“Adventure, romance, the rock-bound coast and soaring granite cliffs–there is a special mystique to Bar Harbor. Surrounded by Acadia National Park and located at the edge of the sea, we have welcomed visitors for over a hundred years, and now we welcome you, too.” Especially if you work in the hospitality industry.
Bar Harbor, Maine is facing such a shortage of migrant guest workers they are going to extremes. Cutting hours, chopping services, and outsourcing are the big local buzzwords. Sarah Diment, who owns Beachmere Inn, took a tenth of her rooms “off the market” and is thinking about closing her restaurant one day a week. The Pentagoet Inn closed its restaurant and cut both pay and hours for remaining staff.
Spoiled by years of liberal H2-B visa rules that gave automatic cap exceptions to “returning workers,” local hotel owners, tour operators, restaurants and other businesses who came to rely on labor that does not expect much in the way of pay, benefits or fair working conditions are devastated. Martha Searchfield, Executive Director of the Bar Harbor Chamber of Commerce sums it up, “There are people who have come here year after year after year and worked in the same restaurants as cooks, as waiters, as whatever is needed, and they’re like family. And now for the first time, it’s uncertain that they’ll be able to come back.”
The allotted quota for this year’s migrant jobs has already been filled. The merchants have been hanging all their hopes on a congressional deal to allow extra workers for the summer, but it has not materialized yet. Both of the state’s senators filed bills seeking to restore the cap waiver provision and to review the approved visas to make sure they all were used.
“The best thing that can happen right now is for the administration to do an audit of how many of these visas are actually being used, because the indications are that the visas are taken out early in this sort of deadline process and a lot of them never get used,” Sen. Angus King says. “So if we can determine — and the administration can do this very quickly — which ones haven’t been used, that would open up an allocation that would be available to our businesses for this summer.”
According to Kristen Bifulco, Businesses in Maine need to be extra creative this summer. “Now that there are issues with international visas, employers are looking again to Puerto Rico. The Puerto Rican Employment Service is an affiliate of the U.S. Employment Service, and Puerto Rican workers are referred to as “inter-state migrants.” No visas or passports are needed for these workers.”
Those not lucky enough to get cheap, third world style, Puerto Rican labor — that don’t want to close their doors for the season either, are starting to discuss the unthinkable. Hire Americans.
The Chamber of Commerce is holding a job fair with “just about every kind of business in the town” looking for workers. “retail, restaurants, the tour boats, all the trips, everything. All types of workers are needed,” director Searchfield said. The crisis is so bad business owners are actually considering competitive wages and negotiated schedules. John Duley runs Galyn’s Restaurant and points out the number one reason Bar Harbor prefers to hire peons. “Most of these positions, you know, the restaurant positions in the front of the house are physically demanding, as are housekeeping positions in some of the inns and hotels around here,” he says.”
Jeremy Beck is not surprised businesses have been having such a hard time finding local workers because he says, “they haven’t been trying very hard. Not for a while. Their domestic recruitment pipeline is rusted and corroded from years of neglect. In other words, some of these businesses have either lacked the necessary skills to attract domestic workers or they’ve been too lazy to try.”
Beck put together a collection of comments to one Politico article that are just dripping with venom about the H2B controversy and the obvious preference for migrants. “They’ve used the easy availability of foreign workers to hold down wages; but now, gosh darn it, they may just have to hire American workers….” one writes.
Another points out maybe they need to look a little farther inland for qualified workers “….Perhaps in Bar Harbor, the other summer tourist destinations and in Portland, the ‘locals’ are incapable of physical labor; but if they look around at the rest of Maine they’ll see the ‘locals’ handling these, and many other physically demanding jobs, very well…”
One comment says it best. “Better wages, consistent shifts. Wow, Whodahthunkit?”