Disneyland and federal immigration officials met Thursday to discuss a recommendation that the famed amusement park pay a fine of nearly $400,000, the largest in California history, for violating immigrant hiring laws.
Immigration and Naturalization Service agents recommended the huge fine late last month because of 1,156 violations that were found when investigators attempted to examine the files of more than 6,000 employees at Disneyland. The INS said that 55 Disneyland workers were fired during the course of its 14-month investigation.
Disneyland said Thursday that only five workers were found to have improper documentation, and all were dismissed as soon as the improprieties were discovered. The other 50 lost their jobs for reasons other than their immigration status. "We have not knowingly hired any illegals," spokesman John McClintock said.
McClintock said the majority of the violations did not involve discrepancies in documentation but rather resulted from the company's inability to produce thousands of documents requested by the INS within a 72-hour period. "We Xeroxed them as fast as we could," he said.
Robert Reed, the supervisory special agent in charge of the INS Orange County office, said that the audit of the Disneyland work force was "certainly the biggest we've worked on here. It was very time-consuming."
The investigation was opened in February, 1992, after Disneyland was one of 2,500 employers randomly chosen from the nation's more than 7.5 million businesses. Agents spent months examining immigration forms and copies of green cards on file at the park, comparing them with INS records.
In some cases, a green card registration or Social Security number did not match one on file at the INS, Reed said.
"(Violations) can be all the way from not preparing a form at all to discrepancies where signatures and days may be missing," he said. Some forms were missing entirely.
None of the violations McClintock said, stemmed from the five employees who were fired for not having submitted proper documents.
Disneyland was told about the fine two weeks ago. The park has until May 22 to decide whether to appeal. McClintock said no decision has been made; its other options are to try to negotiate a settlement or to pay the fine.
The meeting between INS and Disneyland officials did not produce a settlement, McClintock said. "We want to continue discussing and trying to resolve the issues. We can ask for a hearing, but we have no decision at this point."
Angela Keefe, president of the union local that represents hotel and other workers at Disneyland, said she has received assurances from Disneyland officials that any workers who do not have proper documentation will be referred to the union to see if their problems can be resolved; if not, they may be fired.
"There are a number of people (who are here) legally who have a hell of a time getting through the INS bureaucracy," she said.
She said she fears that the publicity arising from the Disneyland case may frighten other employers and cause them to cut back on their hiring of immigrants who may be working legally. "The employers tend to be trigger-happy because they fear the INS may come down on them," she said.
Disneyland is Orange County's largest employer with a peak summer work force of about 12,000 full- and part-time employees. The complex includes both the 80-acre theme park and the 1,131-room Disneyland Hotel.