"On Point" on the Federal Betrayal of American Workers, Part 2

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on August 7, 2012

Last week, we published part one of a synopsis of a recent "On Point" radio program out of public radio station WBUR in Boston. The program concerned federal programs that allow employers access to cheap foreign labor and drive down the wages of American workers.

Today, we bring you the comments of two Americans who called in to the program to tell their stories.

Paul, from Newbury, Vt., identified himself as the embattled employer of eight workers in a landscaping business. His concern was the use of temporary workers that competing companies bring in under the H-2B program.

"I'm bidding against guys that are paying their guys eight, 10 dollars an hour, and I'm paying my guys 15 to 20 dollars an hour, so they can feed their families and get a house and fulfill the American dream", said Paul. "But I'm getting pushed out of business." The effect of such competition, he said, is that "the American worker can't fulfill the American dream anymore."

Program Host Tom Ashbrook put his finger on a fundamental problem created by access to cheap foreign labor. He told Paul, "It sounds like you're a good employer and want to be, but the pressure is on you to be a bad employer."

Responded Paul, "I just can't make it the way things are going now", with customers opting to sign on with competitors who hire the foreign workers. "I can't get work, to keep (employees) that are really good. They care about the job. They love the green industry. They make good money. They want to grow with my company, and I can't get them there because I'm struggling."

Another caller, from Brookline, Mass., said he has done residential tile work there for about 25 years. As the result of competition from low-wage illegal immigrant workers, he said, he is earning "the same money, the same square foot price, I was making 20 years ago. I think that basically, the powers that be and, you know, a pretty large segment of the American public, have been turning a blind eye to the whole thing."

Ross Eisenbrey of the Economic Policy Institute summed up the effects of the low-wage competition from abroad: "It makes it less likely that U.S. workers will want to do [the work]. And over time you get to the situation ... where no U.S. workers ever even apply for those jobs because they've been so degraded."

As the program demonstrated, the decline of the blue-collar middle class is not inevitable or pre-ordained. It is, in large part, the result of deliberate federal policy that undercuts American workers both by providing employers access to temporary workers and by tolerating the presence of large numbers of illegal immigrant workers.