Why your summer getaway is staffed by foreign workers


JUDY WOODRUFF: It’s that time of the year
when many folks flock to beaches, resort towns and weekend getaways. Those communities can be quite dependent on
foreign workers to help staff them through the summer season. But this year has a different kind of pressure
point, as the Trump administration has pushed for some big changes on immigration rules. Economics correspondent Paul Solman has a
look at the impact of this supply-and-demand story. It’s part of his weekly series, Making Sense. PAUL SOLMAN: Ah, the iconic seaside summer
getaway Provincetown at the tip of Cape Cod. A single mom prison guard in New York state,
Joy McNulty, got away here to bring up her four kids in a safe place and bought a tiny
restaurant, the Lobster Pot. Forty years later, the family and about 100
hundred employees serve 1,200 to 1,300 meals a day during peak season, prepared in the
back of the House by six-month-a-year immigrants from Jamaica. McNulty insisted I find out for myself for
how many years they had been coming, 21 years, 22 years. You’re the new champ, 24. That beats everybody. Provincetown has a year-round population of
just under 3,000, which swells to 10,000 in the summer. Add the estimated four to five million tourists
that visit the Cape every year, and you have got the poster child for peak demand. JOY MCNULTY, Owner, Lobster Pot: How do you
run a business where all your kids work for you, all your grandchildren work for you,
and I don’t know if I can open next year? How could you do that? PAUL SOLMAN: The problem is getting Americans,
of any vintage, to do the back of the housework. So businesses here rely on foreigners, says
Jane Nichols Bishop, known as Mama Visa to the workers. JANE NICHOLS BISHOP, Owner, Peak Season Workforce:
In a seasonal economy, there are usually not enough American workers to fill all of the
jobs. They’re not year-round jobs. So the Congress allowed something called an
H-2B. PAUL SOLMAN: Which allows half-year work if
no one else can be found, and must be renewed annually, for temporary positions like hotel
housekeepers and restaurant workers. In the past, Congress has made 66,000 of these
visas available annually nationwide. And workers with previous H-2Bs, like almost
everyone here, could return without being counted against that limit, but not this summer. JANE NICHOLS BISHOP: Congress didn’t pass
a returning worker exemption in the continuing resolution to fund the government, which is
where it’s always been. And because they didn’t do that, the number
of visas available was greatly restricted. So there are not enough visas for all the
employers to bring in their temporary work force. PAUL SOLMAN: The Department of Homeland Security
did add another 15,000 visas last week. But with the exemption gone, the total number
of H-2Bs is way down. And with employers now having to prove irreparable
harm to get one of the additional visas, the paperwork that might, or might not, get a
worker in has mushroomed. What an irony for a supposedly anti-red tape
administration, says Congressman Bill Keating, who represents the Cape, though, of course,
he’s from a district even bluer than its fish. REP. BILL KEATING (D), Massachusetts: The fix is
staring us right in the face. It’s just raise the cap on returning workers. We have done it for the last 11 years. It works. PAUL SOLMAN: But they just did it now. REP. BILL KEATING: No, they didn’t. They created a whole new series of regulations
and requirements that would scare any small business person into not using this because
of politics. PAUL SOLMAN: Really? JOY MCNULTY: It’s impossible to run a business
when you don’t know if you’re getting 43 of your 96 people. The rest of them are all Americans. This year, we were open six weeks late. Last week, we opened six weeks late. Next year, we may not open at all. We don’t know. PAUL SOLMAN: Gui Yingling got none of the
requested 26 H-2B workers for nearby Bubala’s By the Bay. GUI YINGLING, Bubala’s By the Bay: It’s been
next impossible. We have had to close days. We have had to shorten hours. PAUL SOLMAN: And a corollary problem, say
restaurateurs like Yingling and Mac Hay of Mac’s Seafood, is that if and when they close: MAC HAY, Owner, Mac’s Seafood: I would have
to lay off way more than half of the work force that I have now. PAUL SOLMAN: American workers. MAC HAY: An American work force. PAUL SOLMAN: And, look, they say, it’s not
