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Marriott workers may face firing over Social Security mismatches

LABOR: More than 100 Anaheim workers are in jeopardy after a routine government review finds discrepancies.

October 20, 2000

The Orange County Register

ANAHEIM - More than 100 Anaheim Marriott employees are on the verge of being fired. Housekeepers, servers and even some supervisors are anxious because the Social Security numbers they gave don't match government records.

Marriott gave the workers until Nov. 3 to correct the discrepancies or be terminated after a Social Security Administration review uncovered the mismatches.

According to the agency, which does annual reviews on all W-2 forms, reasons for the problems can be name changes, clerical errors and false use of numbers by undocumented workers and others. Those who can fix the errors are in the process of doing so. Others, like undocumented immigrants, face being fired.

Nationally, 251 million W-2s are submitted each year, representing 145 million workers and 6 million employers, said Lowell Kepke, a Social Security spokesman.

Letters were sent to 83,000 employers with discrepancies for 10 percent or more of their 1999 employees, Kepke said.

If 50 percent or more are mismatched, then the employer's report is rejected.

The hospitality, agriculture and entertainment industries received the most letters.

Many Marriott employees say that when they were hired, the hotel accepted the documents they provided.

It's unfair now to threaten them with termination, said National Immigration Law Center attorney Linton Joaquin. The center sent a letter to Marriott on their behalf on Oct. 15.

Anaheim Marriott has more than 800 employees, with about 140 affected by the review.

The letter from the National Immigration Law Center states that under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, employers are responsible for verifying an applicant's identity and authorization to work, Joaquin said.

Adverse action against an employee could violate an anti-discrimination provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act, Joaquin said.

Many are worried about losing vacation hours and profit-sharing. Those who can't rectify the situation will never see the 6 percent of their gross earnings that went into Social Security coffers.

But they consider that a small price to have paid in trying to support their families, said Jaime Torres, a field organizer for the Hotel Employee & Restaurant Union. Marriott is a nonunion hotel.

This isn't a new problem for immigrants, said Kathryn Terry, an Orange immigration attorney.

"In the hotel business, especially in the Disneyland area, there has always been a high incidence of undocumented labor. In Orange County, what kid do you know who is going to want to make beds?"

Terry says employers should be careful about terminating employees based on a Social Security report. "Back in the old days, you could get a Social Security number without verification of immigration status," she said. "Sometimes the workers themselves might not even know it's a false or bad number. It's very chilling that Social Security is acting as an INS watchdog because of the effect this is having on workers."

Marriott spokesman Tom Marder said that even though the Social Security warning does not mandate firings, Marriott might take that action. Maryland-based Marriott was affected systemwide, Marder said.

"We are concerned about this because if the names don't match, then people are not getting credit for their work," he said. "We tell employees to either resolve the matter or we are not going to be able to continue an employment relationship."

Local Marriott management would not comment.

"There is an important paragraph where we say the letter doesn't imply that the employer or the employee intentionally provided a wrong number," Kepke said. "The letter should not be used to take adverse action against the employee."

Kepke says the administration is only concerned about making sure the proper employee is getting the right earnings credit and it does not notify other agencies of the discrepancies, including the Immigration and Naturalization Service or the Internal Revenue Service.

This is solely a Social Security issue, said Virginia Kice, an INS spokeswoman. "We are interested in issues of employee abuse," she said. "But we don't check someone's status by Social Security number."

The workers hope Marriott will grant a reprieve, and also that pending amnesty legislation is approved. The legislation would grant anyone in the United States prior to 1986 legal status. Many missed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which offered amnesty to 2.5 million immigrants who had been in the country since before 1982.