CHARLOTTESVILLE — Nearly a year after the Trump Organization pledged to root out undocumented workers at its properties, supervisors at the Trump Winery in Albemarle County on Monday summoned at least seven employees and fired them because of their lack of legal immigration status, according to two of the dismissed workers.
The timing of the firings at the rural Virginia winery, 11 months after the company began purging the ranks of undocumented greenskeepers and cooks at Trump golf courses, came during the vineyard’s winter downtime. Workers had finished the arduous annual grape harvest, which involved working 60-hour weeks and overnight shifts under floodlights.
Two of the fired workers — Omar Miranda, a 42-year-old tractor driver from Honduras, and a second employee who spoke on condition of anonymity — said they thought the company had held off on firing them until after the year’s work was complete, taking advantage of their labor for as long as possible. Both had worked at the winery for more than a decade.
“They didn’t make this decision in the summer because they needed us a lot then,” Miranda said.
“I think they wanted to get their product out well, the grapes, to make sure that was taken care of, and once things were slow, they could fire us all,” the second employee said.
The Trump Organization did not respond to questions about the dismissals.
The Trump Winery, set amid rolling hills in Virginia wine country, is a minor part of Trump’s portfolio. The property is located near Thomas Jefferson’s former home at Monticello and down the road from a winery owned by musician Dave Matthews. Donald Trump bought the property in 2011 and 2012 out of foreclosure for $16.2 million, renovated the manor house into a boutique hotel as well as an adjacent venue for weddings.
The labor-intensive winery has long relied on a couple of dozen legal immigrants — primarily from Mexico — who come year after year on seasonal work visas, living in a dormitory on the winery property during the harvest. But there has also long been a smaller parallel staff of undocumented employees who worked at the property year round. This was the group fired on Monday.
“Donald Trump has known about these workers for months,” said Anibal Romero, an immigration lawyer who represents many of Trump’s former undocumented employees and is advising Miranda. “He waits until the fields are tended, grapes picked, wine made. He then discards them like a used paper bag. Happy New Year. You’re fired.”
Over the past year, The Washington Post has spoken with 49 people who had worked illegally for the Trump Organization at 11 of its properties in Florida, New Jersey, New York and Virginia. These employees spent years — and in some cases nearly two decades — performing manual labor at Trump’s properties.
Trump has made stopping illegal immigration a centerpiece of his presidency, decrying unauthorized immigrants as a threat to the country’s safety and blaming undocumented workers for taking jobs from American citizens. But for years his company has relied on that low-wage, illegal labor, without explaining how some employees kept their jobs despite lacking proper papers.
Miranda, aware of the firings at other Trump properties throughout the year, spent many months living with the anxiety that his dismissal could come at any moment. After a Spanish-language report by Univision in May revealed that the winery employed some undocumented workers, the Trump Organization appeared to take no action apart from firing the employee who let the camera crew onto the property.
The fall harvest came, and Miranda spent hours driving a tractor in the pre-dawn dark. Then fall turned to winter, and Miranda did the hard work of pruning vines. His bosses only praised his work, never mentioning immigration, or papers, or firings. Trump’s son, Eric Trump, who oversees the winery, even pulled Miranda’s name during a holiday raffle in early December, awarding him a $500 prize.
Then, on Monday, the bosses asked to see him.
“So, when we looked at your forms and documents, some of the documentation did not seem genuine, or was insufficient,” Kerry Woolard, the winery’s general manager, told him, according to an audio recording obtained by The Washington Post. “Do you currently have legal permission to work in the United States?”
“No,” Miranda replied.
“So unfortunately, this means we have to end our employment relationship today,” Woolard said. “We’re very sad. You’ve been wonderful. If your employment status ever changes you’re welcome back, of course.”
On Tuesday at the winery, the vast rows of vines were leafless and empty, and the tractors Miranda had used were parked neatly in a row. A receptionist said that Woolard did not have time to speak to a reporter.