Like other Palm Beach County employers who staff their clubs with foreign workers, President Donald Trump is boosting the number of employees he’s bringing from overseas this winter.
Trump won permission to hire 70 maids, cooks and servers at the Mar-a-Lago Club for the 2017-18 tourist season, according to newly released data from the U.S. Labor Department. In 2016-17, Trump hired 64 foreign workers at the Palm Beach property.
The trend is similar throughout Palm Beach County. Employers won permission to hire 2,159 workers for low-paying temporary gigs this winter, up from 1,844 in the 2016-17 tourist season, according to a Palm Beach Post analysis of federal data.
A strong labor market seems to confirm employers’ claims that they can’t find the workers they need. Palm Beach County’s unemployment rate fell to just 3.6 percent in September, its lowest level in a decade.
Trump isn’t alone in looking overseas for low-wage workers through the federal government’s H-2B visa program. Nationwide, thousands of employers won permission to hire nearly 134,000 workers for 2017-18, up from 119,000 for 2016-17.
However, hiring workers from abroad seems to contradict Trump’s public pronouncements. The president has publicly shamed Carrier Corp., Ford Motor and others for moving manufacturing jobs to Mexico.
During a March 2016 presidential debate, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio criticized Trump for bringing in workers from overseas, saying American citizens could fill the jobs. Trump defended his hiring of foreign workers.
“It’s very, very hard to get people,” Trump said. “Other hotels do the exact same thing.”
Boca West Country Club remains Palm Beach County’s most prolific employer of foreign workers. It plans to hire 367 employees on H-2B visas this year, up from 351 in 2016-2017. Wages range from $10.25 to $17.64, similar to last year’s pay scale.
The Breakers in Palm Beach will hire 162 workers this year, up from 142 in 2016-17. Pay at the historic resort seems to be rising — the highest wage is $14.13 an hour this year, up from $12.74 last year.
Pay is rising at Mar-a-Lago, too. The Department of Labor gave Trump permission to hire 20 cooks at $13.34 an hour, up from $12.74 an hour in 2016-17. Mar-a-Lago also plans to hire 35 waiters and waitresses at $11.88 an hour (up from $11.13 an hour last year) and 15 housekeepers at $10.33 an hour, up from $10.17 an hour last year.
CareerSource Palm Beach County, a nonprofit job placement agency, says it knows plenty of American citizens willing to work at Mar-a-Lago.
"We currently have 5,136 qualified candidates in Palm Beach County for various hospitality positions listed in the Employ Florida state jobs database," CareerSource spokesman Tom Veenstra said Friday.
While Mar-a-Lago asks the federal government for dozens of H-2B visas every tourist season, the private club rarely asks CareerSource for help finding a local employee, Veenstra said. Mar-a-Lago in 2015 put in a request for a single banquet server.
In addition to the 70 visas at Mar-a-Lago, Trump also won permission to hire foreign workers at other properties that bear his name. He landed visas for 10 waiters and waitresses and six cooks at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, plus eight waiters and waitresses at Trump National Golf Club in Briarcliff Manor, N.Y.