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Re: Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse

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avatar Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse
May 27, 2007 08:24PM
Please stop this "we won't have national parks without illegals"

Like teenagers have nothing to do?

This is from the "Free Internet Press" http://freeinternetpress.com/story.php?sid=11960

From Ukraine to Ecuador, scores of young maids and dishwashers are having trouble getting U.S. visas this spring - and that means trouble in Yosemite Valley.

"I've been making beds and scrubbing showers," said Tracy Rogge, vice president of operations for park concessionaire Delaware North Cos. The chief operating officer "cleaned toilets and bagged groceries. Our director of finance was making burgers. This really caught us off-guard."

Laura Chastain, recruiting manager for Delaware North, estimates that she is 300 employees short. "I don't sleep at night right now," she said.

Concession managers in Yosemite, the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone national parks bring in hundreds of foreign workers annually from Eastern Europe, South America, Asia and Southern Africa because, they say, they cannot recruit American youths to fill the dirtiest jobs in the park's kitchens and hotels.

At Yosemite, those foreign workers make up more than 20% of the summer workforce and about half the park's housekeeping staff. At Yellowstone, they constitute one-third of a 2,600-worker summer crew. At the Grand Canyon, the ratio is about one foreign worker for every three domestic ones.

This shift in makeup has attracted little notice, perhaps because so many recruits land in "back-of-the-house" jobs. But this spring - as President Bush and Congress began to wrestle again over immigration policy - scores of would-be Yosemite workers hit a snag in their visa paperwork. That left park managers facing a staffing shortfall and has raised a pair of awkward questions.

Can these national parks can get along any more without international workers? And will Yosemite have its act together in time for the summer rush that begins this weekend?

"What we have found is that American kids, up to their mid-20s … don't want to wash pots and clean kitchens and cut onions and be rooms-keepers making beds," said Joe Levesque, Delaware North's vice president for human resources. "So we have had to turn to these international workers."

Delaware North grossed more than $110 million last year as the principal concessionaire at Yosemite - the richest single contract in the national park system. Xanterra Parks and Resorts handles commercial operations at several national parks, including Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon.

Both companies said that they started bringing in foreign workers about seven years ago and that their dependence on them had grown even as attendance at national parks fell slightly.

Because of English-language requirements, few of those workers are from Mexico. Instead, the roster is dominated by people from more distant lands, from Peru to Poland, South Korea to South Africa.

The Jamaicans at Mount Rushmore worked out especially well last year, said Steve Tedder, a vice president at Xanterra, as did the Thais at Zion and Bryce Canyon national parks. And at Crater Lake, a group from the Dominican Republic "ran our whole housekeeping department," said Tedder. "They were great."

Unlike the thousands of foreign workers who serve American cruise-ship customers for less than the U.S. minimum wage, these laborers are protected by state and federal labor laws, and they typically earn the same pay and benefits as their homegrown colleagues, park managers are quick to say.

At Yosemite, that means wages beginning at the state minimum, which will increase from $7.50 to $8 an hour in January. Health benefits begin after three months, and American and foreign concession workers alike are represented by Service Employees International Union Local 521.

"It does add a nice international flavor to the park," SEIU internal organizer Debra Rockwood said. But the current worker shortage, Rockwood added, shouldn't be blamed on lazy Americans. It's what happens, she said, when "the company doesn't try and look at what it needs to do to employ an American workforce. We have pretty good wages, but they need to treat employees like a valued asset…."

Delaware North managers disagree with Rockwood's criticisms; they trace this year's troubles to March, when they realized that the pace of visa petitions through federal offices had slowed dramatically. Then they learned that the Labor Department, facing a boom in petitions for 10-month H-2B visas in recent years, had decided to increase uniformity by consolidating six processing centers into two. In that shift, the agency fell weeks behind.

Immigration legislation currently before the U.S. Senate could bring relief. One provision would more than double the number of temporary visas issued annually.

Other parks that rely on different kinds of visas were unaffected, but by early May, visitors to Yosemite Lodge were finding signs that said, "The foreign workers we expected to have in place at this time are experiencing visa problems. As a result we do not have the staffing levels we desire."

