Maryland crab industry needs guest workers

Ross Eisenbrey's contention that Maryland's crab meat industry "has scared Maryland politicians for years" ("Jobs and fairness: 'prevailing wage' rule good for Marylanders," Oct. 24) shows he doesn't understand the industry and is willing to ignore or bend facts to suit an ideological argument against the guest worker program.

The idea that a few mostly mom and pop firms can scare Maryland's leaders into misguided action is laughable. Perhaps our officials know enough about the industry and why it relies on H-2B workers to seek adjustments to Labor Department regulations. Mr. Eisenbrey doesn't acknowledge that most industry workers earn considerably more than the minimum wage since they are paid by the amount of crabmeat they pick. That minimum wage is a floor, guaranteeing a new or inexperienced picker does not make less.

These businesses have tried hard to find American workers without success. Mr. Eisenbrey concludes that picker compensation "is a small part of total costs," but an annual University of Maryland survey showed labor costs were 33 percent of the crabmeat production costs in 2010. Including labor costs for watermen harvesting the crab, labor represents about 70 percent of wholesale product cost.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski and others who are ardently pro-labor clearly have done their homework and developed common sense positions to keep the industry healthy and creating jobs.

Bill Sieling, Annapolis

The writer is executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Seafood Industries Association.

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