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Zuniga says the women told her that they were undocumented. "I would ask them if they had their papers," Zuniga says. "And each one of them told me they didn't."
Zuniga says she asked her eventual replacements a lot of questions about their status. They told her that they would not be working for Tucker Lott, a partner at Performance Packaging, if they had their papers, she says.
Officials at Creative Printing and Performance Packaging say claims that the workers are undocumented are false.
Performance Packaging, Leavey says, has provided employment-eligibility verifications for all of the workers. Patricia Mullins, an attorney for Creative Printing, says the company is "totally compliant with the law."
"Simply said, we document all of our workers," Lott tells me in an e-mail.
In any event, a more expensive labor force was traded for a cheaper one. Hansen made $19.50 an hour at the time she was let go, Zuniga $16.75.
Lott is not willing to discuss his ability to drive Leavey's labor costs down to $11 an hour. When pressed for details about his arrangement with the women he sends to Creative Printing, he declined to comment.
Hansen and Zuniga question whether Creative Printing was in the peril that Leavey described. (In their eyes, the Leavey children who worked at the company appeared to live comfortably.) At the same time, they seem to appreciate Leavey's position that Creative Printing had to tighten up to keep Hallmark happy.
The women in the bindery wrapped packages and assembled card displays. "When you do Hallmark jobs," Hansen says, "you're basically in competition with all the printing shops that aren't union."
In fact, Creative Printing followed Hallmark's guidance when it began an association with Performance Packaging, a Hallmark-approved vendor.
Hallmark holds its suppliers and their subcontractors to a code of conduct. The code instructs suppliers to honor the law in their respective countries. "In the United States, that means that all workers employed by our suppliers and their subcontractors should be in the country legally and have the appropriate documentation that demonstrates their eligibility to work in the U.S.," according to Julie O'Dell, Hallmark's public relations director.
In an e-mail, O'Dell tells me that from Hallmark's discussion with Creative Printing and Performance Packaging, "we believe they can appropriately establish the work status of their employees as set forth in our Supplier Code of Conduct. We do take allegations regarding alleged violations of our Code of Conduct seriously and will continue to stay engaged with these vendors to ensure they remain in compliance."
Hallmark defines itself by the word caring. Yet the pressure that Leavey and her former workers describe brings to mind the remorseless power that Wal-Mart wields over its suppliers. The retailer is so large and has such an insatiable appetite for low prices that manufacturers have felt compelled to move their operations overseas.
Journalist Charles Fishman vividly illustrated the phenomenon using a pickle jar. In a a magazine article he later expanded into a book called The Wal-Mart Effect, Fishman described how Wal-Mart asked Vlasic for a gallon-sized jar of pickles that it could sell for less than $3. Vlasic delivered. Three years later, the company was bankrupt.
Like Wal-Mart, Hallmark appears to have grown comfortable with the concept of outsourcing. As my former colleague Eric Barton reported two years ago, Hallmark has laid off hundreds of workers in Kansas City and surrounding communities while expanding its "global procurement activities" ("Hallmark cares enough to send the very best jobs to China," May 15, 2008).