Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., was in Bend Thursday to release a new report that reveals the extent to which federal funds intended for American citizens have been used to employ foreign workers on Central Oregon forest clearing projects.
The senator says more than 50 percent of the Central Oregon forest health projects funded in 2010 utilized foreign workers.
A recent audit by the U.S. Forest Service looked at four companies specifically. Each had been contracted to remove undergrowth across southern Oregon.
"To find out that 254 foreign workers were hired (by those four companies) and zero Americans was shocking," the senator said.
“Spending tax dollars to hire foreign timber workers is a fiasco, and it needs to end,” said Merkley. “We must close the loopholes that allow this practice to happen."
"The Forest Service must require Oregon’s forest contractors to hire Oregonians,” said the senator, joined at the Bend news conference by a local company that has been undercut by contractors who have used foreign workers.
The Democrat says that companies had been using loopholes to avoid hiring American employees.
"They (contractors) proceed to advertise in a state different than the one the work is being done in.," Merkley said. "They proceed to advertise in minimal ways. When they do advertise, they often advertise long before the work will actually be performed to discourage responses."
Merkley said he has introduced the American Jobs in American Forests Act to curb the abuse of the H-2B work-visa program and make sure that if American workers are available, American workers are hired.
His policy would require companies to work with the State Workforce Agency and prove that they have done everything possible to hire American workers before hiring foreign employees.
You can also find a link to the senator's report on taxpayer-funded foreign workers in Oregon forests (Adobe Acrobat Reader PDF file) in the related links area of this story.