Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Rick Scott Signs All-American Flag Act, Spent Millions Creating Jobs For Foreigners


BREVARD COUNTY, Florida - Florida Governor Rick Scott arrived at Viera High School in Brevard County on Monday to officialy sign the "All American Flag Act" which requires that all American flags flown over state government buildings be produced in the U.S.A.


But this symbolic act is overshadowed by the Scott administration's history of awarding multi-million dollar contracts and economic incentive dollars to companies which are known for heavily employing foreign H-1B visa workers.

H-1B visas were created to assist U.S. employers that cannot otherwise obtain needed business skills and abilities from the U.S. workforce by authorizing the temporary employment of qualified foreign workers. The program is not supposed to be used to displace existing U.S. workers.


However, the H-1B visa program has come under recent criticism following a New York Times article about 250 Disney World employees who were told that they would be laid off but had to spend their remaining three months of employment training workers who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India.

Florida spent a total $1.32 billion in state and local taxpayer dollars to lure research companies to South Florida under an "Innovation Initiative Fund" that began under the Jeb Bush administration. One of those bio-tech research companies, the German-based Max Plank Institute, has been paid over $94 million in state taxpayer dollars to create 135 jobs, with 94 jobs confirmed so far (or $1 million per job), according to State of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity records. However, records also show that the institute has applied for over 30 H-1B visa positions in the last four years for the Jupiter location. The Scripps Research Institute, which was paid $310 million to create 545 jobs, actually created 572. At a cost to taxpayers of $542k per job, Scripps applied and was certified for 39 H-1B visas to hire foreign workers.

In April 2015, Deloitte Consulting, L.L.P., which is among the top five companies for the most amount of H-1B visas issued in the U.S., was awarded $1.7 million from Seminole County and the City of Lake Mary to create 1,000 jobs with an average salary of $60,520 a year at its new Delivery Center in Lake Mary, Florida.

“Access to skilled workers — especially in areas such as business, HR, IT and systems engineering — and proximity to well-respected educational institutions make the Orlando area an optimal location for our Delivery Center,” stated Bert Naquin, director, Deloitte Consulting LLP, and Center director in a press release announcing the opening of the Delivery Center.

But despite locally skilled labor in the Orlando area touted as a reason for the company's location choice, Deloitte claimed to the Department of Labor that it cannot find skilled labor in the Orlando market by filing for H-1B visas for over 2,000 high tech positions in Lake Mary, Florida.

Although Deloitte did not receive any state incentives for the Lake Mary location, the company did receive a $63 million contract under Florida Governor Rick Scott's administration to create a website to process benefits for unemployed Floridians. The malfunctioning website was beleaguered by criticism from frustrated unemployed Floridians and also from the IT community which called into question the quality of the work performed by Deloite's foreign programmers. Despite the bad publicity generated for the Scott administration by the troubled unemployment website, another $36 million contract was awarded by the State of Florida to Deloite to update the Sunshine State's medicaid processing system.


Florida Governor Rick Scott

In Polk and Hillsborough counties, Governor Scott announced that Amazon would locate in Florida with the requirement to create over 700 jobs in exchange for state and local economic development incentives worth over $10 million  (the State's coffer would be partially re-filled when the internet retailer began applying Florida sales tax on purchases made by Florida residents).

Amazon, which ranks 18th for the most amount of H-1B visas issued in the U.S., then invested hundreds of millions of dollars into fulfillment centers in Ruskin and Lakeland that created local, temporary construction jobs. But after the fulfillment centers were constructed and operations began, the majority of the jobs posted that were available for Florida local hires were titled, "Fulfillment Associate" with a starting salary ranging between $10.50 and $11.00 per hour.  Meanwhile, Amazon applied for forty H-1B visas for high-tech positions at those Florida locations with an offering salary of $100,000.


"Florida’s economic development incentives programs require the creation of jobs at the specified project location in Florida," Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Press Secretary, Jessica Sims, wrote in an email regarding the practice of companies receiving state incentives and then hiring foreign workers.  "DEO does not include or enforce provisions related to the individuals a company is required to hire as the needs of businesses vary widely.  Incentive agreements stipulate the hiring of an unauthorized alien is cause for termination."


“There should be more transparency and accountability when taxpayer dollars are given to companies in the name of economic development and job creation," said Ben Wilcox, Research Director for Integrity Florida, a Florida taxpayer watchdog organization.  "Too often these deals come with the promise of jobs for Floridians that never actually come to pass. Taxpayers end up footing the bill for a jobs promise.”  


On Florida's Space Coast, Embraer received over $7 million in state and local taxpayer money to relocate in Melbourne, Florida. “We have a workforce that consists of highly technical, skilled individuals,” stated Florida State Senator Thad Altman when one in a series of taxpayer money for jobs deals with Embraer was announced.

Lynda L. Weatherman, President and CEO, Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast echoed Altman's sentiment, "We have successfully been able to use our pro-business climate and highly skilled workforce as assets in attracting an international powerhouse that will transform the landscape of our aviation sector.”

But despite the praise of a highly-skilled labor force available locally, the aircraft manufacturer claimed to the Department of Labor that it could not find skilled workers and applied for two H-1B visas for an electrical engineer position with a wage rate of $65,000 at its Melbourne, Florida location.  

Another company on the Space Coast, Sun Nuclear Corporation, was awarded a performance-based grant and tax breaks worth $600,000 in January 2014 to create 100 new jobs with an average salary of $62,000 in Brevard County.  The company then began applying for H-1B visas just two months after the incentive approval in science and engineering fields with salaries ranging from $48,900 to $86,200.

When asked if the hiring of foreign workers would be counted as "jobs created" when calculating the award of local taxpayer incentives, Brevard County Manager Stockton Whitten wrote in an email:


"It is my understanding that the EDC and the NBEDZ typically describe what constitutes a job position – a full-time, permanent job - in the body of its agreements.  Since the H1-B visa mandates a specific limitation of a holder’s stay in the U.S., I am inclined to say that such job holders would not be included in the total count of permanent jobs ... However, I do recognize that H1-B visas are designed to encourage employment in the U.S. of persons possessing specialty occupations, those involving a specific talent or skill that a company may consider “critical” to its operational needs.  For this reason, it is my understanding that both the EDC and the NBEDZ would review on a case-by-case basis the claim of an incentivized company to count such visa holders toward its total jobs number."