Post Questions Displacement of American Workers by the Summer Work Travel Program

By Jerry Kammer and Jerry Kammer on May 27, 2012

The Washington Post this week had an important story by Pamela Constable about the displacement of young Americans from summer jobs by young foreigners hired through the State Department's Summer Work Travel program.

Constable cites the experience of Crystal Aquatics, a Northern Virginia company that hires young Americans to work as lifeguards and that has been undercut by other companies that hire SWT workers.

The vice president of Crystal Aquatics, Jeff Collins, provided a moving description of the problem at our panel discussion in March at the National Press Club.

And here are excerpts from Collins' statement:

I'm Jeff Collins. I'm the vice president of Crystal Aquatics, a swimming pool management company located in Chantilly, Virginia. I'm here to tell you how the Summer Work Travel program has impacted my business in the swimming pool industry. Crystal Aquatics is a family owned and operated business that provides swimming pool management services to around 30 large communities in Northern Virginia. We — Crystal Aquatics was founded by my father Nathan Collins in 1974, and for 38 years we've been providing and proudly staffing swimming pools with American lifeguards.

I strongly believe that the Summer Work Travel program should be limited or suspended during these tough economic times to give American workers a fair opportunity to compete for summer jobs. It is argued by some of my colleagues in the swimming pool management industry that the Summer Work Travel Program is necessary because there's a lack of American workers to fill lifeguarding positions. Proponents of this SWT program go on to argue that the American kids are lazy, unmotivated and bad employees.

I can assure you that this is simply not true .... Last year alone, Crystal Aquatics sent W-2s to over 450 lifeguards. This year we had a record amount of applicants. Unfortunately, we are not able — we are forced to turn down potential employees in unprecedented amounts because we simply do not have enough positions available.

In addition, Crystal Aquatics does not actively seek and advertise for new employees. I believe that if we did advertise open positions for the — the pool of applicants would be endless. Every lifeguard that we hire goes through a proper interview process. And we work tirelessly to provide our customers with the best employees that the community has to offer. At Crystal Aquatics we firmly believe that if you provide America's youth with the opportunity and proper supervision that they will thrive in the workplace ....

Unfortunately, this American institution of youth employment is at risk. Companies that utilize international lifeguards are growing at an alarming rate. They are displacing jobs for American youth at a time of record high youth unemployment ....

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Unfortunately, we simply cannot compete with the low contract prices that swimming pool management companies who hire international lifeguards can provide. Companies that hire international lifeguards receive significant tax breaks — receive significant tax breaks because they do not have to pay Social Security, Medicare, and federal unemployment on J-1 visa employees. The result is significant tax break savings of at least 8.45 percent.

When contracts are rewarded, we routinely hear that "Crystal Aquatics was our first choice, but we could not ignore the opportunities for fiscal savings. Another common response is: "We would like to use Crystal Aquatics if you can match this company's bid." The Summer Work Travel program is unfairly crippling our chances at growing our business and is a serious threat to our company's longevity.

Despite political differences, I think that all Americans can agree that American workers have a right to the opportunity to be gainfully employed. American workers should not be put at a disadvantage because employers can bypass — can bypass paying payroll taxes by hiring their international counterparts. It is our experience that American workers provide a higher quality of service and that employing America's youth is an important staple of our community. America's youth is willing and eager to fill these positions and would excel, given the opportunity.