public even knows what the cause is—more illegal immigration? Who will sign up for that?”
LOOK FOR BUILDER'S SPECIAL REPORT ON IMMIGRANT LABOR, WHICH WILL APPEAR IN OUR JULY ISSUE.
Learn more about markets featured in this article: Atlanta, GA.