Labor crisis looms for Alaska processors

U.S. Sen. Mark Begich, D-Alaska, recently sent two letters to the Obama administration objecting to possible changes that could shut off a major source of workers for the state's seafood processing industry.

At issue is the Summer Work Travel Program, which allows foreign college students to come to the United States on a J-1 visa to work and travel during their summer vacation. The U.S. Department of State oversees the program.

Begich worries the State Department, now considering possible reforms to address worker exploitation complaints and other issues, is about to exclude manufacturing and packing facilities from the program, including fish processors.

That would deny Alaska processors thousands of workers, right on the brink of the summer salmon season, Begich says.

One of his letters is to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who might have a sympathetic ear on this issue. After graduating from college, she worked the slime line in a Valdez cannery.