for lack of trying, to recruit natives, that is. In fact, the H-2B application requires employers
to offer the jobs locally. JOY MCNULTY: I advertise on the Internet. I advertise in every job fair. We advertise in every newspaper. Everyone on the entire Cape knows that we’re
all looking for help. There’s nobody here. They will not take seasonal dishwashing and
cook jobs for anything. PAUL SOLMAN: But wait a second, counters H-2B
skeptic Jessica Vaughan of the Center for Immigration Studies. JESSICA VAUGHAN, Center for Immigration Studies:
I don’t think there’s any such thing as a job an American won’t do. There are millions of workers in the United
States who are not employed, and we need to find a way to match them up with some of these
opportunities as well. PAUL SOLMAN: Employers just aren’t trying
hard enough, Vaughan insists, while driving down wages, and maybe even working conditions. More and more, she says, teens and those with
a high school diploma at best: JESSICA VAUGHAN: Employers should look to
those workers first before they take the easy route out, and bring in workers from overseas. MAC HAY: I have no issue, no problem. I would prefer to do that. Trying to bring workers from Jamaica or Mexico
is incredibly challenging, incredibly expensive. PAUL SOLMAN: Mac Hay worked in kitchens on
the Cape since he was 12, now owns six businesses, restaurants and seafood markets. The pay? MAC HAY: A dishwasher is $12.50 to a cook
can make $17, $18 an hour, plus overtime. PAUL SOLMAN: Not bad. So why aren’t these summer jobs for students? MAC HAY: The majority of them leave August
12 or August 13 or August 14. We have a 10-week season. It runs through Labor Day. I can’t lose more than half my work force
with three weeks to go, with 30 percent of my season left. PAUL SOLMAN: And nonstudents who are un- or
under-employed? MAC HAY: Americans, they don’t want to relocate
their life for six months. They don’t want to move down, but if they’re
willing to do it, I’m more than happy to hire them. PAUL SOLMAN: Like Joy McNulty at the Lobster
Pot, Mac Hay utterly depends on visa workers. Egan Bonny’s been with him for 10 seasons. EGAN BONNY, Mac’s Seafood: I do cleaning,
clean the restaurant and do all kind of jobs which no American kids would come and do. This grease job here, fill the grease job. No young kid’s going to come around and do
this stuff. Keep everything nice, clean the bathroom. PAUL SOLMAN: Because they’re spoiled? EGAN BONNY: They’re spoiled. Seriously, they’re spoiled. PAUL SOLMAN: Really? There is no wage at which they would do these
jobs? GUI YINGLING: I have hired every employee
who has tried to walk through the door. I have advertised. Most of them don’t show up, is the truth,
once I hire them. It’s pretty incredible. I have had 17 employees no-show this season,
after being hired. PAUL SOLMAN: Now, we did run into one underemployed
American worker. So what are you doing this summer? CLAIRE VAUGHAN, Student: I’m working in a
church nursery every Sunday. PAUL SOLMAN: And you have applied for other
jobs. CLAIRE VAUGHAN: Yes, that’s right. PAUL SOLMAN: And? CLAIRE VAUGHAN: I have not heard back from
any of them. PAUL SOLMAN: Seventeen-year old Claire Vaughan
lives about two hours from the Cape. PAUL SOLMAN: So now, why aren’t you here? CLAIRE VAUGHAN: I didn’t know there were jobs
here. I had no idea you could do that. PAUL SOLMAN: Claire Vaughan happens to be
the daughter of our immigration skeptic. CLAIRE VAUGHAN: Now that I know about it,
I will definitely look. PAUL SOLMAN: But it turned that she, like
most students, would have to leave before the season was over. And her parents didn’t want her living on
the Cape. And so we come to the bottom line. Bubala’s is down 10 percent and may actually
lose money this year. Mac Hay worries about next year. And the Lobster Pot? In the six weeks it had to close, it bought
a lot fewer lobsters from local fishermen, hired fewer Americans for fewer hours. JOY MCNULTY: All of the Americans are out
of work for six extra weeks. The state doesn’t get the taxes, the vendors
don’t get the work, nothing happens here, and the town collapses. But my people have been with me for 20, 25
years, a lot of them. What harm is that to anybody? We just want to run a restaurant. PAUL SOLMAN: For the “PBS NewsHour,” this
is economics correspondent Paul Solman, reporting from Cape Cod.

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