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New England Job Fair in the Territory Won't Happen

May 17, 2004 – Public and private programs to place seasonal V.I. employees in New England jobs this summer looked like a win-win situation — U.S. workers filling U.S. positions. But now the Labor Department has quit cooperating with a private Massachusetts firm, and a move for a government-sponsored job fair has flopped.
Labor officials were cooperating in early April with the company, Workers on the Move. (See "Jobs in New England Raise V.I. Hopes, Concerns".) The department supplied a place for the company to interview potential workers. Then, however, Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin became concerned about how the Virgin Islanders would be treated in New England.
He asked Maureen Oosten, president of Workers on the Move, to provide guarantees concerning wages, housing and transportation. When that was not forthcoming, the Labor Department quit providing space to the firm, and Benjamin sent a letter to Oosten which stated: "To date, we have only received partial information relative to the arrangement between potential workers and their employers for reimbursement of airfare. Be aware that VIDOL [the Labor Department] has suspended the recruitment project/process effective immediately until we receive sufficient information and satisfactory responses to our inquiry."
Oosten said on Monday that there have been problems, "as there are with new endeavors like this." So far, she said, her company has 85 people from the Virgin Islands working in New England. But she added, "Sometimes, it seems like we are spitting into the wind."
Prospective employers in New England also see potential problems with hiring workers from the Virgin Islands.
New England employers feel they have a more control over a worker who comes from another country. Under the H-2b visa granted temporary foreign workers, they are required to stay with their sponsoring employer or run the risk of being deported. As U.S. citizens, workers from the Virgin Islands face no such consequence if they choose to find a better job, or quit.
In an article last week, The Cape Cod Times outlined some of these employer concerns. Jane Zimmerman, a New England labor broker, was quoted as saying about potential employers: "They think they're going to end up paying a lot for plane tickets and fees and end up with nobody in July."
The article quoted Pat Stone, owner of the Lighthouse Inn in Massachusetts, as saying: "With the H-2b visa, they are bound to work for Lighthouse Inn. They can't get their ticket paid up here, then go stay with their relatives in New York."
Career Opportunities, a federally funded job placement center in Hyannis, Mass., is trying to relieve the concerns on both sides.
At the end of April, Christina Dower, the director of Career Opportunities, came to the Virgin Islands as part of delegation with U.S. Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.); William Zimmer, a Massachusetts businessman; and Wendy Norcrest, a New England Chamber of Commerce official.
Dower said the group met with Benjamin and other Labor Department personnel. She said of Benjamin's concerns, "I think we were able to work most of them out. We talked about housing, transportation, salaries, and how we would treat these workers just like we would treat native Cape Cod workers."
After the delegation returned to the states, Dower drew up a generic contract addressing the specific concerns of employers and employees.
Benjamin said on Monday: "We are all in agreement and working in the same direction."
When Dower returned to the mainland, her office also immediately began plans to hold a job fair in St. Croix in conjunction with the Labor Department. However, it was canceled due to lack of response from employers, she said on Monday.
"I think there might have been two factors at work here," she said. "The time factor — people just did not have time to respond. And, two, some business people still believe they are going to get the H-2b visas approved."
It was stated in the Cape Code newspaper that the federal government turned down requests for more than a thousand H-2b visas for work this summer. A cap on the visas came about through legislation concerning the Bush administration's war on terrorism.
Dower said to make the St. Croix job fair worth while, Career Opportunities wanted employers to commit to having at least 75 job openings. She said she received only 14 hiring commitments.
Career Opportunities has nothing else planned for the immediate future involving the territory. The tourist season is already starting in New England. However, Dower said she thinks her office and the Labor Department will be working together early next year on a project. Benjamin echoed that sentiment.
Although the Labor Department has severed relations with Workers on the Move, last week's press release from Benjamin said: "VIDOL supports the opportunity that has been presented to us that will enable Virgin Islanders to relocate to and gain employment and new experiences in other states. However, it must be done the right way."

