Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Column 130 – Hire Locals

Every once in a while (actually more often than that in my case), I become aware of something that has been in front of my face for a long time and see it in a whole new light. It won't surprise regular readers of this column that people often engage me in political discussions at what would otherwise be social occasions. The other night at a dinner party one of the guests was discussing the immigration issue (quite intelligently, I might add) and brought up an interesting question – why do Raley's, the Hyatt, IVGID, and others import young people from around the world to work in customer-facing positions when we have young (and for that matter older) people who live here who would jump at the chance for good jobs like these?


McCain supporter, former Senator Phil Gramm says we're not in a recession – we just think we are (guy sees a friend in the street, says "how's Phil?" Friend says "he's very sick." Guy says "Oh, Phil's a hypochondriac – he's not sick, he just thinks he's sick." Couple of weeks later, guy sees same friend: "How's Phil?" Friend: "Now he thinks he's dead." Badump-bump). Well, there are a lot of people in this area who think they need jobs or better jobs, so why are we importing workers from Rumania, Croatia, Russia, Australia, and points east?


It can't be language – many of the young people I encounter don't speak English very well at all – not nearly as well as most of those I meet from the local community we put under the umbrella label of "Hispanic" or "Latino." It can't be cheaper – most of these businesses pay the same wages to everyone in a given job. So what is it?


One hesitates in this day and age to raise the R word, but is it, in fact a matter of subtle or not so subtle racism? One explanation I've heard is that Hispanics, particularly women, are shy and retiring, and so not well-suited to customer-facing positions. Really? I don't think so – I've met lots of young women with Hispanic surnames, for example in Milt Hyams' We the People program at IHS, who are outgoing and assertive. It can't be that Europeans and Australians are more attractive – I've seen about the same range of attractiveness in our local kids as in those that are hired from abroad, so what is it? Maybe it's my '60s background, but I can't find an explanation other than racism, either conscious (which I'd like to think is unlikely) or unconscious – an unexamined preference for PLU (people like us) that influences where these employers look for staff.


Leaving the politics of immigration aside – if you think employers should not hire the undocumented, then fine – make a rule that you only hire citizens or aliens with green cards – shouldn't our "local" employers hire locally first, and not just to make beds, clean toilets, and stock shelves but as cashiers, dealers, bartenders, lift operators and the like? Why send US Dollars overseas when these folks' visas are up when we could keep them here in Incline? And, in the simplest terms, why not do the right thing by our neighbors?


Nothing against Tatiana, Luka, Bruce, and Sheila – they are almost uniformly nice, attractive kids; they're pleasant, affable, and nice to deal with. But so are the Hispanic kids who do work in these places and whom I see around town. I'm not against immigration, but I am against what I'll call on-shore outsourcing. When I go to do work in Canada or Brazil or Angola I have to get past lots of barriers to get a work visa – these barriers are intended to protect locals who could do the work I'm being hired to do – if the employer can find local talent, their government says they should use them first. Shouldn't we afford our neighbors the same consideration?

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