Stimulus jobs went to foreign nationals in Oregon timber industry

Stimulus jobs went to foreign nationals in Oregon timber industry »Play Video
Logger Dennis Mattinen cuts down a tree Friday near Scappoose, Ore.

PORTLAND, Ore. - As the U.S. economy spiraled deeper into recession, Oregonians looking for work in the forestry industry lost out on hundreds of jobs to foreign workers.

They weren't just any jobs. These were jobs paid for by American taxpayers as part of the government's program to stimulate the economy.

Four Oregon companies, all located in the Medford area, racked up more than $7 million in stimulus contracts to clear the forest in Central Oregon. But instead of advertising the jobs to Oregonians, they recruited workers out of state and then hired foreign workers here on a visa.

But the companies did not break the law. A Department of Labor report this week found they utilized loopholes that required them to recruit workers only in the states where the work began.

In this case, the stimulus jobs started outside of Oregon so the companies were not required to advertise the jobs here. As a result, few Americans applied for the work, and the companies did not hire those Americans who applied; instead, they hired 254 foreign laborers for six worksites in Oregon, leaving Americans shut out of the stimulus-funded jobs.

Local loggers near Scappoose said Friday their fellow timber industry workers would have wanted those jobs.

"When they’re using stimulus money, that's not fair or right at all. Stimulus money is tax money," said logger Dennis Mattinen.

"I know guys that were losing their equipment back then because they didn't have any work. And I'm sure they would have done anything to get work," said logger Jeff Heller, who owns his own logging company. "The purpose of that stimulus money was to create jobs, and when it goes to foreign nationals, that's just a crime."

He said at the time the industry probably had 30 to 40 percent unemployment.

Companies had the right to hire foreign workers if they could prove Americans did not want the jobs offered.

As it turned out, only 29 Americans applied for the forest cleanup jobs and none of them accepted the job offer.

KATU News called four companies listed. Only one responded, acknowledging it did not try to hire Oregonians for the jobs here. It said it already had workers on staff to do the jobs – foreign workers who were in America on visas.

The Department of Labor has recommended changing how companies that use foreign workers are required to advertise jobs: Essentially, make them recruit in more places. And it has recommended audits of the companies to make them prove they cannot find Americans for jobs that go to work-visa holders.