CAPITOL HILL EMPLOYER BRIEFING

On May 13, 2010, Reps. Jeff Flake (R-AZ) and Doc Hastings (R-WA) sponsored a briefing in the U.S. Capitol on U.S. INDUSTRY & IMMIGRANT LABOR – The need to guarantee an adequate and reliable future flow of legal foreign workers.

A panel of small to medium-size business owners from a variety of economic sectors and regions explained their need for a legal immigrant labor force – how these workers help keep U.S. businesses open, keep American co-workers employed, create jobs for Americans and make the U.S. economy more dynamic and competitive.

FLAKE-HASTINGS INVITATION

      

Mike Gilsdorf is CEO and part owner of Arapahoe Acres Nursery in Littleton, CO, the largest supplier of shade and evergreen trees in Colorado. He is chairman of Colorado Employers for Immigration Reform, ImmigrationWorks USA’s affiliate in Colorado.

"Our store needed 20 seasonal workers this spring and summer, and as always before we hire foreign workers, we tried to find Americans. The Colorado Department of Labor and Employment sent us 66 applicants, and we asked each to come in for an interview. Only 15 of the 66 showed up for the interview, and nine were offered jobs. (The other six lacked transportation to get to the nursery or had lied on their applications.) On the day the job started, only three of those nine came to work. Of the three, only one has turned out to be a good employee. But by the way, we’re also keeping the other two. Labor for the kind of work we do is in such short supply that we have no other choice."

   

Jeremy Merrin is founder and president of Havana Central, a chain of three Cuban-themed restaurants in New York City. He is active in New York’s newly formed pro-immigration business coalition, ImmigrationWorks New York.

"We are constantly looking for good people and never seem to have enough qualified candidates. Our pay scale for cooks, preps and dishwashers ranges from $9 to $15 per hour. Tipped-wage servers such as bartenders and busboys can earn over $1000 a week. And we advertise widely for all these positions. But very few American-born people apply. And our experience has been that many of the Americans we do hire do not stay as long as immigrants. Why? The work is hard. You are on your feet all day. It’s hot in the kitchen, and it is a very fast-paced environment." 

 

Frank Romano is founder and president of The Essex Group in Rowley, MA. He serves on the board of directors and executive committee of the Massachusetts Senior Care Association and was chairman of Senator Edward Kennedy’s Small Business Task Force.

Frank VanderSloot is president and CEO of Melaleuca in Idaho Falls, ID, which develops and manufactures naturally produced nutritional, pharmaceutical, household and personal care products. Melaleuca is the fifth largest privately held company in Idaho. He serves on the executive board of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

 
Jon Wyss is government affairs director at Gebbers Farms in Brewster, WA, the third largest apple grower in the U.S. He is an active member of ImmigrationWorks Washington and serves on the American Farm Bureau Labor Committee."Our company provides quality jobs, but those jobs are very difficult, and they’re not year-round – they’re seasonal. Workers have to be strong enough to carry a 12-foot ladder by themselves, even in 100-degree heat. But they also have to be careful enough to harvest the apples by hand – quickly but without damaging them so that customers will want to buy them."
       
Dairy farms, holiday resorts, independent restaurants, nursing homes and IT start-ups – their stories vary but their need is often the same. No matter how hard employers look or how much they are willing to pay, many still can’t find the workers they count on to keep their businesses open and running at full capacity, and they need a workable program that provides access to a legal immigrant labor force.