Immigration Works USA Teams up with Congressman Poe to Discuss What Houston Employers Need
Last week, the group, Immigration Works USA, hosted a panel discussion moderated by U.S. Congressman Ted Poe called Immigration Reform: What Houston Employers Need. The event was held at Pappadeaux with opening remarks given by owner, Chris Pappas. Tamar Jacoby, president of Immigration Works USA was also on hand to kick off the event and shared a little about herself and the group:
"We're a national federation of small business owners working for better immigration law. We represent everyone from restauranteurs, to hotel owners to farmers to construction contractors to cleaning and maintenance to healthcare employers. And they are employers who love their immigrant workers, depend on their immigrant workers, want nothing more than to have a legal immigrant workforce. So we're very pleased today to be here. We're active in Washington; I spend a lot of time roaming around the halls of Congress. What we really do is try to lift up the voices of some of those employers so that they can make their case directly to the members in their community and to their elected officials."
Congressman Ted Poe was introduced and we were well on our way to some interesting dialog. Congressman Poe had this to say in his opening statement:
"Immigration system across the board, there are a lot of issues and most of them all are 'broken'. We're trying to fix one of them at a time. And the one we are focusing on now is the issue of employers and employees. Workers; workers, guest workers and foreign workers. How the system works and doesn't work and what can be done to fix that system to make it more streamlined because the big picture is that people come to America for a lot of reasons but there are a lot coming here to work."
The panel of employers was made up of four Houston-based business owners spanning all different types of businesses but all with one thing in common, the immigrant workers each one employs and the need for more employees. Gregg Reyes, President and CEO, Reytec Construction Resources, Inc.; Ric Campo, Chairman and CEO, Camden; Michael Shine, Owner, Frank's Americana Revival; and Jay Williams, Vice President and General Manager, Landscape Art, Inc. Each employer varied in the number of employees they had, ranging from fifty-six people all the way to two million.
The first question (and trust me, I won't post every answer or every question) to the panel was this: "Tell me the percentage of the workers, approximately, that you have are foreigners?" Each answer was close to about fifty percent, some had over half of their workforce made up of immigrant workers.
"Tell me the way that you go about going mechanically trying to hire Americans first in each of your four businesses. Just tell me how that works."
All of the employers use the internet to look for employees, one even uses a $500.00 bonus to attract and retain quality employees. Ric Campo from Camden cites a problem that there are simply too few workers and that in his industry, which happens to be construction, there tends to be the problem of other construction employers poaching his employees.
Michael Shine, owner of Frank's American Revival Restaurant shared how the face of the service industry has changed since he has been involved in it over the last thirty plus years:
"We use the typical methods to find employees within our industry. The hospitality industry has changed over the last thirty-eight years that I've been involved. We always used to have a pool of applicants, young college kids, high school kids looking for this, dad looking for a second income, mom looking for something to work with. That's really not the case anymore. On average we get about five applications a week walking into our restaurant. If we place some type of advertisement, much as these guys are telling you, we might get as many as eight or ten. But of those eight or ten, to be perfectly honest with you, about seven or eight of those are going to be immigrants coming into our restaurant looking for work. What our industry has changed so much is that the talent in our industry is typically in the kitchen. And you've got professional cooks and the vast majority of them are immigrants working in our industry throughout the United States and we've become dependent on their talent."
He continued on to say, "We find most American non-immigrants coming to us in few numbers looking to host, possibly to bartend and certainly to serve, to be waiters and servers, so it's an interesting dynamic."
As I listened to the discussion, I could definitely identify with some of the issues these employers face as a small business owner myself. The service industry is very demanding, and in order to have a growing, thriving business, you must have an adequate number of employees. We see record number unemployment, and this did come up in the conversation, under the current presidential administration, and yet to listen to these employers, there is a shortage of workers. To hear Ric Campo from Camden explain why he thinks there is such a disparity between the two, he says, "Americans think they have better options." Other opinions included that Americans just aren't willing to work as hard as immigrant workers, especially in those industries where the work may be considered, 'manual labor'.
Congressman Poe asks this of the panel:
"There are 14-20 million Americans unemployed. Tell me why those folks don't seem to be taking the jobs that ya'll have been talking about that you need. People are unemployed, people are concerned about employment, I'm concerned about employment. You got Americans out here and then you have foreign workers coming in. Why aren't we moving toward a system where Americans are taking those jobs?"
I think Ric Campo said it best when he said this,
"I agree with that statement that it's hard work and people, a lot of people don't want to have that work, they don't want to be up on the roof in August. I think the other part of that is people think they have better options in the future, and once their benefits run out, they try to look for those better options. Americans workers generally have more options that allow them to get less invasive or less hard or less complicated jobs. We have found in the past that they apply for jobs, American workers, that they were really only checking a box so they could keep their public benefits."
There were a host of issues discussed, including offering higher pay to encourage American workers to apply for said jobs, etc. There also seemed to be a recurring theme of a 'guest worker program', and how best to impose a guest worker program. In that vein of conversation, Congressman Poe asked of the panel, "Do you think in a system where we have a temporary guest worker program that the states should be able to weigh in on how many workers they need?" Gregg Reyes of Reytec Construction Resources, Inc. said this, "I would be for some local participation from state government because different states have different needs." As a matter of fact, all of the employers agreed that the needs could and should be decided locally instead of nationally. The discussion then turned to how many guest workers each business might need and how the number should be based, market or otherwise. It was unanimous that the markets should determine the number of guest workers for each state.
The session ended with an update on the Senate immigration bill.
"The Senate bill is irrelevant. The House is methodically going through a lot of the issues regarding immigration. In my opinion, it's broken everywhere from people that just want to come over here to be a tourist or go to school, it's broken everywhere." Congressman Poe continued by saying that, "Doing nothing is a vote for the status quo which is broken. It's also a vote for amnesty which is basically what is occurring because nothing seems to really be zero consequences for the current action in my opinion. So, we have to take the leadership, temporary guest workers for future workers that are in the United States, input from people who actually employ workers."
In short, Congressman Poe's efforts to hear from everyone reveal his desire to work on legislation to fulfill a guest worker program. He has also shown an interest to hear from 'the people' before crafting other components of Immigration reform. After listening to the session, I do have a few questions for him, and I hope that he will be available to answer them. This may be a two part blog, so stay tuned!