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May 17, 2004 - Public and private programs to place seasonal V.I. employees in New England jobs this summer looked like a win-win situation -- U.S. workers filling U.S. positions. But now the Labor Department has quit cooperating with a private Massachusetts firm, and a move for a government-sponsored job fair has flopped.
Labor officials were cooperating in early April with the company, Workers on the Move. (See "Jobs in New England Raise V.I. Hopes, Concerns".) The department supplied a place for the company to interview potential workers. Then, however, Labor Commissioner Cecil Benjamin became concerned about how the Virgin Islanders would be treated in New England.
He asked Maureen Oosten, president of Workers on the Move, to provide guarantees concerning wages, housing and transportation. When that was not forthcoming, the Labor Department quit providing space to the firm, and Benjamin sent a letter to Oosten which stated: "To date, we have only received partial information relative to the arrangement between potential workers and their employers for reimbursement of airfare. Be aware that VIDOL [the Labor Department] has suspended the recruitment project/process effective immediately until we receive sufficient information and satisfactory responses to our inquiry."
Oosten said on Monday that there have been problems, "as there are with new endeavors like this." So far, she said, her company has 85 people from the Virgin Islands working in New England. But she added, "Sometimes, it seems like we are spitting into the wind."
Prospective employers in New England also see potential problems with hiring workers from the Virgin Islands.
New England employers feel they have a more control over a worker who comes from another country. Under the H-2b visa granted temporary foreign workers, they are required to stay with their sponsoring employer or run the risk of being deported. As U.S. citizens, workers from the Virgin Islands face no such consequence if they choose to find a better job, or quit.
In an article last week, The Cape Cod Times outlined some of these employer concerns. Jane Zimmerman, a New England labor broker, was quoted as saying about potential employers: "They think they're going to end up paying a lot for plane tickets and fees and end up with nobody in July."
The article quoted Pat Stone, owner of the Lighthouse Inn in Massachusetts, as saying: "With the H-2b visa, they are bound to work for Lighthouse Inn. They can't get their ticket paid up here, then go stay with their relatives in New York."
Career Opportunities, a federally funded job placement center in Hyannis, Mass., is trying to relieve the concerns on both sides.
At the end of April, Christina Dower, the director of Career Opportunities, came to the Virgin Islands as part of delegation with U.S. Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.); William Zimmer, a Massachusetts businessman; and Wendy Norcrest, a New England Chamber of Commerce official.
Dower said the group met with Benjamin and other Labor Department personnel. She said of Benjamin's concerns, "I think we were able to work most of them out. We talked about housing, transportation, salaries, and how we would treat these workers just like we would treat native Cape Cod workers."
After the delegation returned to the states, Dower drew up a generic contract addressing the specific concerns of employers and employees.
Benjamin said on Monday: "We are all in agreement and working in the same direction."
When Dower returned to the mainland, her office also immediately began plans to hold a job fair in St. Croix in conjunction with the Labor Department. However, it was canceled due to lack of response from employers, she said on Monday.
"I think there might have been two factors at work here," she said. "The time factor -- people just did not have time to respond. And, two, some business people still believe they are going to get the H-2b visas approved."
It was stated in the Cape Code newspaper that the federal government turned down requests for more than a thousand H-2b visas for work this summer. A cap on the visas came about through legislation concerning the Bush administration's war on terrorism.
Dower said to make the St. Croix job fair worth while, Career Opportunities wanted employers to commit to having at least 75 job openings. She said she received only 14 hiring commitments.
Career Opportunities has nothing else planned for the immediate future involving the territory. The tourist season is already starting in New England. However, Dower said she thinks her office and the Labor Department will be working together early next year on a project. Benjamin echoed that sentiment.
Although the Labor Department has severed relations with Workers on the Move, last week's press release from Benjamin said: "VIDOL supports the opportunity that has been presented to us that will enable Virgin Islanders to relocate to and gain employment and new experiences in other states. However, it must be done the right way."

Back Talk


Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name, and the city and state/country or island where you reside.

Publisher's note : Like the St. Croix Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much -- and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice ... click here.