The timing was propitious for SHRM’s lobbying operation, which was in the midst of a battle to remove language from several appropriations measures that would require all federal contractors to use the government’s electronic employment verification system.
The system, formerly known as Basic Pilot but now renamed E-Verify, has drawn strong criticism from the business community. SHRM asserts that it is inefficient, ineffective and prone to error.
About 24,000 employers use it voluntarily. The rider in the appropriations bills would have mandated that 200,000 federal contractors sign up. SHRM says that such an enlargement could severely disrupt the U.S. labor market because so many people would be declared ineligible to work.
For now, SHRM has halted such an expansion. Leading a coalition of HR groups, the organization was able to jettison the E-Verify riders from the appropriations bills.
Members of Congress "realized the shortcomings" of E-Verify, says Mike Aitken, SHRM director of government affairs. "There was a feeling that it wasn’t ready for prime time yet."
The sentiment was fostered in part by SHRM’s lobbying efforts. During its November leadership conference, it took 207 members to Capitol Hill to talk to House members, senators and their staffs.
"We were able to raise awareness about employer verification," says William Maroni, SHRM chief external affairs officer.
The message they got across is that verification policy should be considered more carefully, not tacked onto other bills.
"There was a lot of receptivity to not legislating through appropriations," Aitken said.
The skirmish over E-Verify demonstrates that Congress hasn’t given up on immigration reform even though the failure of a Senate bill last spring likely squelched the possibility of a broad measure that encompasses both sanctions and a path toward citizenship for illegal workers.
But Republicans and conservative Democrats, many of whom were in the vanguard of the Democratic takeover of Congress, are enamored of a crackdown on illegal employment.
A bill that was introduced in November 2007 by Rep. Heath Shuler, D-North Carolina, has attracted more than 100 bipartisan co-sponsors and requires that employers sign up for E-Verify.
SHRM will stay engaged in the debate, urging Congress to develop a better verification system rather than just reauthorize E-Verify when the law establishing it expires in November 2008.
"Our members really are the experts at what works and what doesn’t work," Maroni says.
Workforce Management, February 4, 2008, p. 22 -- Subscribe Now!