- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 3, 2020

Edward Turknett learned that El Expreso, a Houston bus company, was looking for drivers, so he followed all the instructions in the job listing to apply. He never heard back.

The Justice Department says El Expreso wasn’t interested in American workers and wanted to hire foreigners on work visas.

Though the bus company maintains its innocence after a department investigation, it has agreed to pay a fine to the government and a sizable settlement to those like Mr. Turknett who were left without a job.

The government on Tuesday announced more than $90,000 in payments to eight Americans who were not hired.

“It’s going to help me in ways unimaginable,” said Mr. Turknett, who said the company “completely ignored me” when he applied.



Although discrimination against foreign workers draws more frequent headlines, this administration is following through on President Trump’s orders to advance U.S. workers’ interests. Officials are making special efforts to track down cases in which Americans are sidelined in favor of foreign labor.

The Justice Department said El Expreso intentionally ignored Americans and looked instead for guest workers in the U.S. on H-2B visas.

Those visas are supposed to go to seasonal workers who are most often associated with jobs at winter ski resorts, summer beaches or landscaping companies.

Employers, insisting they can’t find Americans willing to do those jobs, look for foreign workers. Lawmakers in Congress insist more workers are needed and have given the Trump administration permission in the past few years to break the annual cap of 66,000 visas.

Several senators last week lectured acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad F. Wolf on the issue,

“Making those new visas available is very important,” said Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, New Hampshire Democrat. “I’ve got a bunch of small businesses in New Hampshire who aren’t going to be able to do their business this summer if they don’t have those workers.”

But the El Expreso case suggests some companies use the visas to undercut Americans.

To apply for an H-2B exemption, El Expreso had to certify that it was advertising for American workers and would give them the jobs if they applied. It submitted a job posting to the Texas Workforce Commission, which was where Mr. Turknett and others saw it.

Some of those people expressed interest through the commission, and Mr. Turknett faxed his application directly. He said he was excited about the job and made repeated phone calls to the company.

“Disappointingly, I never got a return call from anyone,” he told The Washington Times by email.

He reported his experience to the Texas Workforce Commission and moved on with his job search. He said he was happy when he learned that the Justice Department was pursuing a settlement.

“The settlement changed the outlook for my future,” he said.

El Expreso didn’t return an email seeking comment.

By refusing American workers, the company violated not only the H-2B program’s rules but also the Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes it illegal for employers to consider citizenship at all — as either a positive or negative factor.

The El Expreso settlement reached last year marked the seventh time the Justice Department’s Protecting U.S. Workers Initiative has won a settlement from an employer. It has collected more than $1.1 million in fines and payments for wronged workers.

Dozens of investigations have been opened.

“U.S. workers are the lifeblood of our economy, and we are gratified that these U.S. workers have now been compensated for the discrimination that they faced,” said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband of the Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice will not tolerate employers abusing temporary visa programs to deny U.S. workers job opportunities.”

El Expreso had to pay a $31,500 fine to the government and set aside nearly $200,000 to pay any Americans who came forward to prove they had applied but were ignored.

One of those was Dianna Gilmore, a back-pay recipient from Houston, who was thrilled that the Justice Department pursued the case on behalf of workers like her.

“It makes me feel good to know someone is out there looking out for you and fighting for you,” she said.

El Expreso also agreed to enhance its recruitment and retrain its hiring personnel. It also faces three years of government monitoring.

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