Cerabino: Trump touts ‘America first,’ until he needs cheap labor at Mar-a-Lago

In case you haven’t noticed, our governor, Rick Scott, is obsessed with jobs.

He loves talking about his devotion to putting people to work in Florida.

“I travel the state every day and I can say the most important thing we can do is give people a job,” Scott said earlier this year in South Florida while on one of his “job tours” of the state.

When Scott isn’t job-touring around Florida, he’s convening a “jobs summit,” as he did in February, or roaming other states, imploring businesses there to pick up stakes to Florida, where a willing workforce awaits.

Work, work, work. That’s Scott’s message.

Seems like he’ll travel just about anywhere to put Floridians to work.

Well, almost anywhere.

I’ve got a suggestion for our governor. There are lots of Florida jobs to be had. All Scott needs to do is to persuade his buddy in the White House.

This past week, during what was billed as “Made in America Week,” the Trump Administration petitioned the U.S. Labor Department to allow foreign workers to take 70 seasonal jobs from October through May as cooks, waiters and housekeepers at his Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach and an additional six cooks at his Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter.

These are jobs that would otherwise be taken by Floridians.

Instead, while Trump touts saving American jobs elsewhere, he is using the H-2B visa program to hire a captive workforce at his Florida clubs by using an offshoot of a program that began as a way to use foreign agricultural workers to cut sugar cane, a job few Americans were willing to do.

It’s nothing new. Trump’s clubs make this request every year at this time. But this is the first year the clubs are making it in the name of a president who keeps touting his “America first” agenda.

So you might think his new job might cow President Trump into at least walking the walk at Mar-a-Lago by hiring Floridians for the $13.34-per-hour kitchen jobs at his private club rather than importing foreign workers to do the work.

In the past, Trump has used the excuse that he couldn’t find any qualified or willing American workers to toil at Mar-a-Lago for a seasonal job.

“It’s very, very hard to get people,” Trump has said. “Other hotels do the exact same thing.”

But even with the high demand in the hospitality industry, plenty of American workers are lining up to take those jobs, says Tom Veenstra, the senior director of support services at CareerSource Palm Beach County, a local job placement service.

“Each fall/winter season we have job orders for hundreds of various hospitality positions such as servers, chefs, cooks, bartenders, housekeeping, guest services, spa services, recreation, maintenance and more. These include full-time, part-time, year-round and seasonal positions,” Veenstra wrote.

“We currently have 2,643 qualified candidates in Palm Beach County for various hospitality positions listed in the Employ Florida state jobs database.”

Relying heavily on foreign workers over American workers allows hoteliers like Trump to pay a depressed wage to employees who have no option to walk off the job for better working conditions or higher pay. These guest workers are essentially indentured servants who risk being sent back to their home country if they complain about their American job or seek a better one.

When other Republican candidates for president confronted Trump about this during last year’s presidential debates, he defended his reliance on the program, while hinting that he would change it if elected.

“We’re allowed to do it …” Trump said. “So I will take advantage of it. They’re the laws. But I’m the one that knows how to change it. Nobody else on this dais knows how to change it like I do, believe me.”

And yes, since becoming president his administration has taken steps to change the guest-worker program.

In the opposite direction.

This week, the Trump administration announced it would be expanding the numbers of foreign workers allowed under the H-2B program by loosening the quota from its current level of 66,000 workers per year to allowing another 15,000 permits for temporary foreign workers.

Department of Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly described it this way:

“Congress gave me the discretionary authority to provide temporary relief to American businesses at risk of significant harm due to a lack of available seasonal workers,” Kelly said in a statement. “As a demonstration of the Administration’s commitment to supporting American businesses, DHS is providing this one-time increase to the congressionally set annual cap.”

So let me get this straight: Mar-a-Lago is at risk of significant harm if it must hire some of the thousands of Palm Beach County residents willing to work there? Oh boy, Florida workers need an intervention.

Quick, Gov. Scott. Pay a visit to your friend and convene a jobs summit in the West Wing.

Palm Beach County’s unemployed maids, waiters and cooks are counting on you.

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