Legslative fix likely won’t come in time
Due to a national visa cap on immigrant workers Crested Butte Mountain Resort won’t be able to hire a large portion of its seasonal foreign labor force this year. Left shorthanded, department managers are now scrambling to cover shifts and fill positions before the holidays, according to the resort’s senior management.
CBMR has been denied its allotment of H2-B visas this year because the National Immigration Services (NIS) reached their cap of 33,000 seasonal immigrants before the resort sent out its request for visas on September 27.
NIS allows 66,000 immigrants to enter the country and work using temporary H2-B visas, which are split evenly between the summer and winter seasons. The winter period runs between October 1 and March 31.
In years past, CBMR and many other businesses across the nation that rely on a seasonal immigrant workforce have used an exemption that allows returning H2-B workers not to count against the cap. That exemption expired on September 30.
According to CBMR human resources manager Kendyll Coffman, about 80 percent of the immigrant workforce at CBMR returns to work each season. If there were still an exemption, Coffman says, the resort would have gotten a majority of the immigrant workers it needs.
CBMR general manager Randy Barrett says department heads have been “restless looking for ways to replace those individuals.”
Coffman says the foreigners who were expecting to work at CBMR must now search for a job elsewhere. “Now those people are sitting at home—it’s really putting them in a hard position, too,” she says.
Crested Butte/Mt. Crested Butte Chamber of Commerce director Christi Matthews says CBMR is not the only business in need of additional help. Matthews says many other lodging businesses and restaurants in the Gunnison Valley employ immigrant workers who came to work at CBMR. Furthermore, Matthews says, the immigrant workers are active participants in the community who make friendships, go shopping and dine out.
CBMR will be getting 50 J-1 student visas, but Coffman says that’s about average. She says in-country workers looking for ski area jobs have probably already found their place. Easy access to information and good job offers via the Internet ensures that in-country workers can just surf around and shop for the best place to work, Coffman says. She says the resort is following up with many potential workers they contacted during two job fairs held earlier this fall, but those workers won’t be enough.
Matthews says since the resort must be more aggressive in hiring locally, “It may result in a vacuum for eligible employees” at other businesses. “Finding good workers is hard enough to begin with.”
The resort especially needed the foreign workers this year to fill a number of new positions in the lodging side of operations, according to Barrett. This year the resort requested more than twice as many H2-B visas as last year to take positions in lodging and housekeeping at the Elevation Hotel and Spa, the Grand Lodge and the Lodge at Mountaineer Square.
Two hundred and twenty-five workers were expected under the H2-B visa program, for a total of 1,100 workers at the resort during peak season, according to human resources director Lilly Hughes. She says the resort currently has about 700 active employees.
Barrett says the ski school is also in need of workers where seasonal labor was expected, but other than those areas, “everything else is taking care of itself. . . We just need to do whatever we have to do to provide a world class experience to our guests.” Barrett says the labor shortage won’t be something the guests will notice, but it will be felt internally. He says employees may be asked to handle different duties this year during busy times, such as lift operators working for the ski school and cooks folding linen.
The new lodging properties currently have enough staff for the slow season, Coffman says, but once it gets busy things could change.
“A lot of general managers are concerned about getting through Christmas,” Coffman says.
The consequences of a shorthanded workforce have left many organizations pushing for national immigration reform, according to Matthews. She says the Colorado Association of Commerce and Industry (the state equivalent of a chamber of commerce) is seeking legislators to carry immigration reform bills and encouraging citizens to write letters in support of immigrant workers.
Two bills currently in Congress carry the possibility of reenacting the visa exemption, but Coffman says they’re still tied up in legislative debate.
A bill from the U.S. House of Representatives seeks a permanent exemption for returning workers, while a bill in the Senate calls for a five-year extension of the exemption.