Despite six-day workweeks and overtime efforts by on-the-scene Delaware North staffers, those visitors found that housekeeping was hours behind schedule and managers were filling in at front-line positions. A spokesman said he had seen no increase in guest complaints, but this weekend will be a big test.

The pool at Yosemite Lodge, for instance, is supposed to open, but it won't unless management can find some lifeguards quickly. It's still unclear how many of those foreign workers will arrive in time for the season.

"We have 50 people that are awaiting interviews with the U.S. Embassy in Kiev," Ukraine, said Chastain.

A Labor Department spokesperson acknowledged the backlog but declined to comment on Yosemite's status, adding that "we recognize it's a serious issue."

Unable to wait, Delaware North said it hired 88 Americans last week. American college students will arrive almost as soon as finals are over. But when they return to school in August, the park's managers will again be eager for foreign aid.

"It's not difficult work. I don't understand why it's difficult to find Americans to work here," said Ronal Beck, a 39-year-old culinary school graduate from Durban, South Africa.

Beck took her first Yosemite assignment as a pantry worker in May 2004. On arrival, she was surprised to discover 40 South Africans. "I've met Jamaicans, Indonesians, Brazilians, and people from Kenya and Ghana," she said. "I've traveled the world in one place."

Now Beck works as a junior cook in Curry Village, drawing $10.52 an hour. Her medical benefits are "great," she said, adding, "I'd like to come back every year, but I've got family at home."

Scott Gediman, a Yosemite-based spokesman for the National Park Service, said the service, which is forbidden to hire foreigners, had faced similar recruiting challenges. "These types of jobs are not as attractive to young people as they used to be," he said.

Foreign workers, usually recruited through private agencies that do initial screening, pay for their own transportation to the park, stay up to 10 months and are less likely than Americans to leave early, even if they're unhappy. Like most concession employees, the foreign workers typically live in the park and have meals and housing costs deducted from their paychecks.

"Basically, they're a trapped workforce," the SEIU's Rockwood said.

Geoff Watson, president of San Francisco-based Intrax Cultural Exchange, which matches foreign workers with American employers, said the workers "want to have that quintessential American experience." In the last nine years, said Watson, his company has gone from supplying no park workers to providing about 1,000 to parks, including Yosemite, Alaska's Denali and Yellowstone, usually on four-month visas.

Both Watson and Xanterra's Tedder said they expected international hiring in the park system to increase, but in Yosemite, Delaware North's Levesque is leaning the other way.

Among the prospects his recruiters have recently targeted are new military enlistees who have months to pass before reporting for duty and youths from the California foster-care system, who often find themselves at loose ends when government support programs stop at age 18.

Richard Louv, author of the 2005 book "Last Child in the Woods: Saving our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder," said he wasn't surprised that park recruiting had taken this turn.

As suburbs encroach, indoor distractions multiply and parental fear of uncontrolled settings widens, "we're actually making it against the rules to go outside and play in nature," Louv said. "There are huge implications to that, and you're seeing one of them."
Re: Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse
May 28, 2007 08:04AM
It sounds like they need to advertise more. Craigslist anyone?

I think this was the key line:

"Foreign workers, usually recruited through private agencies that do initial screening, pay for their own transportation to the park, stay up to 10 months and are less likely than Americans to leave early, even if they're unhappy."

That's why they want the foreign workers. Less hiring and firing.

Post Edited (05-28-07 10:05)
Re: Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse
June 25, 2007 09:47PM
I have been working for xanterra for the last month and the conditions are deplorable. The pay is lower than at the average fast food restaurant. They take out room and board. The places to live are smaller than the average dorm room (the roommates are picked for you), the bathrooms are shared, which is OK, but we have not had hot water for the showers once in the last month. My roommate declared that she wasn't going to have a bad roommate, she was going to be the bad roommate. That must be her idea of being proactive. At least SHE knows what to expect.

