LABOR SHORTAGE EASED FOR NOW

The Broadmoor will be able to secure the 250 seasonal workers it counts on this season and next, but the legislation that enabled that is a temporary fix, according to Cindy Clark, director of human resources for the prestigious Colorado Springs, CO resort.

In mid-May, President Bush signed the so-called Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act as part of an emergency supplemental bill financing military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. The president's signature gives temporary relief from the H-2B program's cap of 66,000 seasonal workers, a cap that doesn't reflect contemporary labor needs, according to Clark.

The lodging industry and other, related fields count on these workers for such labor-intensive jobs as cleaning, housekeeping, washing dishes and groundskeeping. For the past 15 years, the statutory cap on such workers has been 66,000, and because the program is nationwide, some areas get more relief than others, says a disgruntled Brett Schoenfield, president of the Homestead in Hot Springs, VA. Schoenfield says he's “basically out of the visa business” because it's a gamble he can't win.

Last year, program administration shifted from Immigration and Naturalization Services to the Department of Homeland Security. “For the first time in 30 years, we got caught in March of 2004 without any notification we were going to be short of workers,” Schoenfield says. The Homestead has compensated by hiring and recruiting locally, not easy in a national forest region with an available labor pool of only about 1,600.

“To replace 20 percent of your work force in less than 60 days is a near impossibility,” Schoenfield says, “and it left a lot of Jamaicans who for many years have been coming to this property on the other end of the phone saying ‘What's going on? Are we coming?’”

A similar situation applies at the Sebasco Harbor Resort in Maine, where owner Bob Smith has been using J-1 workers on temporary student visas and H-2B workers for some time. The J-1 workers aren't a problem but the H-2Bs are. “By the time the summer seasonal properties met the requirements of the (federal) timeline, they were already gone and the quota had been met,” he says. “That meant that all the winter ski resorts and/or the southern states whose big season was winter had a chance to use all of the quota for themselves.”

Smith couldn't wait for passage of the emergency legislation, so he hired some returning J-1 students and seasonal workers from Florida.

The Broadmoor's Clark was in Washington lobbying to resolve this problem. “We're on the Hill because it's not a permanent solution and it's set to expire in 2006,” she says. “The long-term solution would be to raise the cap to meet current economic demand and/or develop some other type of long-term guest worker classification.”

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