Publix Gets Publicity For Hiring Foreign Students
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The popular supermarket chain Publix received publicity over their hiring practices when a Fort Myers, Florida newspaper revealed that "Publix hires foreign workers." [By Amy Bennett Williams, News-Press.Com, January 19, 2010] Here are a few choice excerpts from the article:
For the last three years, Publix has hired hundreds of Peruvians and Brazilians for its stores in south Fort Myers and Naples during tourist season because the company says it can't find locals to fill those spots.

The South American cashiers, baggers, deli, bakery and grocery clerks work part time at more than 20 area locations, said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten. The company began hiring them in late 2008, when Lee's unemployment was about 6 percent.

Lee County's unemployment rate is almost 14 percent and about 38,000 residents are jobless,

The Publix workers, who are forbidden to speak to the press, have short-term visas known as J1s and are college students, Patten said.

Although numbers aren't broken down by county, there are 7,756 J1 visa-holders in Florida, said U.S. State Department spokeswoman Darlene Kirk. The department calls it an "Exchange Visitor Program," allowing foreign college students to "become directly involved in the daily life of the people of the United States through travel and temporary work." Publix doesn't reciprocate in the exchange.

"Since our students come from the southern hemisphere," Patten said, "their summer break coincides nicely with our winter tourist season. ... These students are not replacing American workers."

Patten is playing with words because common sense would dictate that even if Publix hasn't directly replaced local Floridians they have most certainly displaced them by denying them job offers. Florida is suffering a 14% jobless rate so there should be no question there are many Americans who would take these jobs. This is just one example of a Floridian that needs a job at Publix:
The South American cashiers, baggers, deli, bakery and grocery clerks work part time at more than 20 area locations, said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten. The company began hiring them in late 2008, when Lee's unemployment was about 6 percent.

"It is our experience that potential workers that live year 'round near our stores are interested in permanent jobs, not temporary ones," Patten said.

Many Southwest Florida jobseekers and the people who help them disagree.

"Are you kidding?" asked Rita Hursell. The 46-year-old nurse's aide, who's been out of work since 2007, is on food stamps and lives with her parents in Lehigh Acres.

The biggest losers are high school and college aged Americans who can't find jobs because they are being displaced by foreign students. This anonymous comment to the article is very illustrative of the problem:
I teach at a high school here in Lee County and when I showed this article to my students they were very upset. Many have been trying to find jobs for almost a year and can not. Publix is one of the jobs I recommend since I have family working there (in Jacksonville) and they love the benefits and work environment. Now, we find out they are denying local kids the opportunity to work and learn how to work so they can bring in cheap labor from out of the country. Yeah, today's youth are not what they used to be, but who is going to step up and help the schools train tomorrows leaders? We can't do it by ourselves.
This is a poignant quote from the article that should be kept in mind when you read what kind of jobs the foreign students are hired for:
Barbara Hartman, spokeswoman for the Career and Service Center in Fort Myers says she's surprised Publix would turn to foreign workers. Usually, she says, companies hire non-citizens for positions that are either specialized or in remote places—neither of which the Publix jobs are.

"I'm just at a loss as to why they would not be able to find enough candidates to fill those positions," Hartman said.

The following Q&A from the article (right side column) is loaded with information about how Publix is using the J-1 Visa program to hire foreign students:
Q&A with Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten about its J1 visa workers

" How many J1 workers does Publix employ in Southwest Florida, at which stores do they work and what they do?

We have more than 100 students working in various positions such as cashiers, baggers, deli clerks, bakery clerks and grocery clerks.

" How does Publix find them?

We work with a third party that helps coordinate students who want to be a part of this program with employers who have agreed to participate in the program.

Perhaps the best way to determine the desirability of Publix jobs in Florida is to go to one of those "third party" bodyshops to see more details. Interlatina is a good place to start because they produced a flyer to recruit foreign student employees for Publix. The flyer makes such a good case for working at Publix it's difficult to imagine why Americans can't be found for these positions:
  • Founded in 1930, Publix Super Markets is the largest and fastest-growing employee-owned supermarket chain in the United States.
  • Publix's commitment to diversity has contributed to our success in being a great place to work and shop.
  • Based in Naples, Florida, most housing and job locations are situated close to the beach and surrounded by the clear blue waters of the Gulf of Mexico.
  • Warm sunny weather year round, and great water recreational activities to do.
  • Live near the beach parties, amusement parks, and nightlife of Naples, Miami and Orlando, FL
  • Visit Miami (2 hours) and Orlando (3 hours)
  • Wage per hour is $9.50 with average 30-35 hrs/week
  • Shifts vary from 4 to 8 hours; numbers of hours per week may not be guaranteed and may fluctuate depending on business needs.
  • Over time may be available.
Interlatina has additional information on their website about the jobs at Publix. The following are some excerpts from an employee agreement (link) with a company called SAGE, which appears to be far more than a bodyshop that contracts labor. On close inspection the details of this agreement may seem odd to Americans who aren't familiar with indentured servitude.
  • Company Name: Southern Amenity Global Inc (SAGE)
  • Job Location: Publix Super Markets in Naples, Florida and Fort Myers, Florida
  • Available Positions:Retail Store Clerk (50)
  • Start Date: January 8th or January 9th, 2010
  • End Date: March 23rd — April 15th, 2010
  • Detailed Description: All positions are within Publix Super Markets. Positions include: cashiers, meat department, produce department, deli counter, pastry department, and shelf stocker. All positions may include cleaning duties throughout the store.
  • English Requirement: Conversational English is required for this job. If you arrive to your employer and you do not have conversational English, you will not be offered this position.
  • Required Job Training: All employees will be responsible for learning every job, including all set up and cleanup duties.
  • Salary:$9.50 per hour
  • Hours: 33 hours per week minimum. You will be offered positions which may include weekends, late shifts, or overnight shifts. All assignments are by Publix management.
  • Overtime: You may have the possibility to work overtime at a rate of $14.25 per hour.
  • Dress Code: A Publix shirt will be provided to you by the company. You will need to bring black pants, khaki pants, and non slippery shoes with you.
  • Housing: The cost of housing is $110 per week. Smoking and pets are ABSOLUTELY Prohibited in all SAGE housing. Violation will result in a $100 charge per violation. If an individual offender is not identified, charges will be placed against house and divided among tenants equally.
  • Utility Bill: SAGE will cover per apartment $150 Utility Bill and $75 Water Bill per billing cycle. All extra charges will be applied to an excess charge monthly housing bill. This will be divided by the number of students in the house.
  • Transportation: will be provided to and from work at the cost of $5.00 per one way ticket.
  • Paycheck Info: You will receive your paychecks at the store every week.
  • SOCIAL SECURITY: Your employer will arrange for you to go to the social security office within 15 days of your arrival. You will be able to work before you apply for your social security card.
In my next blog, I will explain how Publix and hundreds of other employers use the J-1 Visa Exchange Visitor Program to hire foreign "students". Until then, you can read this State Department Document: Exchange Visitor (J) Visas. And you can email William Crenshaw, President of Publix, and email Maria Brous, Publix Director of Media & Community Relations about Publix's hiring policies.
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