GLEN DALE - With Marshall County's 10.1 percent unemployment rate, Sheriff John Gruzinskas and West Virginia Del. Mike Ferro want to attract jobs for residents.
Gruzinskas and Ferro, D-Marshall, said one possible problem with residents' efforts to gain jobs with natural gas drilling companies is that some of these employers seem to be using undocumented workers.
"We have been in contact with Chesapeake (Energy) quite a bit to try to press upon the jobs issue," Ferro said this week during a meeting of the Marshall County Citizens for Better Government. "We questioned them about the illegals that are coming in. Chesapeake, right away, said, 'We don't have any illegals, but we can't vouch for any of our vendors.'"
Though CNX Gas Corp., TransEnergy Inc., AB Resources and other companies are actively drilling in and around Marshall County as well, Ferro specifically cited a conversation he had with Chesapeake officials last year.
When asked to respond to Ferro's statement, Chesapeake Director of Corporate Development Stacey Brodak said, "Chesapeake Appalachia LLC is very proud to have employees and vendors who live in the areas where we operate. All employees and vendors are required to meet state and federal employment regulations."
Chesapeake Appalachia is the local subsidiary of Oklahoma City-based Chesapeake Energy.
CNX officials chose not to comment about undocumented gas workers. Officials with TransEnergy and AB Resources did not respond to requests for comment about undocumented workers.
Gruzinskas said his department has arrested "six to eight" workers who were determined to be undocumented over the past year.
"We turn them over to (U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement) when we catch them," he said. "Two or three of those we caught were also wanted for other crimes, in addition to being illegal."
Wetzel County Sheriff James Hoskins said his department and associate agencies "caught" 13 undocumented workers over the past few years.
"I am sure it is a problem that is going to keep getting worse," he added, noting he only has 10 deputies, including himself. "It comes down to a lack of manpower for us.
"I consider this a major problem and major violation," Hoskins added of the undocumented workers.
Ohio County Sheriff Pat Butler said his department has not yet received complaints about undocumented workers at gas drilling sites in the Wheeling area.
"Their employers were subcontractors for the big outfits," Gruzinskas said of those his department arrested. "They (companies like Chesapeake, CNX, TransEnergy and AB Resources) want to say they did not know about the illegal workers."
Gruzinskas said he and his deputies are only able to investigate the potential undocumented workers when those individuals are "in the commission of another crime," rather than question them simply because someone believes they may be undocumented.
"We see a lot of Hispanic workers here," he said. "If they are citizens, they enjoy the rights and privileges that we all enjoy."
When his department gets reports of potential undocumented workers, Gruzinskas said deputies refer the complaints to the Division of Labor.
Catherine Zacchi, communications specialist for the West Virginia Department of Commerce, of which the Division of Labor is one component, said the division conducted a "sweep" in Ohio and Marshall counties last week to confirm that businesses have the required contractor licenses, worker documents and similar records. She said the division should know how many companies were found to be in violation by next week.
Joe Bowen, organizer for Laborers Local 1149 in Wheeling, said the gas companies are not hiring local workers. He said some of the workers on site are "definitely illegal."
"We have a skilled work force here that is trained for pipeline work, and we are not getting these jobs," he said.