I think I committed a faux pas when I wrote an email saying that a local political group called SPIRIT might have stepped over the line by sponsoring an Austin company that brings in international guest workers under the H-2B program. So I got blasted because SPIRIT says it’s not political (ha!) and because this was a worthy subject: ‘They were not only well educated and fluent in English, but they were also fascinating to talk with about their home country and individual background. They could be an asset to the tourism we are trying to build.’ Good Lord, it was like I was criticizing ole Walt Disney himself!
So let’s talk about the “they” here. These would be 66,000 temporary seasonal workers in non-agricultural jobs, an annual quota implemented in 1990 to help out the resort industry. Of course, Disneyland and the Colorado ski resorts snapped them up first, with the remainder going to coastal resorts in the Northeast, like Block Island, Nantucket, and Martha’s Vineyard. These are nice, friendly, educated, articulate kids that talk with better diction than most Americans.
So I don’t mind those businesses that want to take advantage of the program, if you can even get your foot in the door, but the message I got was rather shocking: the local workforce just isn’t any good. Some and we suspect a majority are illegal. Most don’t speak rudimentary English. They drive stinky old junker cars, if they even own one. If they start drinking beer, call the cops right away. Fortunately, most leave the Island at dusk so they are not such a bother except on Friday nights when there is a fireworks show.
Do you see where I’m going? Maybe the retired folks that make up much of SPIRIT haven’t caught on that the local businesses hire such workers because they’ll work for less than a minimum wage and no benefits. It is strictly an economic decision. If they wanted to pay twelve dollars an hour for housekeepers they’d do that … if they were completely nuts. Workers in the H-2B program usually get something in the middle, like $8.50 per hour.
We know SPIRIT did not intend to jump into the proverbial tiger cage of foreign labor, or make a political statement about it, but jump they did and I don’t think they understood that even sharing information can be considered a political thing. Forgive me for trying to warn you off that dirt track.