To the editor: I read with interest the article in the Sunday News-Miner business section on the shortage of workers for the Alaska hospitality industry. Specifically, Joe Merrill, vice president for tourism at the Old Harbor Native Corporation, was lamenting the loss of about 300,000 students who are traditionally hired by the Alaska tourism industry through the J-1 Exchange Visitor Program. The J-1 program allows young people from countries in Asia and eastern Europe to work in Alaska for the summer but visas currently aren’t available due to Covid-19 restrictions.
Merrill made this comment about the foreign workers: “They would work seven days a week, 24 hours a day, and we don’t have that this year.” I suspect Merrill and other employers like him also like the J-1 program because it allows access to desperate young people from impoverished countries who are willing to work for low wages without access to overtime pay and the basic rights that American workers expect, while corporations rake in the profits.
Merrill also said, “There are a lot of us who are going to be busing tables, answering phones at the front desk and doing other jobs.” I, for one, am glad that the big employers in the tourism industry might get a taste of the hard work and long hours they expect foreign students to do. I suspect, though, that their compensation will be significantly different.