Tuesday, September 20, 2011





About-Face


My, how things change in five years.

In the summer of 2006, the Mayor announed "Illegal immigrants are ruining the quality of life, which is the best thing a small town has to offer." The mayor's preferred solution was adoption of an ordinance which prevented illegal immigrants from renting a residence, revoked the licenses of landlords who rented to illegal immigrants or who employed them, and declared English to be the official language of the city, effectuating a prohibition on printing any municipal information in English. If a legal immigrant was unable to speak English and needed written information from the city, so be it.

After considerable controversy and lawsuits, a federal appeals court struck down the ordinance promoted by Mayor Lou Barletta and enacted by Hazleton, Pennsylvania.

After making a name for himself by ostensibly standing tall for legal residents of his city, Mayor Barletta, a Republican, became Representative Lou Barletta of Pennsylvania's 11th congressional district. And now, things seem to be different with the tough guy from Luzerne County. Columnist Joseph N. DiStefano writes in The Philadelphia Inquirer

Employers who legally import 66,000 low-wage foreign workers each year for some of the nation's dreariest jobs - work they say Americans won't do - are mounting a last-minute drive to keep their employees' pay from going up.

In a letter to U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, 48 members of Congress, including Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D., Md.), Rep. Lou Barletta (R., Pa.), and Rep. Pat Meehan (R., Pa.) say business owners should be able to continue importing cheap, foreign labor at current wages.

The wages are set by the government's H-2B visa program. The employers want the Obama administration to delay or abandon an Oct. 1 increase in wages, which they say is designed to discourage employers from using the foreigners - if U.S. workers are available....

U.S. District Judge Louis Pollak in Philadelphia, in a ruling in 2010, found current wages required by the visa program too low. He said the program could be exploited by bosses who would want to replace U.S. workers with low-paid foreigners.

Solis' department agreed to raise H-2B wage rates by an average of $4.38 an hour, effective Oct. 1. For example, salaries for dishwashers imported under the program would go from $7.90 an hour to $9.24; janitors, from $9.23 to $13.02; landscapers, from $9.84 to $13.88, and roofers, from $14.12 to $21.38.

The kicker? Back in 2006, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported

Mr. Barletta is unsympathetic to claims that the new laws are hurting minority-owned businesses. If they are losing blocs of customers who are in the country illegally, so be it, the mayor said.

Now, DiStefano writes, "Barletta wants to protect small businesses in his area- northeastern Pennsylvania- and their U.S. workers because raising the wages of foreign employees would cause the businesses to shut down," saith the congressman's spokesman. The lower wages, according to the letter from Barletta and others, "makes the program "a lifeline for scores of small and seasonal businesses around the country (that are) frequently unable to find enough local workers to fill their temporary and seasonal job openings, even in today's tough economic climate."

Barletta isn't alone in being misguided or more likely enticed by the lure of campaign cash from business interests, though he is the only one who would be encased in obscurity were it not for hostility to some immigrants. Nor is Barletta the only politician with little faith in the American people believing, contrary to evidence to the contrary, that workers either are insufficiently trained- or too lazy- to take a job.

We heard it during the debate(s) over extending unemployment benefits, with conservatives imagining that people will not look for work when they can stay home, collect free money and be unproductive. With unemployment compensation or immigration, the theme is the same. It's never the pols or the business persons themselves- nor their spouses, offspring, friends, or even neighbors- who are lazy. It's always unnamed individuals who somehow lack the motivation which everyone they know possess in abundance.

Nine days ago, flags flew and love of country was the order of the day. Respect for the American worker lags far behind.



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