Fact check: Potential Topre America employees not undocumented

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Left to right are Cullman County Economic Development Director Matt Kinsland, Cullman County Commission Chairman Jeff Clemons, Topre CEO Tesshu Harada, Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs, Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Dale Greer and Topre Chief Operating Officer Brad Pepper. (Dale Greer)

The following is a follow-up to www.cullmantribune.com/2024/05/08/going-to-work-100-plus-apply-for-positions-at-topre

CULLMAN, Ala. – Topre America in Cullman is not hiring undocumented immigrants or busing undocumented Haitian workers to the Cullman Career Center, as has been erroneously reported in social media, according to City of Cullman and Cullman County government officials.

Cullman County Commission Chairman Jeff Clemons, Cullman Mayor Woody Jacobs, Cullman Economic Development Agency Director Dale Greer and Cullman County Economic Development Director Matt Kinsland met onsite at Topre Thursday, May 9, 2024, with Topre America officials to seek clarity on the Haiti recruitment rumors.

Clemons said rumors spread like wildfire on social media. “We have not found anything that shows Topre is hiring illegals, busing undocumented workers or any other violation,” he said. “They actually showed facts to counter every claim of wrongdoing to prove they are complying with state and federal guidelines at every turn.”

There were several Haitians at the Cullman Career Center over the past several days completing applications with a temporary staffing agency interviewing applicants for approximately 80 open jobs at the Topre Cullman operation. The staffing agency has been running advertisements on the available jobs, but it was not a targeted ad campaign to the Haitian community or any specific area, according to officials.

Clemons said Topre has been a great corporate citizen and provides jobs for hundreds of Cullman County residents. “We do not want them to potentially lose their jobs over something like this,” he said. “I am disappointed we are having to defend unfounded claims.”

Cullman Career Center Director Billy Dussett and Alabama Department of Labor Communications Director Tara Hutchison verified that information and said the career center was being used (as intended) as a location for interviewing people looking for employment.

There was also an unfounded rumor that Topre was busing illegals here for “cheap labor.” Topre last week did transport 26 Topre employees from its facility in Tennessee to work Thursday, Friday and Saturday in Cullman. Those employees volunteered to work in Cullman those three days. They were housed at a hotel in Decatur because of a lack of available rooms in local hotels due to the state track meet and Alabama Strawberry Festival events taking place in Cullman.

Topre produced documentation on those expenditures and a list of employees who traveled to Cullman. Topre officials said they expect that policy to continue until they can hire enough employees to fill the gaps. Topre did not bus Haitians in, and the Tennessee workers were never at the Career Center, according to Topre.

“Sometimes people need to take a minute, slow down and get the Paul Harvey rest of the story. Unfortunately, that was not the case yesterday (Wednesday) for one blog in town,” said Jacobs. “The City and County are committed to supporting business and industry in Cullman County, but we, too, want to be sure companies do things the right way. What Topre did was advertise for job openings.”

Topre also produced paperwork showing compliance with the Alabama E-Verify law requiring companies to show within 72 hours of hiring an individual that he or she is a citizen, documented worker or legally allowed to work in Alabama.

Entry-level hourly production wage at Topre ranges from $18 to more than $19 an hour depending on skill, production position and shift. The company has an annual Cullman payroll of $54.5 million and employed 1,364 people as of May 9, 2024. A total of 1,029 are full-time Topre employees and more than 500 are Cullman County residents. Another 335 employees are working full time through one of four temp agencies used by Topre. Thirty-eight percent of the 335 temp agency workers list Cullman County as their county of residence.

Jacobs said unemployment in Cullman and all of Alabama is very low with many of the companies locally have staffing problems. The labor participation rate in Cullman is just over 50%, which forces large employers to look at other avenues to recruit employees, he said.

“I am proud of Topre. They have a huge financial investment in this community and provide jobs for our people and for many folks in surrounding counties. I am proud to stand with the County and Topre in our desire to see the company continue to be a driving force in the Cullman County economy,” he said. “It’s a team effort. It would be a shame and a terrible financial blow to this community for hundreds of jobs to disappear because someone distributed false information.”

Greer and Kinsland agreed with the elected officials about how the misinformation “gave Topre and Cullman a black eye.”

Greer said people who know nothing about Cullman or Topre relate everything now to the misinformation spread online about the Haitian job applicants.

“This hampers our ability as economic developers to recruit new industry and retail, to grow our existing company base, recruit potential workers and bring visitors in for events like Strawberry Festival, 4th of July fireworks at Smith Lake Park, Oktoberfest, Christmas market and other activities,” Greer said. “Our community suffered a setback because a few people fueled a fire with negative, inaccurate accusations that could have easily been presented with factual information.”

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