The notion that federal economic stimulus dollars are going to foreign workers in American forests is an upsetting one. In a state with an unemployment rate of above 10 percent, the idea that native-born employees cannot be found for the jobs just doesn't hold water.
Yet, that's what is happening all too often. Contractors are not allowed to hire foreign workers holding H-2B visas unless they can demonstrate that they were unable to find Americans willing to do the job. Yet there's little enforcement of that key provision andndash; employers simply say they've advertised but been unable to fill slots with American workers.
Now Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., has asked the inspector general of the U.S. Labor Department to look into the matter. He finds it hard to believe, he said, that contractors were unable to find Americans to do the work for which the H-2B visas were granted. The Labor Department, meanwhile, admits there has been little oversight of the program.
DeFazio isn't alone in his criticism. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., has asked for a briefing from the Labor Department and brought the issue up with the U.S. Forest Service's Region Six supervisor, Mary Wagner. Sen. Ron Wyden also has expressed concern to the Forest Service and the Labor Department.
Stimulus dollars have created or saved far too few jobs for Americans under the most generous accounting. The possibility that they're also being used by contractors who hire foreign workers inappropriately is even worse. With DeFazio and other members of the Oregon congressional delegation rightfully demanding change, the practice may now come to a well-deserved end.
- Wescom Wire Service (The Bend Bulletin)