Saturday Mailbox

SATURDAY MAILBOX

May 10, 2008

Too few workers for seasonal jobs

If Ross Eisenbrey's column were their only source of information on the shortage of American workers in seasonal positions, Sun readers might think that the seasonal worker crisis is simply a concoction of greedy, self-centered, anti-American ogres led by fancy-dressed Gucci-loafered lobbyists ("Fairness shortage," Commentary, May 2). Nothing could be further from the truth.

The issue faced by seafood processors in Maryland and Virginia, hotel and restaurant owners from Cape Cod to Colorado, pool management operators throughout the northern half of the country, and other businesses in many corners of our country is simple: Despite our nonstop efforts to hire Americans for full-time seasonal positions, there are not enough Americans who want to come to work for us.

The visa we have been forced to turn to in an effort to find workers is the H-2B. But the annual cap of 66,000 such visas Congress set in 1990 is inadequate.

Led by Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski, Congress provided us with short-term relief in 2005 by exempting returning workers from the annual cap. But that relief has expired.

Seasonal business owners and the Americans we employ are true patriots - we choose to follow the law willingly, knowing that many of our competitors have hired illegal immigrants, usually at wages much lower than what we pay our H-2B workers.

Following the law puts us at a competitive disadvantage, and yet we still voluntarily choose to go through the hassles and hurdles of the complex H-2B visa process.

I pay good wages. I pay my foreign workers the same wages that I pay my American workers, and contrary to Mr. Eisenbrey's suggestions, these positions are not sub-minimum-wage jobs.

Indeed, like all employers forced to turn to the H-2B program, I have to pay at least the prevailing wage paid to Americans to qualify for the program.

Again, I would rather pay Americans these good wages. But there are not enough Americans who want to pick crabmeat.

What Congress must do is reauthorize the returning worker exemption for the H-2B program so that seasonal employers can get access to the workers we need to keep America's communities and American workers strong.

The bottom line is this: Until there are enough Americans who are ready and willing to work full-time seasonal jobs, businesses like mine will need the services of temporary foreign workers.

I want to follow the law, and I want to stay in business and continue to employ my year-round American work force.

But if Congress does not act soon, my colleagues across the country and I may be forced to close our businesses and put our American workers on the streets.

Jack Brooks, Cambridge

The writer and his family own the J.M. Clayton Seafood Co.

Teach our kids caring can be cool

As a teacher in the Anne Arundel County public schools, I was overjoyed to read Cynthia Tucker's column, "The destructive, twisted values of thug culture" (Commentary, May 5).

Finally, here was a commentator who bluntly pointed to the elephant in the living room that is crushing our children.

Ms. Tucker is right that "if you want to ruin a nation, a society or an ethnic group, persuade its members that the highest form of achievement lies in criminality."

In my school, I have seen children over the years become more cruel and vicious with each other as they try to gain the coolness of being a "gangsta."

Ms. Tucker pointed out that this thug culture is destroying a generation. But we as a society can save these children because they are still young, impressionable and in school.

Let's free the school systems from the restraints of the No Child Left Behind law so that the schools can teach social skills and character instead of how to take a standardized test.

Let us teach our children that the highest forms of achievement lie in the values of empathy, generosity and honesty instead of the "gangsta" values of cruelty, selfishness and deceit.

Let us show the kids that it is cool to be a caring human being.

Robert Jones, Arnold

Entrepreneurs drive city growth

The Sun's editorial, "Baltimore's Mr. Carey" (April 28), makes a strong assertion about local entrepreneurs and their impact on the city - that "despite the presence of a generous measure of local talent, relatively few entrepreneurial success stories have blossomed."

But that just isn't true. All across Baltimore, local talent thrives - not just in hothouse environments but also in new retail and business-to-business start-ups that often begin when the entrepreneur is still in high school.

In turn, venture capitalists are ready to commit to entrepreneurs' great ideas, and do so every day.

Baltimore is a city of individually owned businesses. It has been since the city reached the end of its era as a center for corporate headquarters in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The closing of a mill or the relocation of a call center in Baltimore used to be a huge deal. Now, not so much.

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