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Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida seeks to hire 78 foreign workers

A worker at the Mar-a-Lago Club in Palm Beach, Fla., in late 2016. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

President Trump’s Mar-a-Lago Club has asked permission to hire 78 foreign workers to serve as cooks, waiters and housekeepers during this winter’s social season in Palm Beach, Fla., according to Labor Department data.

The club — a for-profit business, which also serves as Trump’s weekend home and “Winter White House” — submitted applications to hire 21 cooks, 40 waiters and 17 housekeepers from overseas. After working from October to May, the workers would return home.

The latest application, for the housekeepers, was posted by the Labor Department on Tuesday. The Trump Organization has made similar requests in the past, but it is asking for slightly more workers this year than last year — when it requested a total of 70.

Those applications signal a sharp difference between the president’s political rhetoric — which holds that low-skilled foreign workers drive down wages for native-born Americans — and the actions of Trump’s own businesses.

Mar-a-Lago isn't just Trump's vacation spot; it's his second White House (Video: Peter Stevenson/The Washington Post)

By asking permission to hire foreign guest workers, Trump’s club is asserting it cannot find Americans who are willing and qualified to perform two of the hospitality industry’s basic jobs: cooking food and serving it.

The salaries listed in the applications start at $10.68 per hour for housekeepers, $13.31 per hour for cooks and $12.68 per hour for waiters.

The Trump Organization did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday and Friday. President Trump still owns and profits from his businesses, including Mar-a-Lago, but he says he has given up day-to-day management while in the White House.

Mar-a-Lago’s applications for foreign workers must now be approved by the Labor Department, which requires the Trump Organization first try to recruit American workers for the jobs. If the Labor Department approves, then the Department of Homeland Security would issue “H-2B” visas for Trump’s workers.

“The Department of Labor does not give preference or special treatment to any business or individual,” said Egan Reich, a Labor Department spokesman. These visas are issued by season: There is strong demand from agriculture and landscaping companies in the summer, but Trump is seeking visas for the winter, when demand is far less.

In the past, Trump has sought foreign guest workers for golf clubs in Florida and New York, for his winery in Virginia and for Mar-a-Lago. This year at Mar-a-Lago, Trump Organization is requesting slightly more cooks and waiters than he did last year, when he asked for 55 total.

At a time when wages are rising slowly, Trump’s company is proposing to pay its cooks slightly less this year: Their salaries are down 3 cents from 2017. The base salary offered to waiters and housekeepers, by contrast, were up slightly from the year before.

The increases in the numbers of foreign workers sought by Mar-a-Lago come at a time when the club’s business model seems to be changing — transformed, by Trump’s divisive politics, from a club focused on charity galas to a GOP clubhouse frequented by Trump’s friends and allies.

Last year, after Trump said there were “very fine people” among violent crowds of protesters in Charlottesville, many of Trump’s longtime charity clients quit. In their place, the club rented its ballrooms to Trump’s political allies: Young Republicans, the Christian Broadcasting Network and a group of superfans called “Trumpettes USA.

Mar-a-Lago’s competitors in Palm Beach, including other social clubs and hotels, have also used foreign labor. The nearby Everglades Club — known for being more private in its affairs and restrictive in its admissions than Trump’s club — also posted an application seeking to hire 15 foreign cooks for the coming season, at the same salary as Trump’s club.

But advocacy groups calling for reduced guest-worker visas said Trump should have set an example for other employers — and tried harder to hire American workers, by offering higher salaries or by recruiting more widely.

“It’s important to send the message to employers that they can’t lobby their way out of this problem,” by calling for extensions and expansions of the guest-worker program, said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, which seeks to reduce immigration levels overall.

At Mar-a-Lago, membership costs $200,000 per year. Trump reported it took in $25 million in revenue in 2017.

Krikorian said he thought Trump could afford to pay cooks and waiters more, in an effort to hire more American workers.

“Adding 50 bucks a month to the fees isn’t going to kill anybody or probably drive any business away,” he said.

Unemployment in Palm Beach County has fallen from 4.3 percent in May 2016 to 3.3 percent this year, according to the state of Florida.