|By Wayne Heilman, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.|
Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News
Apr. 5, 2005 - The Broadmoor hotel will enter its busiest season with 100 fewer employees than it planned to hire because of problems getting visas for foreign workers.
The 2,500-acre resort in Colorado Springs hires about 220 foreign workers every summer for seasonal jobs, such as housekeeping, laundry and golf course maintenance, that draw few local applicants.
The foreign employees work from April to October and make between $8 and $9.50 an hour. The minimum wage in Colorado is $5.15 per hour.
Late last year, the hotel applied for 250 visas under the State Department's H-2B program for seasonal workers. But the 66,000 permits allowed for this fiscal year had already been awarded to other businesses, Broadmoor President Steve Bartolin said.
The hotel couldn't have applied earlier because the program's rules require businesses to hire the workers within four months of when the visa is awarded.
Although The Broadmoor managed to get 150 unused visas from other hotels nationwide, it is left with 100 jobs unfilled.
"We are still working on the other 100 openings," said Cindy Clark, The Broadmoor's human resources director. "Most likely we will have to do without those positions. Overtime may be part of the answer to get the work done" if the openings go unfilled.
Clark has lobbied for legislation that would raise the caps on such visas for two years.
She described the bill, which is expected to come up for a vote in the Senate next week, as a "quick fix until a more permanent solution can be found."
The Cheyenne Mountain Resort, also on the city's southwest side, got H-2B visas for 80 workers this year by applying in late October before all the visas were taken, said Rikki Boparai, operations director for the 316-room hotel. It has hired workers with seasonal visas for six years for jobs including housekeeping, banquet setup and grounds work.
The hotel requested this year's visas earlier than usual because it had applied too late last year and got 20 fewer workers than needed.
"Our goal is to fill these jobs with American workers, but these are low-skill jobs that are increasingly difficult to fill," Boparai said.
CoCal Landscaping Inc., a Denver-based landscaping contractor, will have to do without eight workers from Mexico who it hires as seasonal supervisors in its Colorado Springs office because the company couldn't get visas for them, said John Rettig, CoCal's sales and operations manager in the Springs.
"We will probably end up working overtime this summer" to complete work that would have been done by foreign workers with H-2B visas, Rettig said.
Before they can hire foreign workers, business owners must prove they've run newspaper ads unsuccessfully seeking U.S. help.
They also must navigate a bureaucracy that runs from state and federal labor agencies through U.S. immigration offices and the State Department.
Hoping to avoid problems next year, The Broadmoor and Cheyenne Mountain Resort are lobbying for the "Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act," an emergency plan introduced by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., and Rep. Wayne Gilchrest, R-Md.
The plan, introduced as HR793 in the House and S352 in the Senate, would overhaul the visa program in the next two years.
During that time, foreign employees with H-2B visas during at least one of the past three years would be exempt from the annual cap.
"We got really lucky this year (to get visas from other hotels). Our housekeeping, laundry, golf course and other departments would run woefully short without these people," Bartolin said. "This is an immigration program that works. Our workers are documented, fingerprinted, pay taxes and return home."
Sen. Ken Salazar, D-Colo., is among 20 co-sponsors of the Senate bill to help the "landscaping, hospitality and agricultural businesses across Colorado that rely on this type of labor," said Cody Wertz, a spokesman for the newly elected senator.
Colorado Springs Republican Rep. Joel Hefley is not co-sponsoring the House bill because he sees it as a "Band-Aid rather than a long-term fix."
"There should be immigration reform as a whole rather than on a piecemeal basis," said Kim Sears, a Hefley spokeswoman.
Arvada Republican Rep. Bob Beauprez is the only member of the Colorado delegation in the House co-sponsoring the House bill.
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Copyright (c) 2005, The Gazette, Colorado Springs, Colo.
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