This story is featured in today's TimesFreePress newscast.
Employees: 900 in Tennessee
Founder: W. Ray Jackson
Product: Jackson Furniture's signature product is the Catnapper line, which includes sofas and recliners.
Location: The company operates four plants, three in Bradley County and one outside Tennessee.
A Cleveland, Tenn., furniture company has fired an undisclosed number of employees after auditors from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement flagged some employees' documents as suspect.
Several plant workers at Jackson Furniture Industries estimated between 200 and 300 workers were fired -- which would be a third of the company's 900 Tennessee employees. But company officials would not confirm that number.
"We've still got some internal investigating to do, so we're not going to put out a number," said Todd DeLuca, the company's director of human resources.
ICE initiated an I-9 inspection several weeks ago at Jackson Furniture, DeLuca said. In an I-9 inspection, ICE auditors review the employment eligibility documents that a company's employees provide when they're hired and flag any documents that are found to be fraudulent or suspect.
The company is then given 10 days to make corrections, said ICE public affairs officer Bryan Cox. He could not discuss any details of the audit at Jackson Furniture, since the audit is ongoing, but did explain how I-9 audits generally work.
"[The company] can either go to those workers and say, 'ICE has flagged your documents as suspect, provide us more documentation,' or what will commonly happen is the company will fire the worker or the worker will know that they've been found out and they'll just disappear," he said.
At Jackson Furniture, employees were notified if their documents had been flagged by ICE as suspect, DeLuca said, and the dismissal process has been going on during the last two days.
"We gave them the opportunity to verify the documents and if they couldn't, then they were dismissed," DeLuca said.
He added that the family-owned company is cooperating with ICE. Jackson Furniture said in a statement that ICE determined that the company is not at fault and properly followed lawful hiring procedures. The official findings from ICE have not been released.
"We haven't done anything wrong," DeLuca said.
Once the 10-day correction period is up, ICE can fine the company, warn the company or criminally prosecute the company. Fines range from $375 to $16,000 per violation, according the ICE.
"In determining penalty amounts, ICE considers five factors: the size of the business, good faith effort to comply, seriousness of the violation, whether the violation involved unauthorized workers and history of previous violations," the ICE website reads.
DeLuca said the company thought all of its workers were authorized when they were hired. Line worker Chris Lancaster said he was surprised by the number of workers who were fired after the audit.
"I knew there were some [unauthorized workers]," he said, "but I didn't think there were that many."
He added that Jackson Furniture is using temporary workers from a staffing agency to fill the holes. DeLuca said the company is operating normally and production is on schedule.
National Immigration Law Center Public Attorney Emily Tulli said I-9 audits are becoming increasingly common, but aren't always effective.
"The Obama administration has conducted more audits than any other administration," she said. "These audits come in, identify or misidentify unauthorized workers, put workers out of a job and still don't change the status quo or solve the underlying problem."
Contact staff writer Shelly Bradbury at email@example.com or 423-757-6525.
Shelly Bradbury covers police and crime in Chattanooga and Hamilton County for the Times Free Press. She's been with the paper since 2012, working first as an intern and then as a business reporter. She is from Houghton, New York, and graduated from Huntington University in Huntington, Indiana, with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and minor in management. Before moving to Tennessee, Shelly previously interned with The Goshen News, The Sandusky Register and The Mint ...