Donald Trump to foreign workers for Florida club: you’re hired

Kathleen Lantto |

Mar-a-Lago Club

Flickr / Wally Gobetz

From the New York Times:

By Charles V. Bagli and Megan Twohey

Donald J. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., describes itself as “one of the most highly regarded private clubs in the world,” and it is not just the very-well-to-do who want to get in.

Since 2010, nearly 300 United States residents have applied or been referred for jobs as waiters, waitresses, cooks and housekeepers there. But according to federal records, only 17 have been hired.

In all but a handful of cases, Mar-a-Lago sought to fill the jobs with hundreds of foreign guest workers from Romania and other countries.

In his quest for the Republican presidential nomination, Mr. Trump has stoked his crowds by promising to bring back jobs that have been snatched by illegal immigrants or outsourced by corporations, and voters worried about immigration have been his strongest backers.

But he has also pursued more than 500 visas for foreign workers at Mar-a-Lago since 2010, according to the United States Department of Labor, while hundreds of domestic applicants failed to get the same jobs.

The visas are issued through one of a handful of legal and often debated programs through which employers can temporarily hire foreign workers when American labor is not available. As part of its applications for the visas submitted to the Labor Department, Mr. Trump’s Mar-a-Lago attested that in the vast majority of cases, it was unable to fill the positions with American workers, or, as he told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” in September, “getting help in Palm Beach during the season is almost impossible.”

Asked why his club must seek so many foreign workers when Americans have applied for the same positions, Mr. Trump said in a telephone interview from Mar-a-Lago this month: “The only reason they wouldn’t get a callback is that they weren’t qualified, for some reason. There are very few qualified people during the high season in the area.”

Mr. Trump, who supports legal immigration, drew a parallel with grape growers in California who need extra laborers during the harvest.

 

 

“I want to protect our borders,” he said. “I also want to protect our businesses. They have to come in legally, and then they go back. Certain areas, in really successful areas, where we can’t get help, many people do that. That’s a good thing. Otherwise, you hurt your business.”

From Florida resorts to Midwestern farms to Silicon Valley technology companies, the number of guest workers has been growing, even as labor advocates have accused employers of using the programs to replace American workers with cheaper foreign labor. The Labor Department is investigating whether outsourcing companies hired by Disney used such a program to replace American employees who were qualified and already doing the jobs.

In Palm Beach County, Tom Veenstra, senior director of support services at CareerSource, a job placement service, took issue with Mr. Trump’s contention that he could not staff his clubs with locals. “We have hundreds of qualified applicants for jobs like those,” he said.

After a report by Reuters in July about Mr. Trump’s use of guest workers, executives from Mar-a-Lago met with recruiters from Mr. Veenstra’s agency, promising to request local workers for 50 positions.

But Mar-a-Lago sent over just a single job request, for a banquet server. Mr. Veenstra said CareerSource referred four applicants to the club, and one of them got the job.

Since then, Mr. Veenstra said, “we haven’t received any other job orders.”

Other clubs in the Palm Beach area on Florida’s east coast, including the Breakers, a well-known beachfront resort near Mar-a-Lago, also use guest workers. Industry experts say they can be attractive to employers because they are essentially a captive work force.

The foreign employees must be paid the Labor Department-approved “prevailing wage” for the job and location. But they can work only for the company that sponsored the visa, and cannot, for instance, switch to another resort down the road where the pay is better without a new visa approval. A 2015 report by the Government Accountability Office found that guest workers’ precarious position tended to discourage complaints about mistreatment by employees fearful of retaliation by the employer.

“You almost have them as indentured servants,” said Danny Fontenot, the director of the hospitality program at Palm Beach State College. “And they affect everyone else’s wages. You can make a lot of money by never having to give your employees raises.”

Greg Schell, a lawyer in Palm Beach County who has helped foreign guest workers sue employers over labor violations, said companies frequently made little effort to find local employees before applying for visas.

“I have seen no demonstrated need to import guest workers for the hospitality industry,” Mr. Schell said. “Employers who want to find American workers find them.”

Housekeepers from abroad ensure that the venue’s eight seaside cabanas are spotless, the Dorian stone from Genoa shines and the lavish guest rooms and suites in the main house, an 89-year-old mansion in the Hispano-Moresque style, are fresh for visitors.

Foreign workers prepare meals and serve them at the beachfront bistro or the main dining room, and deliver cocktails at wedding receptions in the elegant White & Gold Ballroom or the more recently built Donald J. TrumpBallroom. From October to May, tourism’s high season in Palm Beach, Mr. Trump can often be found at the club on weekends.

He has also sought guest workers at Trump International Golf Club in West Palm Beach and Trump National golf club and spa in Jupiter, Fla., as well as at his vineyard in Virginia and golf clubs in New Jersey.

It is not clear how many visas were actually granted to Mar-a-Lago or other Trump properties. While the Labor Department certifies a company’s need for visas, it is up to Homeland Security and the State Department to grant them, and those departments said they were unable to provide information on how many visas each employer had received. Mr. Trump and other resort owners use a type of visa, designated H-2B, for temporary, low-skill, nonfarm workers; there is a nationwide limit of 66,000 such visas a year.

Read the full article from the New York Times.