Editorial: Protect American worker

Published Jun 20, 2013 at 05:00AM

The 2009 federal stimulus failed Oregon workers.

Part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act was a stimulus program to get Americans forestry jobs. But the Department of Labor’s own investigation found the rules for the stimulus were so shoddy it allowed companies to hire foreign workers under H2-B visas to do the jobs with almost no effort to find Oregonians or other Americans first.

At the time, Oregon’s unemployment rate was in double digits and one of the highest in the country. And the program’s design was shockingly poor.

The companies could tell the government themselves that they couldn’t find workers in the United States. They were only required to advertise in the state where the jobs began, though the jobs may also include work in other states. They could satisfy the job advertisement requirement by running ads only in small out-of-state newspapers. To make matters worse, the federal government only audited the contracts after they were approved. And state agencies didn’t forward on job listings to other states where the forestry projects may continue.

The end result, according to the Labor Department’s inspector general, was that “employers were not required to recruit U.S. workers in Oregon, and we were provided no evidence that they did.”

After that report came out in 2011, some of the members of the Oregon congressional delegation insisted on changes.

They are still waiting.

Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., recently introduced an amendment to the immigration bill and a bill of his own to ensure those needed changes get made. The amendment and the bill are similar. Merkley’s amendment — now added to the immigration bill — essentially requires that employers look for American workers first. There must be more robust recruitment efforts — in ads and through workforce agencies — to ensure there is an effort to find Americans interested in the jobs. State workforce agencies must also certify that employers have made the effort before they can hire workers on H2-B visas.

There’s nothing wrong with employers hiring foreign workers for jobs. They should first, though, make a meaningful effort to hire Americans.