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Cinram employs 1,350 foreign workers

HUNTSVILLE (AP) — Cinram has drawn fire from some local officials for hiring 1,350 foreign workers to package DVDs at its Huntsville plant — a move defended by the company.

“We have been an employer in the area hiring hand over fist,” said Cinram’s Human Relations director, Pete Hassler.

Cinram recently began recruiting foreign workers, bringing to Huntsville 800 young workers from Jamaica and another 550 from Bolivia, Nepal, Ukraine and the Dominican Republic.

“If this is the way Cinram plans on operating, I’d just as soon they left our community,” Madison County Commissioner Mo Brooks said.

Brooks said he’s concerned about local taxpayers subsidizing health care and education for the workers.

“They are not being a good neighbor or responsible citizen. If they want Jamaican workers, open a plant in Jamaica. The Jamaicans would be most appreciative,” Brooks said.

The workers, who can earn
$8 an hour working 12-hour shifts packing DVDs in boxes, are screened by United States
embassies.

They receive what are known as H-2B work visas.

“We have enough people in our community that would do the work for decent pay,” said Huntsville City Council member Glenn Watson. “Eight dollars an hour won’t cover lunch.”

The U.S. Department of Labor issues 66,000 such visas each year for unskilled, non-farm laborers. But the government received 247,000 requests last year from companies seeking foreign labor.

The H-2B visas cover up to one year of full-time temporary work and must be used for one-time projects, seasonal work, new contracts or peak times.

A company spokeswoman said Cinram’s peak demand for DVDs falls around the holidays.

Watson said instead of looking overseas for cheap labor, Cinram ought to pay $10 or $12 per hour for the same work.

“I think what Cinram is doing is detrimental to the city of Huntsville and the nation,” he said.

Watson said Cinram’s practice ought to be illegal.

David Berkowitz, director of the Center for the Management of Science and Technology at The University of Alabama in Huntsville, said the company is following the law, a practice that isn’t necessarily common.

“We’ve had for years in this country, a visitor worker program, in the name of illegal aliens,” Berkowitz said.

“Cinram is taking a legalized approach to that, which means sharing the burdens of those costs to get those employees here. And they always have the option of closing manufac-
turing here and moving overseas.”

According to Madison County tax assessor’s office, Cinram, which employs about 2,500 people, leases its 161-acre campus on Moores Mill Road from the city’s Industrial Development Board.

Although it does not own the land, Cinram pays property taxes on personal property and equipment.

For that, Cinram is partially exempt.

The company will pay more than $500,000 in taxes in 2007, mostly toward schools.

But the company is exempted from about $330,000 worth of other taxes this year.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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