Wreath company, immigration agency to fight illegal employment

Whitney Wreath President and CEO David Whitney (left) and the Special Agent in Charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations in Boston, Bruce M. Foucart, signed the IMAGE or &quotICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers," agreement during a ceremony at the company's Whitneyville headquarters Tuesday. The agreement provides a safety net for both migrant workers and employers. Photo courtesy of David Whitney.
Whitney Wreath President and CEO David Whitney (left) and the Special Agent in Charge of ICE's Homeland Security Investigations in Boston, Bruce M. Foucart, signed the IMAGE or "ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers," agreement during a ceremony at the company's Whitneyville headquarters Tuesday. The agreement provides a safety net for both migrant workers and employers. Photo courtesy of David Whitney.
Posted March 08, 2011, at 8:07 p.m.
Last modified March 09, 2011, at 11:41 a.m.

WHITNEYVILLE, Maine — Whitney Originals, a wreath-making company in Washington County has become the first business in Maine to sign an agreement with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to strengthen its hiring practices of migrant workers and to combat the unlawful employment of illegal aliens.

Whitney Wreath President and CEO David Whitney and the special agent in charge of ICE’s Homeland Security Investigations in Boston, Bruce M. Foucart, signed the ICE Mutual Agreement between Government and Employers during a ceremony at the company’s headquarters Tuesday.

Foucart said Whitney’s is only the fourth business in New England to sign the IMAGE agreement, partly because companies must open their files to the federal agency.

One of the hurdles companies have to undergo is a complicated audit process as part of the certification, Foucart said Tuesday afternoon.

“What this really means is that companies turn over their paperwork to us,” he said. “The private sector doesn’t always have a comfort level with that.”

“We were anxious to partner with ICE,” Whitney said after the ceremony. “I feel strongly that it helps migrant workers find a clear, predictable path to legal employment while at the same time it provides a clear and understandable path for employers to comply.”

He said the ICE certification process is complicated but the federal agents helped walk the company through the entire certification system.

Two of Whitney’s employees — Jamie Davis and Carrie Geel — are specially assigned to ICE compliance.

“I made the commitment as the CEO but they deserve all the credit for the program,” Whitney said.

Whitney said he seasonally employs about 600 people. Ten percent, or about 60 of them, are migrant workers, mostly Haitians.

“We are not top-heavy with migrant workers by any means,” he said.

But Whitney said the migrant workers are the ones who want to do piece work on the wreath assembly line, while the majority of the local workers prefer an hourly job such as shipping, ordering and management.

“Without the locals to fill those positions, we would not be able to do the whole job,” he said. “But also, without the migrant workers, none of the locals would be needed as well.”

“We applaud Whitney Wreath for its unwavering pledge to maintain its image in the community as a reputable employer and good corporate neighbor,” Foucart said. Although no other Maine companies are currently preparing for IMAGE certification, Foucart said, Tuesday’s signing should provide them with “a tap on the shoulder that they should be part of this.”

He stressed that IMAGE status “is not a get out of jail free card,” but added that any company that is cooperating with ICE “is certainly getting off on the right foot.”

To qualify for IMAGE certification, Whitney Wreath performed the following requirements:

  1. Conducted self-assessments of its hiring practices to uncover vulnerabilities that could be exploited by illegal aliens.
  1. Enrolled in employment eligibility verification programs, such as E-Verify and the Social Security Number Verification Service.
  1. Trained company staffers on IMAGE Best Practices and how to use the new screening tools.
  1. Underwent a Form I-9 audit conducted by ICE.

Whitney Wreath is one of the largest producers of fresh holiday wreaths and home decorations in the nation. In 2009, the company was selected as the provider of holiday balsam products for L.L. Bean and in 1993 established a relationship with QVC, a television shopping network. These two contracts elevated Whitney Wreath to the largest mail-order Christmas wreath company in the U.S.

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