Miller & Long, Others Help Acclimate Immigrants

By Alejandro Lazo

As U.S. businesses grow increasingly dependent on Hispanic workers, some are taking steps to integrate immigrant laborers into American society by offering on-site English courses, job training in Spanish, financial literacy courses and information about social services and citizenship.

A report released Wednesday by the New York-based Council of the Americas, and its non-profit arm, the Americas Society catalogs the efforts of U.S. employers and features the efforts of some Washington area businesses.

Concrete giant Miller & Long was held up as a model, as was Bethesda-based Marriott Hotels International and the credit card company McLean-based Capital One.

Through its human resources department, Miller & Long for instance offers more than 60 different courses to its large Hispanic workforce. It has sponsored scholarships and subsidized courses for Hispanic workers at schools such as Montgomery College.

Romina Byrd and Myles Gladstone discussed their efforts to integrate Hispanic workers at Bethesda-based concrete company Miller & Long. Byrd is director of education and training. Gladsone is vice president of human resources.

Myles Gladstone, the company's vice president of human resources and a former Spanish teacher and Peace Corps volunteer in Venezuela, has even traveled to the Central and Latin American countries where many of his workers are originally from, sometimes taking photographs or making recordings of family members left behind.

"In some cases, [for] the fathers who work for us, it is the first time, it is the first words that they have heard from their son, or their little daughter," Gladstone said Wednesday morning during a roundtable discussion on the integration of the Hispanic workforce, convened at the District offices of the Council of Americas. "You can't imagine what an impact that has on somebody, and how loyal they become to Miller & Long."

The goal of the report, which was funded by a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation, was to focus on documented Hispanic workers in the U.S., said Susan Segal, the president and chief executive of New York-based Americas Society and Council of the Americas. But it comes at a time when the federal government is cracking down on employers who hire illegal immigrants.

Many U.S. employers worry that it can be difficult to determine who is legal and who isn't.

The Bush Administration is moving to expand a voluntary online system that is used to check whether new hires are eligible to work in the United States. The program is called the E-Verify system. The Bush Administration in June ordered all federal contractors to use the program, which checks workers' information against databases at the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security.

Critics say the program is riddled with errors and is cumbersome. Miller & Long uses the E-Verify program to screen all of its new hires, Gladstone said, and he said the program is prone to mistakes as it has screened out some workers the company believes to be legally allowed to work in the U.S.

"It is flawed, terribly flawed," Gladstone said. "But for right now it's the best," he continued, adding, "I think it's a mistake on the part of a company to think that simply because they do that they are going to be protected from any kind of government audit or raid, that is certainly not the case. But we feel that from the standpoint of our image in the community we at least needed to do what was made available to us...and try to do everything we could to verify the legality of our folks."

By Dan Beyers  |  July 23, 2008; 5:30 PM ET  | Category:  Workplace
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