Friday, May 11, 2018

Small-business owners worry about guest worker cutbacks, reflect similar gripes among farmers; regrets about Trump

Some small business owners who voted for President Trump say his immigration policies may put them out of business. Cuts in the Labor Department's H2-B "guest worker" program "are hurting small businesses across the country that can’t find Americans willing to do hard, manual labor: Maryland crab processors, Texas shrimp fishermen, and Kentucky landscapers and construction companies," Tom Eblen writes for the Lexington Herald-Leader. Not to mention workers needed to harvest agricultural crops, a major concern for fruit and vegetable growers.

Eddie Devine, who owns a landscaping company in Harrodsburg, Ky., population 8,500, has hired 20 seasonal workers for years, mostly from Guatemala. He'd like to hire Americans, he told Eblen, but he can't find enough dependable, drug-free citizens to take his $12-an-hour jobs. Devine lost a big client last year because of the lack of manpower, and worries he'll go out of business this year if he can't find workers. "I feel like I've been tricked by the devil," Devine said. "I feel so stupid."

Central Kentucky construction company owner Ken Monin, also a Trump voter, told Eblen his company almost went bankrupt last year because immigrant workers' visas were delayed for months, but is more charitable toward the president than Devine; he said Trump understands the need for immigrant workers but is "politically trapped by the far right," Eblen writes. Still, Monin worries he will go out of business this summer if he can't find workers. He's tried to hire locally, but said Americans don't want to do the grueling work required, even at $17 an hour.

Trump said at an April rally in Michigan that the U.S. would bring guest workers in because small business owners need them, but didn't get much of a response from the crowd. Devine wondered if cutting back on the guest-worker programs is about racism and not economics, and is angry that Trump's properties in New York and Florida use H-2B workers. "I want to know why it's OK for him to get his workers, but supporters like me don't get theirs," he told Eblen.

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