Illegal Workers — For The Government?

illegal immigrants

It's a little after 7 a.m. and work is already in full swing at this Groton, Conn., construction site, the future home of military housing for officers serving at the nearby Trident Submarine Base.

The U.S. military sub-contractor pouring cement at this site — Gargiulo Construction — says its payroll is completely in order. But in reality, some papers are fake. CBS News correspondent Armen Keteyian reports the group is using undocumented workers.

These men, most in their 20s and all born in Mexico, spoke in shadows because they are here illegally, and fear talking to the press could get them fired. Talking about the long hours and low pay — less than half what a union member makes — about $13 or $14 an hour.

Despite dozens of arrests at military bases around the country, government construction sites continue to be fertile ground for undocumented workers, something Centex, the Texas-based conglomerate who has contracts with the federal government, was hesitant to discuss.

Hal Parmalee is their man in charge at Groton.

"From our perspective they all have documented workers based upon the information they provided us," Parmalee says.

That information boils down to a Green card and a Social Security number. Both are easily obtained for as little as $200 on the streets of New York.

"Sometimes, they check your documents," says one man. "Sometimes no. If you show up to work, they need you to work. So it's not always the case."

"But, it almost doesn't matter," says another man. "Because they treat you as if you don't have any rights."

Mark Erlich is head of the New England Carpenter's Union.

"Health and retirement benefits — forget it," he says. "That's not even part of the equation."

"The law says it's illegal to hire someone without papers," Erlich says. "The word knowingly is key, hardly anyone is prosecuted, because an employer can simply say, 'Well, I didn't know.'"

In the wake of our interview, according to the carpenter's union, eight Hispanic workers were terminated on the spot the next morning, sparking a walkout by two dozen Hispanic workers on Gargiulo job sites.

Company President Gene Gargiulo flatly denied that he had fired anyone, saying the workers had "voluntarily walked off the job," and the entire episode was orchestrated by the carpenter's union.

Nevertheless, this morning, instead of driving into work, 20 illegal immigrants stepped out of the shadows to exercise two very American rights: free speech, and the right to join a union.