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Publix Grocery Store imports South American workers despite local 14% unemployment rate.

From Fort Myers News-Press

At a time when Lee County’s unemployment rate is almost 14 percent and about 38,000 residents are jobless, Publix is paying people from South America to work at some of its Southwest Florida supermarkets.

For the last three years, Publix has hired hundreds of Peruvians and Brazilians for its stores in south Fort Myers and Naples during tourist season because the company says it can’t find locals to fill those spots.

The South American cashiers, baggers, deli, bakery and grocery clerks work part time at more than 20 area locations, said Publix spokeswoman Shannon Patten. The company began hiring them in late 2008, when Lee’s unemployment was about 6 percent.

“It is our experience that potential workers that live year ’round near our stores are interested in permanent jobs, not temporary ones,” Patten said.

Many Southwest Florida jobseekers and the people who help them disagree.

“Are you kidding?” asked Rita Hursell. The 46-year-old nurse’s aide, who’s been out of work since 2007, is on food stamps and lives with her parents in Lehigh Acres.

Hursell, who just completed a computer class at the Career and Service Center in Fort Myers, said she’d be happy to work at Publix even on a part-time, temporary basis. “I wouldn’t mind at all,” she said.

Pat Angelicchio, who owns Snelling Personnel Services in Fort Myers, says Hursell is typical of the people he sees at his business, which matches job-seekers to jobs.

“Everybody — everybody — who comes here would be happy to do a temporary assignment. Even two or three days. They’re prepared to do anything for any amount of time,” said Angelicchio. “I find it very hard to believe a company as large and well-regarded as Publix would bring people in from so far away when so many here are desperate for work. In fact, it makes me not want to shop there.”