LAKEWOOD, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado industries are fighting back against the Trump Administration’s attempt to jumpstart the economy by eliminating foreign workers.
“I will tell you it was far worse than we had anticipated,” said Dave Byrd the Director of Risk and Regulatory Affairs for the National Ski Areas Association. “A reason a wide swath of the American business community utilizes these seasonal worker programs is because we don’t have enough labor who want to take these positions. Most Americans want year-round jobs with some level of benefits and hopefully health care benefits.”
The tourism and hospitality industries are already reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic and the economic shutdown. Agriculture, food processing and even education are likely to see dramatic impacts from the visa program elimination.
“Golf courses, landscapers, lots of different groups utilize these programs. We’re not alone by a long shot in utilizing these visa programs,” Byrd said. “This situation whether it’s with COVID or unemployment, is very fluid and ideally you would hope it would be shorter and they could extend it if necessary. Instead they went the other way and made it very long and very broad and very encompassing for a lot of different visa programs, and it surprised us.”
The NSAA says about 2,000 H-2B visas are used each year at ski resorts across the country. Up to 8,000 students, predominantly from South America, come work at ski areas on J-1 visas each winter.
“By their nature, ski areas are located in rural, remote communities. We’re out where it’s difficult to find labor. That’s why these programs are critical to our operational success,” Byrd said. “It’s not like people from Philadelphia, Dallas, Atlanta or Chicago are going to uproot themselves for a five-month job where it is challenging to find housing in a seasonal job that may not pay the type of benefits a year-round job would provide. Even with all those American’s in local communities we still have jobs that go unfilled.”
A survey last year, before the pandemic, found that of the 470 ski areas across the country, more than half were unable to reach full employment. The average was about 45 jobs left unfilled.
As ski areas look toward reopening with the coronavirus, it’s believed that even more workers will be needed to keep people safe and healthy.
“In order for us to reopen and reopen effectively we’re going to have to have access to these temporary, seasonal worker programs. Our lodging is going to be different, our lift operations are going to be different, our ski lessons are going to be different,” Byrd said. “People want to get out and that’s going to be true for the ski season. In order for us to do that effectively and safely we’re going to need all hands on deck with our employees.”
Byrd said the NSAA has been speaking with other trade organizations and congressional leaders to try and get relief for businesses.
“We’re going to be working with members of congress, not just in Colorado, but across the 37 states where ski areas are,” he said.