Foreign Worker Wage Rules to Change

BAR HARBOR — A government-mandated change to the way wages are calculated for some of the foreign workers who travel to Bar Harbor seasonally seems unlikely to have any major impact in the area.

The changes to the H2B visa program are set to raise the mandated “prevailing wage” for workers in the program as of Oct. 1 of this year. The wage hike will impact certain businesses in the state enough that the Maine Innkeepers Association has launched a full challenge against it, including an attempt to raise $300,000 to block the rule in court.

The area’s largest user of the visa program, Tom Walsh’s Ocean Properties stable of hotels, however, is unlikely to see any impact from the change because the company is already paying its workers more than the mandated prevailing wage, company spokesman Eben Salvatore said.

The hourly wage for cooks, for instance, looks to be going up to $11 or $12 an hour he said, “and to get a good cook in this area you’re paying more than that anyway.”

A second rule change proposed by the Department of Labor would force employers to pay the transportation costs of their H2B visa workers. This also would not present a problem for Ocean Properties, as the company already foots those costs, Mr. Salvatore said.

“We already buy their airfare and get them up here by bus or cab,” he said.

Out of the over 500 seasonal employees hired by Ocean Properties, approximately one-quarter are foreign workers on the H2B program. Others are drawn from other visa programs, college student groups, internships and local applications.

Hotelier David Witham’s stable of properties makes much less use of the program, employing only 25 or so H2B visa workers, said Mr. Witham’s program coordinator Cathy Walton.

At the Hannaford supermarket on Cottage Street, manager Jay Boyce said that all of his store’s foreign workers come in on the J1 visa program, which is geared toward college students. The store has no H2B visa employees.

The changes to the H2B visa program have been planned for some time, but the effective date was only recently announced. Labor groups and unions seem to have pushed for the changes, in a misguided attempt to create more jobs for American workers, said Greg Dugal with the Maine Innkeepers Association.

“The labor unions feel that there are people competing for American jobs, and we’re saying, there aren’t enough Americans to fill these jobs,” he said. “This has all been transpiring when the economy is somewhat off. I shudder to think of when we get back to full employment, that we’re not going to have employees.”

For more business news, pick up a copy of the Mount Desert Islander.

Robert Levin

Robert Levin

Former reporter Robert Levin covered the people, businesses, governmental and nonprofit agencies of Bar Harbor. [email protected]