Xanterra talks a lot about it's contribution to recycling and its use of sustainable agricultural products, but not for its employees. The food is lukewarm, overcooked and heavy on the starches. I am pretty sure that the coffee I drink in the morning is not the fair trade, organically grown coffee that they advertise in the dining rooms.

Managers are often returning employees that are in their low 20s. They routinely have romances with their subordinates due most likely to their poor judgement. I see poor judgement being used quite often. I know it is unreasonable to expect a lot of responsibility out of a young person with little experience. I was young once so I am not slamming youth, but I see people routinely under the drinking age drinking excessively and acting in an unsafe manner. Sometimes that unpredictability and unfamiliarity with the consequences of their actions puts the guests in danger.

I can see why a young adult would stay home for the summer. At home, your money would go farther, your actual wages would probably be higher and your employer would value your contribution more. I left a decently well paying job to work this summer at a National Park. I was told that I would be working 4 days and off 3 days. So far I have worked 24 days and been off 3 days. The last 4 days that I have worked have averaged 15 hours per day! I eat standing up at the garbage pail so that I can rush back to work. Overtime is not paid until you work 48 hours.

Xanterra grosses 10M from Yosemite (not where I work), they are not public so they do not have to publish their profits or open their books. The internationals that come here to work pay their way here and then make enough to get home. Expecting the American experience they are stranded far from home and experiencing isolation. The very reason people come to the National Parks is what makes it a lonely experience for the seasonal employee. There are few opportunities to leave the parks without paying. There are perks like free tours (if there is empty space) but little chance to take advantage of it without any time off.

Many of the long timers here think that living in the park is all the perk that they need. We all know that the kind of person that can live in that isolation (geographical and social) is extraordinary and rare. To be honest, most of us are going to miss our libraries, centers of higher education, entertainment--not too mention the mall and the supermarket. We can't expect seasonable labor to want to work only for backpacking and mountain climbing.

If wages were a little higher and schedules were a little more reasonable I am sure that there would be more youth from the United States working here. Responsible, hard working young adults are going to make a lot more staying home and working where they live. Internationals that think that they are going to have an American Experience and make decent money are stuck here with nowhere to go. Of course they can't complain, they have to stay here long enough to get enough money to pay their way home.

Think about it, like the other poster said, many young people are doing hard work, and dirty jobs out in the oilfields. Why? Because they are better paid and more valued.
Re: Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse
May 29, 2007 11:30AM
The often heard excuse businesses make about American's not wanting to do this low end job or that has always sounded lame to my ears. The real problem is rather basic, pay is too low and thus not competitive. There are a lot of American corporations and businesses that refuse to pay anything but minimum wages and then whine about not being able to hire workers so "let's bring in more aliens". Ironiccally they are the same people always leading the charge of allowing free market forces to work as they will in the spirit of capitalism. But guess what? They can't seem to let the free market forces determine costs. At least at the low end haha. Apparently that would eat into their own greedy profits. The result of the last few decades in my own lifetime has been a huge increase in the income imbalance between high and low wages. Of course the rich, businesses, corps, and their politicians have all the power and for the most part just see the world from their perspective.

Advertise those jobs for say $18 an hour and I guarantee American youth will come running. ...David

avatar Re: Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse
May 29, 2007 11:52AM
I take issue with characterizing workers in national parks as "illegals". It's pretty clear the issue is with getting legal temporary work visas, so using the word "illegals" seems nothing more than a ploy for sensationalism.

I found it interesting last year when I was visiting several parks. We got to meet seasonal workers (mostly college age students) from all around the world working for Xanterra Parks & Resorts. I sort of saw the mix of workers as a reflection of the visitors who also came from all over the world. It was interesting meeting a Finnish desk clerk wearing a cowboy hat at Roosevelt Lodge in Yellowstone. When I asked if he was an ice hockey fan (yes he was) and that I was a San Jose Sharks fan, he instantly blurted out the name Vesa Toskala (the Sharks' Finnish starting goaltender). They're often grateful to be there and I find this as an exchange program to be valuable. Frankly, the worst service I got during my stay was from an American seasonal worker who got angry and stormed out during an unexpected lunch rush at Bryce Canyon Lodge when she was the only wait staff. We asked a busboy (from China - or was that Taiwan?) what the deal was, and he was fairly calm and didn't make a fuss.

