The Crime Of H2B

Worse than Slavery:  Thomas Nast, Harper's WeeklyThe ad wasn't in The Chronicle.  Town of Chatham.  Shellfish Propagation Specialist.  June to December.  Eight dollars an hour.

Placing an ad in only three weekday editions of a Hyannis daily shows no intention of hiring someone here.  It's an excuse for the state's Alien Labor Unit to certify to the federal Departments of Labor no one is willing to work at absurdly low rate.  Then the employer can bring someone in on an H2B visa desperate enough to work at this rate.  As I wrote in my previous column, the Southern Poverty Law Center called this kind of bonded labor "close to slavery."

This job used to be advertised in The Chronicle.  I even considered applying for it, since I've always held our shellfish department and Shellfish Constable Stuart Moore in high regard.  But the pay was less than I need to be making when I was clamming, and the dates were in prime earning time.

The pay had never been this low, though.

Bill Burke at the Alien Labor Unit said this was the rate the employer had given them and $8 is the prevailing wage for fisherman.  "In Chatham?" I said.  "Shellfishermen do not work for $8 an hour here."  Wouldn't this artificially low wage mean that employers would prefer to bring people in from overseas instead of paying the market rate?

"Haven't you ever heard of a company that lays off all its employees so it could hire new ones for less?" said Burke.

 "And the state is encouraging this?" I asked.

Burke checked a federal wage survey and the only example of what fishermen were actually paid was $14.91 per hour in Oakland, Calif.  So he connected me to the state's Economic Analysis office.

Thus began a journey through layers of bureaucracy leading to a decision from the Division of Career Services that my inquiry be made as a public documents request.  But with a price tag, since the Alien Labor Unit would have to work overtime because explaining themselves is not something they normally do.

U.S> Department of Labor logoIn other words, pay a Boston bureaucrat extra to find out why they think workers here, who are breaking their backs, are overpaid.

A request to the town of Chatham had more success, but led to more questions put straight to the Department of Labor Certifying Officer in Atlanta and their Wage and Hour Division in Boston.

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