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Why Is the National Country Club Lobby Worried About H-2B Visas?

When you picture all of the employers who might need a temporary, foreign worker with a visa such as H-2B, who comes to mind? A large employer with so many vacancies that they can’t secure enough American workers, right? After all, these visas are supposed to be reserved for employers who can prove that there are zero American workers available and willing to perform the jobs they have open.

Unfortunately, as the public is increasingly coming to understand in large part due to the heated immigration debate, guest worker visa programs like H-2B are the object of abject abuse. As David Seminara sarcastically writes in Dirty Work: In-Sourcing American Jobs With H-2B Guestworkers, “Americans don’t want to mow your lawn”:

They don’t want to serve you your lobster roll sandwich during your summer holiday in Maine. They won’t drive the trucks that bring food to the grocery store you shop in, or chop down the trees that produce the paper you use, or perform at the circus you attend every summer. You’ll also need the helping hand of a “temporary, seasonal” guestworker to help you get on the chair lift in Vail, and to learn how to ski or snowboard. Nor will Americans guard your swim club’s pool, shovel the snow in your driveway, operate the rides at the amusement park you take your kids to, tidy up the hotel room you sleep in, or process the seafood you eat. Americans can’t even be counted on to coach sports, or work construction jobs. American workers have grown soft, young people don’t want to work, and the unemployed don’t want to do much of anything strenuous these days.

These “flawed assumptions,” as Seminara calls them, have been used to explode the H-2B visa program in the U.S. tenfold since 1997. Literally hundreds of thousands of guest worker visa applications are filed by employers annually in order to fill the exact kinds of jobs Seminara describes. These are jobs we grew up associating with the American experience — shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, working at the local grocery — but which some American employers now wholly refuse to offer to American people.

The least these American-dodging employers could do while actively compounding our country’s unemployment problem would be to properly pay foreign workers so that some form of economic stimulus could be gleaned from their underhandedness. Alas, without strict enforcement from the big, bad government, we know that is not going to happen.

A step in the right direction, though, came last month when a judge ruled the manner in which the wages for H-2B workers have been determined since 2008 is insufficient. The judge suggested that “absent this assurance” that the H-2B program “will not adversely affect United States workers” the program needs to be reconsidered entirely. Thus, the Department of Labor was ordered to come up with a new wage determination within 30 days.

The current immigration debate features heavy focus on guest worker programs. How the political playing field shakes out in this realm is very simple to explain: businesses and their lobbies want as many guest workers allowed into the U.S. as possible because they can pay them the least, provide them with the least job security, and generally treat them the worst. Labor groups and other organizations concerned with the welfare of the American worker want as few guest workers as possible so that American unemployment can be curbed and as few workers as possible are rendered vulnerable, exploitable throwaways.

Last week, the DOL’s new wage determination came down the pike and, predictably, advocates of H-2B (ab)use are up in arms. The National Club Association — as in country club — put out a press release explaining the rule…

Currently, DOL establishes the prevailing wage by using the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics (OES) wage survey as its guide. For each job, there are four levels of wages that a worker can be given – each level accounts for things like experience and skill of the worker. The prevailing wage is calculated by averaging the wages in a particular tier that fits the employee’s background.

Unfortunately, the new rule removes this four-tier wage system and streamlines it to one. As such, the new prevailing wage will no longer be the average wage in a particular tier, but will instead be the overall average of all wages in the occupation in question.

…and then condemning the rule. You can tell they don’t like it because they reference touchstones of organized labor:

The new rule also allows the prevailing wage to be determined by using a club’s union collective bargaining agreement, if one is present, or by using the Davis-Bacon Act or the Service Contract Act requirements, if the club so chooses, or by using a private wage survey. Though these other options are available, they are rarely used because they traditionally provide an inflated wage for most clubs. Instead, the OES wage survey is the most commonly used way to determine the prevailing wage for H-2B workers.

With the removal of the four-tier system, it is our belief that the prevailing wage for H-2B workers will be higher than they have been in the past. Indeed, this proposed rule is almost identical to DOL’s 2011 H-2B Wage Rule. As you recall, that rule would have increased wages by an average of $4.50 per hour for club H-2B workers.

As Seminara notes in his very helpful though three-year old H-2B primer post, “Industries that are particularly heavy users of the H-2B program include landscaping, forestry, hotels and restaurants, amusement parks and leisure facilities, and seafood processors.” Many leisure facilities presumably fall under the aforementioned “seasonal” business tag though in the country club space there are countless venues that stay open annually (those in Florida, Arizona, California, etc). So, I am trying desperately to envision a scenario where, with U.S. unemployment at 7.7%, a half dozen American landscapers can’t be found near a given golf resort. Only a miniscule subset of the nicest country clubs in the country could be called “remote,” something that might explain why a shortage of American workers might exist in that region. Further, only the largest, nicest clubs would require more than a handful of landscapers and food service workers to keep operations running swift and smooth. It’s simply not believable that country clubs, with their typically deep-pocketed memberships and exclusive, tightly-knit communities would need to bring in foreign guest workers in lieu of having members of the surrounding community do these jobs for a decent wage.

The National Club Association’s mission statement “is to defend, protect and advance the interests and well-being of private, social and recreational clubs.” Sadly, this doesn’t include their workers.


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