Moroni council approves Norbest plan to house workers from Mexico
MORONI—The Moroni City Council has approved a proposal by Norbest Inc. to bring 28 guest workers from Mexico to town and house them in a 2,5000-square-foot modular home on plant property.
The council voted at a special city council meeting Monday, about a week and a half after the proposal was discussed extensively during a regular council meeting.
By the time the issue came before the council on Thursday, Sept. 1, the workers apparently were on their way. “The date that they are planning to be leaving is within the next couple of days,” Steve Styler, Norbest attorney, told the council at the Sept. 1 meeting. “I believe they are expecting to leave Mexico on Sept. 2 and have a two- to three-day journey to get here.”
“Norbest is growing, and they are taking great strides to increase the pounds per year from 100 million to 250 million pounds per year,” Styler explained. “With that comes growing pains, and one of those is on the labor front.”
Last spring, the company applied under the H-2B program, a guest worker program administered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service. The program grants four-month temporary visas to migrants for specific purposes, such as seasonal agricultural need.
Styler said the best option for housing the workers was placement in the modular home. Describing the home as “temporary housing at its finest,” Styler said it would have seven bedrooms and four bathrooms, along with living, dining and laundry areas.
Migrants will be expected to work 10 or more hours per day. Because of the hours and because the workers won’t have vehicles, the most practical site for housing them is near the plant, he said.
Councilman Orson Cook questioned the lack of transportation and asked Styler if Norbest expects migrants to “just stay down there in a centralized location and not go anywhere and not be a part of our community.”
Styler said he assumes workers “might make friends with existing employees with access to vehicles.” He argued that the 28 migrants scheduled to work this season would increase traffic if they lived in the city drove to and from work each day, and said, “We’re not going to put 28 cars in the parking lot and have each of those cars going around the city every day.”
The council also raised questions concerning the length of time Norbest plans to continue using the H-2B program. Some council members suggested temporary housing might not be the best plan of action should Norbest extend the program beyond a few months. Some expressed concern about the number of people who would crowded in an average-size house without access to transportation.
“We have to evaluate the quality of employees,” Styler said in response. “Our anticipation is that these individuals will come and be wonderful laborers and be able to prosper. If it works well, we’d love to reapply (under the H-2B program), and if we do, we have to make a business decision on whether or not to keep the individuals in the units, or grow number of employees, or keep it the same (number). Then we’ll have to come back to the city and explain what we’re going to do each time.”
He said if migrants prove to be “good corporate citizens,” “good individuals in the community” and “provide wonderful labor,” then Norbest would look into more permanent living situations.
If the guest worker program is expanded, Cook said Norbest should come up with a written plan for housing them in a way that meets city ordinances.
“We welcome these people to come and share in the blessings that we have,” Cook said. “But we also believe that they need to do it the same way our citizens have to. There are a lot of things Norbest is going to have to provide before we can allow them (utility) hookups of any kind.”
Such hookups are for power, water and sewer, and the council agreed if guest workers were to live in the city, the would have to pay utility deposit like any other residents, to which Styler said Norbest had no objection.
Citizens in the audience told the council they knew of alternative solutions Norbest could take to find more employees. Those options were for the company to pay higher wages and increase bonuses “and there would be plenty of people in our county who would take these jobs.”
One person said, “The fact that there is nobody who will work there should be Norbest’s problem, not the city’s, and Norbest needs to sweeten the pot before Moroni grants approval.”
Other citizens complained about the potential of decreased property values should migrant residences be placed in their neighborhoods.
People in the audience seemed to want the council to take their time to ensure questions are answered and solutions to any future issues are outlined. But with guest workers on their way, time was clearly limited.
“I don’t think there is reason to say you’re ‘going to think about it and get back with you’ in three or four weeks,” Styler said. “I think we can resolve most any issue in a relatively short time.”
Styler reassured the council and those in attendance that Norbest would abide by all ordinances and conditions the city presents.
After the discussion, the council chose to table the discussion and told the Norbest representative they would work on it as quickly as they could.
The Messenger received an update on Tuesday that Moroni City approved the placement of the man camps on Monday with the condition homes are hooked up to city utilities, which, Carlson says is in progress.