Inspector General confirms Oregon forestry contractors improperly hired 254 foreign workers with stimulus funds; DeFazio demands Dept. of Labor address failings
WASHINGTON, DC – Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Springfield) released an Office of Inspector General (IG) report that found federal stimulus funds were awarded to contractors who underbid competition by using foreign laborers. DeFazio asked for the OIG review after the Bend Bulletin reported that several companies that were awarded Forest Service contracts, then filed H-2B applications to use foreign workers for the contracts rather than Oregon workers. “The goal of the stimulus bill was to put Americans back to work, not foreign nationals. It is obscene that U.S. companies were rewarded for abusing our American workers and immigration laws to undercut competition and squeeze more profits out of contracts,” said DeFazio. “Oregonians have been logging for over a century, our workforce is one of the best in the world, and these contracts should have been awarded to companies that hire Oregon loggers. This report confirms that federal and state agencies failed to properly oversee the contracts and the companies investigated exploited federal loopholes to avoid hiring American workers. The Department of Labor must address the failings identified in the IG’s report.”
The full report can be read here: http://www.oig.dol.gov/cgi-bin/oa_rpts.cgi?s=&y=fy92012&a=all
In 2010, the Bend Bulletin ran a series of articles highlighting possible H-2B Visa irregularities related to Forest Service contacts in central Oregon funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The H-2B non-agricultural temporary worker program allows U.S. employers to bring foreign nationals to the United States to fill temporary nonagricultural jobs. Federal regulations require that employers who file H-2B petitions must include a certification from the Department of Labor (DOL) stating that qualified workers are not available in the U.S. and that the foreign worker’s employment will not adversely affect wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.
DeFazio asked the DOL Inspector General (IG) to review DOL’s certification of these the H-2B applications in question for any improprieties.
Issues of concern included:
–How it was possible that federal contractors paying prevailing wages in rural Oregon – which has suffered from long-term double digit unemployment – cannot find Oregonians to take these forestry jobs?
–Given the ease that the Bend Bulletin found Oregonians ready to work in the woods, is the H-2B Visa program being used to undercut the competition?
-According to U.S. Forest Service, the four employers reviewed were awarded 14 Recovery Act contracts totaling $7,140,782 for forestry work in Oregon. The employers hired 254 foreign workers for jobs in Oregon through the H2B program.
Forestry Contractor Failures
- Only two Oregonians were listed on the employer recruitment reports, indicating that workers in Oregon were likely unaware these job opportunities were available.
-The OIG found that although 146 U.S. workers were contacted by the four employers regarding possible employment and 29 received job offers, none were hired. Instead, 254 foreign workers were brought into Oregon for these jobs.
-According to interviews with workers, the OIG found that the employers used discouraging language such as references to age and the ability to speak additional languages in their recruiting process. Neither reference was a job requirement of H-2B applications
-The OIG found that the employers used a loophole in the H2B process that allowed them to avoid hiring U.S. workers by submitting their H2B applications to other states. U.S. workers were deliberately dissuaded from taking these jobs because they were short term and far from home.
Dept of Labor Failures
-The OIG audit identified that current H2B regulations permit a four month gap between U.S. worker recruitment/job offer and the job start date. Unsurprisingly, U.S. workers are unlikely to wait four month to start a temporary job, either by rejecting the job offer or finding another job that starts sooner. Employers take advantage of this to claim they cannot hire U.S. workers. DOL has proposed to reduce this to three months and require employers to continue to accept U.S. worker applications up until the job start date.
-DOL regulations required employers to post a job order and newspaper advertisement in the state of initial employment only, regardless of where subsequent work would be performed. Six of nine H-2B applications OIG reviewed included work in Oregon, but because the work began in other states all the job ads for work in Oregon were posted in other states.
State Workforce Agency Failures
-The OIG found certain State Workforce Agencies (SWA) did not fulfill their responsibilities, and DOL could improve its oversight and monitoring to better protect the interests of U.S. workers under the regulations.
-OIG found that the five SWAs reviewed did not transmit posted job orders to Oregon or other states where work was occurring, and three SWAs were not making job referrals to employers — both H-2B requirements.