A forestry company in Northeast Mississippi hired more than 1,000 foreign workers through the H-2B program in 2017. More than 700 of them landed at the company’s headquarters in Corinth, near the Tennessee border.
The H-2B program allows nonagricultural employers to hire foreign labor if enough workers can’t be found locally. Faith Forestry Services has several sites located in at least seven states and hires H-2B workers for many of them. However, sending the largest bulk of foreign workers to the Magnolia State appears to be an odd choice.
Mississippi suffers from a U-6 unemployment rate of 8.8 percent, which is higher than the national average. The U-6 unemployment rate includes those who are only employed part time because of economic factors, as well as those who have given up pursuing employment because they believe there are no opportunities for them. Mississippi’s unemployment rate has been increasing so far in 2018. According to a job posting from one of the company’s Alabama locations, there is no educational requirement for its nursery jobs. It’s hard to believe that Faith Forestry Services is struggling to find local employees with so many looking for work, yet the company has remained one of the top employers of H-2B workers in the United States since at least 2014.
It also appears as if Faith Forestry Services desired to pay its H-2B workers less than what was already agreed upon last year. Employers who use the H-2B program must pay its employees at least the prevailing wage rate given by the Department of Labor (DOL). The company applied for H-2B visas in April 2017, but the workers would not arrive until October. For some Alabama-specific sites, the prevailing wage rates ranged from $19.71 to $26.08 per hour. The DOL updates its wage data on July 1 every year, and it lowered the wage rate for these locations to $15 per hour on July 1, 2017. However, because the company applied in April, it had to pay the higher original wages.
Faith Forestry Services decided to take the DOL to court on the issue claiming that it should only have to pay $15 per hour since its employees would not be coming until October. A district judge from Mississippi dismissed the case due to the company’s lack of standing. The DOL has full authority to set the rules regarding the pay of guest workers in the United States.
In addition to the company’s bizarre actions in Mississippi and Alabama, Faith Forestry Services has almost no online presence, other than a few scattered job postings. It has an unofficial Facebook page, and that’s it. The company doesn’t even have a public website for potential employees to visit. All evidence indicated that it is putting very little effort into finding American labor.
In an area where unemployment is above the national average, Faith Forestry Services should not have so much trouble finding employees that it resorts to foreign labor. And if the company is having trouble, it could be due to its desire to pay lower wages, as well as its nonexistent online presence.