BALTIMORE (WJZ)—The intentions are good. Put more Americans to work. But a federal order to raise the wages of foreign workers to attract U.S. workers to those positions could end up costing jobs.
Alex DeMetrick reports at least that’s the feat in Maryland’s seafood industry.
Some 280 temporary foreign workers pick crab meat in Maryland. Only a handful of Americans do this work. Charlotte Jones, who has been doing it for 65 years, knows why.
“The younger people, you know how they are. They like a job jumping into top dollar and insurance and all that,” said Jones, crab picker.
Picking pays minimum wage. But it is due to rise by $2 to $9.24 per hour for guest workers with legal visas.
The Department of Labor issued that order to make this job more attractive to Americans.
“American people will not do this work,” said Scott Poland, seafood truck driver. “No matter how the Department of Labor tries to spin it, it’s just not going to work.”
That’s because the packing houses are under intense competitive pressure from foreign crab, and paying the higher wage would mean passing it along to customers.
“Call the guy up and say everything is $1.50 higher, he’ll say ‘Well, I don’t want it’ because he can get it from everywhere else all over the world a lot cheaper,” said Robin Hall, G.W. Hall Seafood.
“We’re struggling trying to figure out ways to stay open, but right now it looks like we’re going to have to cease operation as of Sept. 30,” said Jack Brooks, J.M. Clayton Seafood.
Costing these women their jobs, and the ripple could affect American workers who drive the trucks and sell the fuel, and supply the products the industry uses.
“Instead of creating jobs like everyone wants to, this is the job destruction bill. It’s going to be suicide,” said Louie Frase, seafood truck driver
The industry claims every foreign worker creates two and a half American jobs. If the 280 in Maryland are let go, “several hundred American jobs are at risk here,” Brooks said.
“We’re all going to be out a job,” Jones said.
Maryland’s seafood industry, along with Virginia and Carolina, are petitioning Congress to stop the pay increase, which is set to take effect Sept. 30.