Although there are hotel jobs available, many American workers prefer unemployment to doing the kind of work these jobs require. The short time frame of seasonal properties also turns off many American workers.
Editor’s note: This is the second installment of a two-part series about staffing challenges facing the U.S. hotel industry. To read “Changes make H-2B visa program more challenging for hotels,” click here.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—With the level of unemployment about 8.5 percent, why do hotels still need foreign workers? There are various reasons, from location to the attitudes of American workers. And changes in schedules and lifestyle have affected one of the former staples of summer work—students.
“Students take internships, vacations abroad, and summer school to get through school quicker,” said Shawn McBurney, senior vice president for governmental affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association. “In addition, school years have gotten longer. The correspondence of a summer season doesn’t match the summer season of a student any longer.”
One of the requirements of the H-2B visa program is that employers must participate in a recruitment program overseen by the Department of Labor that shows no U.S. workers are available. As for American workers, many prefer unemployment than working at a hotel.
“We’ve created a sense of entitlement among American workers, and they don’t feel they should have to do these jobs,” said Paul Monte, general manager and CEO of Gurney’s Inn Resort, Spa and Conference Center in Montauk, New York. “It would be wonderful if we could find American workers who were willing to work here and live in the dormitory housing. Washing dishes, cleaning rooms, groundskeepers, night porters—these are all jobs the standard American work force doesn’t want to do. I’m told unemployment is much more attractive than doing these jobs.”
The situation is bad for staffing professionals in the industry, said Jacob Sapochnick, a San Diego, California-based lawyer whose practice is devoted to immigration law.
“Even though they can hire local people, they can never rely on them for the full term,” he said. “If you have a large hotel, need 50 housekeepers and hire locally, the turnover is very high. They find a better job or one that pays more. When you have H-2B workers, they know they have them for 10 months. Their visa depends on them working at that hotel.”
The more turnover, the less likely the hotel will function properly, Sapochnick said.
Location, location, location
Another issue that’s a huge impetus for the need for foreign workers is property location. Many of the hotels that require extra workers are located in remote or expensive areas.
“If you think about Long Island (New York) or Mackinac Island (Michigan), these are isolated areas on islands,” McBurney said. “The people who would fill these jobs would have to commute, which is very difficult. And Long Island, not only is it isolated, but there’s nowhere even near that’s affordable for a temporary worker to stay.”
Monte’s Long Island property deals with these issues daily.
“We are in what’s considered a very high-profile, expensive area to live, and most people who work in the jobs we need to fill aren’t in the position to buy a home or afford the rent out here,” he said. “They basically work here and live in dormitory housing we have. That doesn’t sit well with American workers, so we’re forced to hire people from other countries who don’t mind living three or four to a room and don’t mind working for several months.”
McBurney anticipates a big problem this summer because of the lack of temporary workers. Next year could be as bad or worse.
“There are some members of Congress who want to make the program unworkable by creating a super wage foreign workers would have to be paid,” he said. “A lot of categories of employers would be barred from using the program. They’re going to raise fees considerably, sometimes tripling the fees. Employers would be forced to keep their records for three years of how they tried to find Americans and couldn’t, which could be burdensome.”
This is an effort by some who don’t like the program to make it so untenable no one would use it, McBurney said.
“They don’t understand what it means to be a seasonal property and what it takes to run a business like that,” he said.