New Orleans This is embarrassing, but not surprising. A last ditch lawsuit filed by a bunch of bottom fishing, low wage employers in the Louisiana seafood, forestry, sugar, and hotel and amusement park industries, won a 60-day delay from the US Department of Labor preventing fair and living wages from being paid to the more than 60,000 temporary, foreign workers. A federal lawsuit and huge embarrassment to the DOL inspired by a strike of exploited foreign visa workers in the chocolate sweatshops of Hersey, Pennsylvania (see report in a special on-line edition at www.socialpolicy.org), forced the change, and now Louisiana low wagers are trying to lead the fight back to the bottom.
The federal judge in Pennsylvania had determined last year that the controversial H-2B visa program was in fact setting wages at such a substandard level that it was preventing American job seekers from applying and getting the work. All of which is the opposite of the H-2B program design. The rationale for this importation of foreign workers is that they are being brought into the country to do work that for whatever reason no citizens will do. Given the recession, it is not clear what jobs wouldn’t appeal to American workers now? Furthermore, what choice did the judge really have? The wages that are supposed to be paid are set at prevailing rates, rather than pushed to the bottom in the current, common and subsidized fashion.
Most of the uproar is coming from seafood processors in Louisiana and Maryland it seems, but why in the world is the New Orleans hotel and tourism industry part of this play? All of our jobs here are low wage and that’s the way they like it, so who and how would anyone determine that there are some hotel jobs too lowdown for citizen-workers? This is all preposterous on its face. Jacob Horwitz with the New Orleans-based National Guest Worker Alliance stated the obvious in the local paper, “…if they tried paying a little more, they would be able to find many people happy to get the work.” Amen, brother!
The pay now for many of these jobs is at $8 and $9 per hour and the increases will push the numbers, if and when allowed to prevail, to $13 and $14 per hour. It is a lead pipe cinch that at those numbers there would be a line in Houma and throughout Lafourche Parish for jobs in that industry. In New Orleans hotels, this would lead to an immediate pay bump for many hospitality workers both directly and on the ripple impact, and we have the unemployment numbers to prove it. Some of these hotels will have to set up police barriers to handle the lines for jobs at legally decent wages.
The fact that this is also about exploiting workers (and don’t get me started on predatory remittance charges!) is an international embarrassment. Fair wages would kill two birds with one stone, helping domestic workers and stopping abuse of foreign workers. What a no-brainer!