Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has formed a special team to investigate the employment of illegal aliens at construction projects in the city.
Schmoke yesterday said he had formed the team in response to complaints from local trade unions. The unions are concerned because some contractors employ undocumented workers and pay them wages that violate local, state, and federal prevailing wage laws.
The team is to investigate construction projects that receive city funds and those that have lease agreements or other contractual arrangements with the city. The team also is to scrutinize projects funded with state and federal money channeled through the city.
Schmoke said the team will be headed by City Solicitor Neal A. Janey and will include investigators from the law department, the city Bureau of Construction Management and the city Wage Commission. No city police officers will be used, the mayor added.
Last week, agents from the local U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service office arrested 13 undocumented workers at the construction site of Waterloo Place apartments in the Mt. Vernon section of downtown Baltimore.
Schmoke said Waterloo Place is one of the sites that union representatives claimed were using undocumented workers. An investigator from the city solicitor's office went to Waterloo Place but found that INS agents already were investigating the project.
The mayor said any information gathered by the team will be turned over to the appropriate agencies which could include the INS, the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development or the Baltimore state's attorney's office.
Janey said he hopes to have the team assembled and operational by next week.
The team, consisting of four to six members, will put construction sites under surveillance, Janey said, adding, "we'll contact the proper authority for further action" if the use of undocumented workers is detected.
The team of investigators, Schmoke said, could interview workers and look at employment records much the same as is done now by city investigators looking for violations of the city's prevailing wage law.
City contracts carry a provision requiring contractors to pay workers according to the existing prevailing wage for each construction trade.
The prevailing wage is higher than the city's minimum wage requirement of $4.25 an hour and somewhere between that of a trade worker employed by non-union contractors and a union trade worker.
Contractors who use undocumented workers and pay them less than the city's prevailing wage provision could also be subject to fines and barred from doing future business with the city, said Jesse J. Hinson Jr., executive director of the city Wage Commission.
"We shouldn't allow contractors to use illegal aliens when we have more than enough unemployed people in the city to meet labor demands," the mayor said.