That really sounds like something out of The Onion, doesn’t it? I mean, a headline like that one has to be satire. And yet it’s a very real story brought to us by The Daily Caller this week. Their title, while a bit more direct, has the same impact. “Shortage Of Foreign Labor Forces Maine Businesses To Hire Local Workers.” The location is Bar Harbor, Maine, and yes, my friends… the struggle is real.
Businesses in Bar Harbor, Maine are turning to locals to make up for a shortage of foreign guest workers that normally fill summer jobs in the bustling seaside resort town.
Because the H-2B visa program has already reached its annual quota, Bar Harbor’s hotels, restaurants and shops can’t bring in any more foreign workers for the rest of the busy summer tourist season. Like hundreds of similar coastal resort towns, Bar Harbor has for many years depended on the H-2B visas for temporary workers. The program allows non-agricultural companies to bring in foreign labor if they are unable to find suitable employees domestically.
Now they are coming up with creative ways to attract local labor, reports the Bangor Daily News.
The use of temporary “guest worker” programs is problematic to begin with (at least for some of us) but at least on paper these jobs seem to qualify. If you look at the qualifying conditions for the program, so-called “seasonal work” is a valid reason to seek out H-2B visa holders. Still, in a capitalist society, it rings a bit of a sour note when you see a system which is actively built on using foreign workers before exhausting all possible hires of citizens.
The article describes some of the “creative ways to attract local labor” and they include things such as offering flexible hours and even… (gasp) higher wages. If your business is booming all summer to the degree that you can’t hire enough workers to meet the demand, then in a normal capitalist system the demand for labor would drive up the cost. Higher wages attract more and better workers… it’s really that simple. And if that enhanced compensation package is attracting more employees locally, why are you relying on the H-2B program to begin with? Remember that one of the requirements for a business to qualify to use H-2B workers is as follows:
Employing H-2B workers will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.
If you can make your business model work during the busiest season by offering a better compensation package but you’re bringing in foreign workers who will do the job for less, isn’t that sort of undermining the purported reason for the program’s existence? There may not be enough locals around Bar Harbor to fill all of these seasonal jobs, but the employers there have been forced to take some actions which they might have considered before running out of visa holders. They could bring in more young people from outside the area who are looking for such work in a nice vacation destination if they banded together and offered some sort of subsidized housing options that temporary workers could afford for the summer on the wages being offered.
I’ll admit that this would have been more of a concern at the height of the recession and probably doesn’t seem like as big of a deal when unemployment is getting down near four percent, but the principle is the same. The White House is already taking a fresh look at some of these visa programs and that’s a long overdue step. Focusing on possible cases of abuse of the system should be included in this process.