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Puerto Ricans fill Vail’s labor gap

Preston Utley/Vail DailyTown of Vail employee Carlos Perez of Puerto Rico places dead leaves into a bucket Friday in Vail. Because of the tight labor market, the town of Vail is hiring Puerto Ricans to work around town this summer.
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VAIL, Colorado ” When Juan Carlos Bonilla of Coama, Puetro Rico saw the job listing, he immediately went to YouTube.

“I typed in Vail, Colorado, and I was captured by the beauty,” he said.

The job listing was for a landscaper for the town of Vail. He applied, was selected and arrived 10 days ago.

It was a bit of a shock going from the 100-degree heat of the Caribbean to the cool weather of the Rocky Mountains. But, so far, he likes Vail, he said.

“The sights, the people,” he said. “It’s really calm. There’s no crime around.”

Bonilla is one of six Puerto Ricans that the town is employing this summer. Finding enough employees for summer jobs such as landscaping has become increasingly difficult, said Krista Miller of the town’s human resources department.

The town usually looks for summer workers around the county and region. But with housing prices increasing around the county and redevelopment creating more and more jobs, many area businesses are having problems finding workers.

Plus, fewer seasonal visas are available to businesses such as landscapers and rafting companies around Vail, and that has only worsened the labor crunch, Miller said.

The town’s human-resources officials traveled to Puerto Rico this spring to test the waters for recruitment.

The town may end up employing Puerto Ricans in the winter, too, Miller said. Recent changes to visa rules could make it more difficult for the town to secure enough H2B visas for the bus drivers and parking attendants it needs in the winter.

Last year, the town employed about 35 Australian bus drivers and parking-booth attendants on H2B visas. But exemptions for returning works recently expired, and the town may not get all the H2B visas it needs under a nationwide cap of 66,000 visas a year.

Puerto Rico is a U.S. territory, and workers such as Bonilla are U.S. citizens.

The job opportunities in Puerto Rico aren’t great, Bonilla said.

“The worst thing is that the pay rates are very low,” he said. “Also, you have to know someone who has power. You have to have connections.”

In Puerto Rico, Bonilla, 24, worked at a health-food store and as a life-insurance salesman.

Carlos Perez, 38, of Aibonito, P.R., found the job listing in a newspaper back home. He was working with Bonilla on Friday in front of Buzz’s Ski Shop, clearing out a flower bed.

Rosana Mendez, 25, of Moca, P.R., was working with the crew, too.

“I came here because I wanted to practice my English,” she said.

The Puerto Ricans will work their summer jobs through October. Bonilla and Perez said they might then try to find other work so they can stay in the States.

The workers, who live in the town’s Buzzard Park housing, said they might even try to get over to Arapahoe Basin before it closes.

“We’re looking forward to snowboarding and skiing,” Bonilla said.

Staff Writer Edward Stoner can be reached at 748-2929 or estoner@vaildaily.com.


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