The ones who were the best off were those at parks with good free public transportation (Zion, Bryce Canyon, Grand Canyon). The ones who weren't too happy were at Yellowstone and couldn't see much on their days off without hitching a ride or paying for relatively expensive bus trips.

Addendum: I'll note that these guest workers don't have a choice as to where they work in the US; they get assigned by the agency. The ones that get to work with access to free transportation are the lucky ones.

Post Edited (05-29-07 14:56)
Re: Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse
May 30, 2007 07:30PM
I'd like to know exactly where and how they advertise. I know many HS graduates and college students that would be really happy to get a seasonal job in Yosemite or other National Park, any job. I think it's a bunch of hooey. Why don't they try advertising at the schools?
avatar Re: Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse
May 30, 2007 08:15PM
Moondust wrote:

> I'd like to know exactly where and how they advertise. I know
> many HS graduates and college students that would be really
> happy to get a seasonal job in Yosemite or other National Park,
> any job. I think it's a bunch of hooey. Why don't they try
> advertising at the schools?

It was noted in the article that most of the seasonal jobs aren't taken by foreign guest workers.

Xanterra has their own website advertising for summer employment at Yellowstone. I don't think the agencies getting foreign guest workers give much of a choice where someone is placed. Delaware North advertises through several websites/agencies.


Here's the Xanterra section on foreign guest workers. They only work through agencies and not directly with applicants.


Here are some more options:


Re: Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse
June 07, 2007 11:26AM
I have worked there for many years, and here is a letter I wrote to the editor of the paper that published the story:

In regards to Yosemite's labor shortage and the reasons given in the article of May 28th, I have a few observations that I have made and would like to add to this discussion. I have been a working resident in Yosemite for over 25 years, and in that time I've seen the work force change from being comprised mostly of college kids and local young people from various valley towns like Merced, Mariposa, Fresno, Sacramento, etc., to the current reliance on foreign labor. One thing that is rarely, if ever, mentioned is that this trend began about the same time the insurance companies started mandating drug testing as a prerequisite to being hired. Many of the employees I know who have kids who could potentially work here don't bother applying for that reason, some on principle alone. The other reason is the gestapo-like tactics that the park rangers and company security started using about ten years ago. We've actually seen rangers hiding in the bushes in employee housing areas, waiting for people returning home after a night out, trying to catch them after a few beers, which then allows them to search the individual or their room. This has resulted in many arrests and firings of employees who were long term, good hard-working people who's only crime was simple possesion of a controlled substance or simply being "under the influence", often while on foot walking home to go to bed.. The guests are rarely bothered, but employees are purposely targeted under the "zero tolerance" rules implemented in the 1990's. By the way, you can legally drink in public here, as this is national park. Otherwise, simply having a beer in your campsite or in a picnic area would be illegal. So the law is very selectively applied, and as a result very few college kids whose intention is to come here and work for a summer and have a little fun survive more than a few weeks. Most of the problems they cite from substance and alcohol abuse are overstated, and it seems to me that the zero tolerance laws coincide nicely with the need for cheap foreign labor that won't talk back, go home when they are done, and rarely use our services such as health care, etc. Also with foreign labor, they rarely "cause trouble" because they can be deported for any infraction of the law, a costly consequence for someone who has to pay their own way to get here, and to get home again. Another perk for the concessioner is that they don't accrue any seniority and are thus a bountiful source of renewable entry level minimum wage workers. This never comes up, so I thought it should be mentioned.

Another thing, I spoke with an employee of our personel dept. (off the record), and she confirmed that they try to avoid hiring locals because they are "trouble".

Post Edited (06-07-07 13:31)

Just my 2¢ worth...
avatar Re: Oh please!!!! stop with the migrant worker excuse
June 08, 2007 09:55AM
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