Sunday, January 21, 2018
Politics

Donald Trump champions American workers but uses foreign labor at Mar-A-Lago

At Wednesday's rally in Tampa, Donald Trump declared he would be the "greatest jobs president that God ever created," growing opportunity and protecting Americans "from illegal immigration and broken visa programs."

"We have to take care of the people of our country," Trump said.

But this fall, on Florida's other coast, the Republican presidential nominee plans to bring dozens of foreign workers to his Mar-a-Lago Club. They will serve as waiters, cooks and housekeepers.

RELATED COVERAGE: New Clinton ad in Florida paints Trump as offensive to black voters

Trump has been "in-sourcing" for more than a decade, some 800 positions at Mar-a-Lago since 2006. He is currently seeking 13 foreign workers for Trump National Golf Club Jupiter, records show.

He defends the legal practice, saying he can't find other workers. That's simply false, according to a local career center.

"We have hundreds of Palm Beach County residents in the state jobs database who are interested in hospitality jobs," said Tom Veenstra, a senior director at CareerSource Palm Beach County.

What's more, Trump has made minimal effort to tap into the local labor supply.

Mar-a-Lago staff met in September 2015 with the career center, but there has been only one banquet server job filled. "We called the HR director after the hire and she said they were pleased with the hire and the candidates we sent them. There has been nothing else since then," Veenstra wrote in an email to the Tampa Bay Times.

The issue shows how Trump's "America first" message has clashed with his business interests, from manufacturing his clothing and other signature products overseas to the foreign workers Mar-a-Lago and other properties employ.

TRACKING THE CANDIDATES: Interactive map explores Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton's visits to Florida since the conventions

The practice is legal under the H-2B visa program, and hotels, golf clubs and seasonal businesses across Florida use it regularly. A golf course in Naples is looking for 42 caddies starting in November. A seafood company in Youngstown wants 24 oyster shuckers. "Must be able to shuck 11 pints of quality product (free of nicks or cuts) per hour after three weeks on the job training."

For Trump, though, it has become a political issue. His hiring practices came under attack from Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio and other rivals during the primaries.

"When you bring someone in on one of these visas they can't go work for anybody else," Rubio said during a March 3 debate in Detroit. "They either work for you or they have to go back home. You basically have them captive, so you don't have to worry about competing for higher wages with another hotel down the street. And, that's why you bring workers from abroad."

The use of temporary foreign workers also translates to savings on raises and benefits.

Trump countered that other hotels do the same thing. "Long-term employees, we don't do that, but short-term employees, we have no choice but to do it, and other hotels in that very, very hot area. It is a very hot area."

Rubio shot back: "There were Americans in that hot area." (Rubio has come under scrutiny for his support for visas for high-skilled workers, including those who displaced 250 professionals at Disney in 2014.)

Trump's argument about foreign workers is contradicted by one of his top advisers, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama.

"Not only are there willing Americans, but they are not in short supply," Sessions testified during a June hearing on Capitol Hill, where business interests are pushing to expand the H-2B program, currently capped at 66,000 visas per year.

"There are many other problems with the H-2B program, but the simple fact of the matter is that the H-2B program, like so many of our other immigration programs, does not serve the national interest," Sessions said. "Our focus needs to be on getting Americans back to work, not seeing how many foreign workers we can bring to the United States."

Trump has sought hundreds of H-2B visas over the years, according to records. A federal database shows that in late July, Mar-a-Lago Club was seeking 65 waiters, cooks and housekeepers to work from October through May 2017.

At the same time, there were more than 1,300 people in the career center database seeking full or part-time work.

Since 2010, 300 U.S. residents have applied or been referred to jobs at Mar-a-Lago and only 17 had been hired, the New York Times reported in February, citing Labor Department data.

"They told me I had a great interview," Renee Seymore, who sought a waiter job, told the newspaper. "But I never heard anything back." Still, another worker said he passed on a job because he was looking for something permanent.

News stories about Trump's hiring, triggered by the presidential primary, led to the meeting with Mar-a-Lago officials at the Palm Beach career center. But little came of it, according to the official there, Veenstra.

A message left for the club's human resources director was not returned. Trump's campaign also did not respond to a request Thursday for comment.

Trump has been quick to say he is following the law and that it is part of being a competitive businessman. "So I will take advantage of it; they're the laws," he said in a March debate. "But I'm the one that knows how to change it. Nobody else on this dais knows how to change it like I do, believe me."

Times political editor Adam C. Smith contributed to this report.

 
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