Several major employers of Brazilian labor on the Vineyard spoke out this week against a newly-established Island blog which has accused them of hiring undocumented workers. The inflammatory blog has caused distress and anger among the Brazilian community as well as their employers.
Posts on the blog accuse entities as diverse as landscape companies, restaurants, retailers, even the YMCA and the Martha’s Vineyard Commission of illegal hiring and sometimes corruption.
It is unclear who is behind the blog which was created using a Web site template program called Wordpress.
Posts claim to be compiling a “rogue’s gallery of all the Brazilian church people, and cross-referencing articles of incorporation property transactions and mortgage deeds.”
Its purported target is undocumented immigrants, but most of those named have been Brazilians who are legally here, in particular those involved in the establishment of a new Brazilian association set up with the aim of helping the community.
One post on the site highlighted a newspaper story about a young woman of Brazilian background who works legally on the Island and who expressed an ambition to become an immigration lawyer. It includes a link to her Facebook site and a photograph, and concludes ominously: “ . . . do you ever get the feeling you’re being watched?”
The site has encouraged people on Cape Cod to start similar blogs and to draw attention to them as it has — by posting a link through a local newspaper and Craigslist.
Steve Bernier, owner of Cronig’s Market, which employs a large number of Brazilians, is one of those who took issue with the blog.
“I’m shocked. I’m scared,” said Mr. Bernier. “This smells to me like a lynching,” he said.
Mr. Bernier said about 60 per cent of the staff at his Vineyard Haven store — 35 or 40 people — are of Brazilian background. The number has grown over about 10 years, he said, as it became harder to find other employees.
As far as he knew, Mr. Bernier said, all his employees are legally in the country. “Everything here is done above board,” Mr. Bernier said. “Everybody’s on payroll. They get time and a half after 40 hours. They get time and a half on Sunday. They get holiday pay. They get sick days. They’re part of our pension plan. People have had babies here and got six weeks of maternity benefits.
“Everything is on the table and the government is getting its due on taxation, on everything. When we hire somebody I do not go through an ICE investigation of that person. I ask for a Social Security card, an ID number,” he said, adding:
“I assume from there that they’re plugged into the system. It’s not my place to determine their race, origin, all that sort of thing.”
Mr. Bernier attributed the establishment of the blog in some measure to the economic times.
“We’re in an economic pressure cooker on Martha’s Vineyard, a place that has jobs that are paying 20 per cent less than the norm and that costs 20 per cent more than the norm. Throw in this recession, and what’s happening to the bottom tier of the economic system in America, and what it comes down to is, ‘They’re taking jobs from us Americans.’
“To which I say, show me an American walking in the door looking for a job, that can walk and chew gum. There just aren’t people to do the jobs,” he said. “There was a point four or five years ago, when we were thinking of closing in the summertime at six o’clock at night because we couldn’t staff the business.”
Mr. Bernier alluded to the complexities of the immigration issues; the differences between those who were criminals in their homelands or here, or who were being paid under the table, working in substandard conditions and not paying taxes, and those engaged in honest work, properly paid and taxed.
He said he is frankly worried about the new manifestations of anti-immigrant sentiment on the Vineyard, as across America.
“I’ve been watching Arizona, watching our government walking into a slaughterhouse in Iowa, watching them walk into the fields in Washington state and treating people like they’re animals,” he said.
“There was a point when this whole argument was about the blacks. When they started to get the same rights we have, some white people were very upset about that.”
Michael Donaroma, owner of a large nursery and landscaping business in Edgartown and another big employer of Brazilian labor, also was accused on the blog site. He also reacted strongly.
“Yes, I do have some Brazilians working for me, obviously,” Mr. Donaroma said. “They’re on the payroll, with a social security number, taxes, I9s [forms filled out by employers confirming the eligibility of a person to be employed in the U.S.] . . . .
“We get social security numbers, we get green cards,” Mr. Donaroma said, adding:
“Some have been with me for 10 or 15 years who now have dual citizenships — American and Brazilian. They go back and forth; they have families here. They put their kids through school, pay their taxes, and work jobs that I could never get any Islander to do.”
Mr. Donaroma said he was happy to employ anyone who wanted to work.
“But labor’s always hard to find — at least for physical labor, my business. One American this year, I hired him and he lasted a week. A couple of others didn’t even show. They’re not interested in the physical labor, or if they are, they go into business for themselves.”
He said he did not believe the Brazilian community on the Vineyard was taking jobs from others, or driving down wages.
“You don’t get away with paying anybody short salaries on the Vineyard,” Mr. Donaroma said. “On average, they’re making $15 to $25 an hour and I have some making over $40. I don’t pay anybody less than $12 an hour.” He continued:
“I got audited just two years ago by the Department of Labor. I asked what were they generally looking for and they said minimum wages. Well, nobody gets paid minimum wages in my business.”
Mr. Donaroma said he thought it was “unfortunate that some people take such a hard line” on immigrant workers. “I guess these people are a little over-opinionated and short-sighted,” he said.
Another business named on the site was the Mansion House hotel and Zephrus restaurant in Vineyard Haven, owned by the Goldstein family.
Susan Goldstein said she had gone to the blog. “I looked at it, but once I saw it was one of these hate blogs, I didn’t read further. It’s ugly,” she said.
Mrs. Goldstein then recounted the story of the manager of the hotel spa, as an example of the positive contribution of Brazilian immigrants.
“I went to her citizenship ceremony. She ended up running for the finance committee in Tisbury. She is involved in the community, she’s serving the community. She is a wonderful addition to our community,” she said.