Despite Recession, Everglades Club Still Importing Waiters From Abroad

The Great Recession and soaring unemployment rates haven't stopped Florida businesses from hiring cheap, temporary labor from abroad, federal visa records show.

In Tampa, one company imported 40 electricians. In Miami Beach, the Best Western Atlantic Beach hired 42 hotel clerks from other countries.

And on Palm Beach, the swanky Everglades Club hired 72 foreign workers last fall -- roughly 24 percent of the staff.

The practice of importing foreign workers is nothing new at the Everglades. Last year, during a New Times investigation of the old-money country club, President William Pannill admitted that he hires about 30 Romanians a year to work as servers in the club's upscale restaurants.

"They are excellent employees, they work hard, they smile, and are cheerful," Pannill said. "It's not like we bring in the whole staff from Romania."

So what are the workers getting out the deal? Last year, the foreign hires included 38 waiters and waitresses earning $7 an hour and 34 cooks earning $9 an hour. They also get a free place to live for the season.

But for many in the American high-end restaurant business, those wages would be an insult. The underpaid "cooks" the club is importing may well be washing dishes or handling the worst grunt work in the kitchen.

And those are the legal imports. For years, the Everglades also routinely hired illegal immigrants from places such as Guatemala. One of those workers, former dishwasher Esdras Cardona, was accused of raping a 20-year-old white chef in the club's dorms in 2006. The alleged crime caused an uproar at the club.

"We do not hire illegal immigrants knowingly," Pannill said last year.

Fine. But in a county with an 11 percent unemployment rate, the dozens of legal immigrants the club hires may be enough to piss off plenty of job seekers.

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