North Carolina furniture makers are pushing back after Gov. Pat McCrory suggested they are behind a new law giving employers more time to verify the immigration status of workers.
McCrory made the comments Wednesday shortly after legislators voted to override his veto of the bill, saying manufacturing companies in such towns as High Point lobbied hard in favor of the bill because they want to hire illegal immigrants. The legislation extends from 90 days to nine months the period for an employee can work without having his or her immigration status checked against the federal E-Verify database.
While backers of the bill mostly cited agricultural interests in arguing for an override of McCrory's veto, the governor suggested other industries were also involved.
"In fact, some of the manufacturers in towns like a High Point worked hard for this bill because they, frankly, want to hire illegal immigrants as opposed to North Carolina workers," McCrory, a Republican, said Wednesday at a meeting of the N.C. Board of Education.
High Point is known for its heavy concentration of furniture companies and a massive semi-annual home furnishings trade show. Industry executives quickly spoke out about McCrory's comment, denying furniture makers want to hire workers in the United States illegally.
Doug Bassett, chairman of the High Point Market Authority board of directors and president of Vaughan-Bassett Furniture Co. Inc., also weighed in.
"I am not aware of a problem," Bassett said to The High Point Enterprise.
Sen. Jerry Tillman (R-Randolph) suggested in an interview with The News & Record of Greensboro that McCrory was referring to United Furniture, a company that wants to expand its manufacturing operation near High Point and add as many as 600 new jobs.
United spokesman Bob Cottam declined to comment about the governor's remarks or Tillman's suggestion that the company was involved.
"It would be inappropriate and I will not comment on remarks purportedly made by Gov. McCrory about High Point furniture manufacturers," Cottam said. "Over the next several days we plan to reach out to the governor and his staff directly."
N.C. Department of Labor spokesman Neal O'Briant told the Enterprise Thursday that the agency hasn't had any complaints about home furnishings companies employing illegal workers.
McCrory's office has denied interview requests him about the issue, citing the governor's busy schedule.
The current flap is the second time this year McCrory has become involved in a dust up with the furniture industry. The governor's initial budget proposal cut funding for the High Point Market Authority by half. After fierce opposition, the final state budget approved in July gave the market $200,000 more than the prior year.