Friday, May 23, 2014
The Homestead Offers Statement Following Threatening Phone Call to Michigan Senator Stabenow
According to upnorthlive.com, the Leelanau County Sherriff’s office quoted the caller, a 61-year-old woman in Kasson Township, as demanding that Stabenow “‘stop illegals from coming into the country and taking away jobs from local workers.’” The woman went on to threaten that such “illegals” (referring specifically to the H-2B guest workers at The Homestead, a resort in Glen Arbor) would “be shot on sight” if Senator Stabenow failed to satisfy the caller’s demands. The same caller later admitted to the Sherriff’s office that she had placed an anonymous phone call to Adriene Kokowicz, a Vice President of The Homestead, in which she claimed to be a college student and requested information on the resort’s H-2B employees as part of a school research project.
As many comments on upnorthlive.com’s Facebook page and other social media outlets have observed, the guest workers employed at The Homestead and elsewhere through H-2B visa programs are not “illegals”: they have legal work visas and, thus, neither their presence in the U.S. nor their employment here is illegal. The purpose of H-2B visas is to enable foreign recipients to live and work in the U.S. legally, for a period of time, in specific positions that employers are otherwise unable to fill. Contrary to a common misunderstanding, H-2B workers do not work for lower pay or escape payroll taxes and other deductions: the H-2B program requires that employers pay all legally-required taxes and that participating workers be paid at or above the prevailing rate for comparable positions in the area. Kokowicz said The Homestead’s guest workers in the housekeeping department made between $12.13 and $14.14 per hour. The U.S. Department of Labor wage requirement for these positions is $10.21 per hour. The federal minimum wage is $7.25 per hour. State Senators recently voted to raise the Michigan minimum wage from $7.40 to $9.20 per hour. Thus, the wages that are being paid are far above all minimums.
Jamie Jewell, another Vice President at The Homestead, analyzed the actual cost to the resort for participating in the H-2B program. “There’s a perception that employers are trying to save money by hiring foreign workers… but people don’t realize that employers pay legal fees, governmental fees and one way travel expenses in addition to wages. We paid $15,893 in legal fees, another $10,200 to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, and another $28,000 for travel expenses.” She continued, “We’ve all been upset not only by calls and threats, but also by some of the ill-informed online comments about immigration… Just this year, we used outdoor, print, display and digital ads to let workers know that we had many positions available. Unfortunately, there were not enough local workers to fill the available jobs.”
The Homestead’s President, Bob Kuras, reacted to the news from Stabenow’s office by saying that he is “shocked and profoundly disheartened to know that any member of our community would treat our Jamaican guests or any other worker with anything less than the dignity and respect they deserve.”
The matter is now in the hands of the Leelanau County Prosecutor’s office, and may ultimately involve federal authorities. In the meantime, members of The Homestead community are pulling together to support their Jamaican guest workers, many of whom have come back year-after-year and have become much-loved team members and friends.
For more information on the H-2B visa program, visit http://www.uscis.gov/working-united-states/temporary-workers/h-2b-non-agricultural-workers/h-2b-temporary-non-agricultural-workers and http://www.dol.gov/whd/immigration/h2b.htm.