Labor Pains, H-2B, and the Odd Politics of Immigration Reform Craig Regelbrugge
Horticultural employers across America report that it’s tougher than ever to recruit, train, and retain a qualified and dedicated workforce. This is true for both entry-level laborers and supervisory or technical staff. We can rant about many contributing factors: the lack of a well-developed work ethic in many young people; a too-generous social safety net that make it easier for some to stay home; too little focus on vocational education and trades. Meanwhile, demographers tell us that some of our labor woes are “baked in” for the foreseeable future based on population trends already established thanks to birth and retirement rates. In fact, the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office (CBO) recently reported that the U.S. can expect a long period of slow growth, averaging not more than 2 percent, in the coming years due to a generalized aging of the workforce, and the departure of many baby boomers who decide to retire. According to CBO, if we wanted to hum along at a more comfortable 3 or 4 percent growth rate, we’ve got to maintain a reasonably welcoming immigration policy. While temporary visas are not technically “immigration,” nor are they a panacea, they do play a key role meeting overall labor needs. That’s especially true in this strange political time where the chance of Congress stepping up to the plate and hitting a common sense immigration reform home run or even a double is pretty much nil. Connect: An AmericanHort Member Benefit
So for the short term, preserving the temporary visa programs we’ve got—H-2A for growers and H-2B for the service sector—is important. Yet even the H-2 programs have become as polarized as our politics generally. This polarization is not exactly a new phenomenon though. For years now, the contours of every immigration reform battle have been drawn around proponents—a broad middle of business, agriculture, high tech, mainstream faith groups, and those advocating for immigrant rights— and a “strange bedfellows” opposition dominated by the extremes—anti-immigrant restrictionist groups on the far right, and labor unions on the left. more on page 10…
What’s Inside: Labor Pains, H-2B, and the Odd Politics of Immigration Reform 1 Labor, H-2A, and the Convenience of Insanity2 Hiring and Training Seasonal and Temporary Employees
Determining Insecticide Residues in Plant Pollen & Nectar
Seed Your Future
Business Solutions Organized for Your Business Interests The AmericanHort Knowledge Center is your go-to-resource for information you and your employees need. Visit AmericanHort.org/Connect for more business-building solutions.
Labor, H-2A, and the Convenience of Insanity By Ed Overdevest, Overdevest Nurseries, Bridgeton, NJ
As an industry, and as a nation, we face an immigration reform process that has evolved into a frustrating stalemate—a conundrum that outside observers would best describe as insane. Adding to the irrationality is the political reality that, for many, this continuing dilemma is best left unsolved—because it serves as a convenience… a “convenience of insanity.” Some might find it hard to believe that our government has collectively defaulted to the comfort of not wanting a sensible solution to this pressing problem. Yet regardless of political persuasion, incumbents have come to realize how this wedge issue serves as the “gift that keeps giving” each time they hit the campaign trail in their gerrymandered districts. A reelection advantage that is now hard to give up.
This political “convenience of insanity” inevitably spills over into the regulatory arena as well. Executive actions and regulatory decrees are far more expedient, and politically rewarding, than “grind it out” legislative compromise. Even for agriculture, there is a siren song appeal to the current gridlock. As long as this standoff leaves growers with a willing and able staff, the issues of legal status and immigration reform seem best left alone. Yet, unbeknownst to most, circumstances have been changing. The U.S. Department of Labor has been hard at work fashioning a regulatory noose from the rope of survey data agriculture has unsuspectingly volunteered over the years. So much so, that a new reality awaits our industry as this current gridlock gives way to far-reaching regulations that fill the void of legislative inaction in shocking ways. This future is already evident to those participating in the regulatory minefield of H-2A. It will become directly apparent to other growers as they turn to
this Federal agricultural worker visa program to replenish their dwindling farm workforce. Beyond that, the realization will come indirectly to the rest by virtue of the higher wages necessary to hold onto existing workers in an ag labor market that is tightening thanks to: the competing wages of H-2A, tighter border security, and a worker exodus from agriculture to other occupations. And then, what happens when the next president either forces an economic deportation of agricultural workers (perhaps by blocking the flow of their “illegally earned” money out of the country to relatives depending on their support), or facilitates a mass migration of agricultural workers into other occupations through deferred action immunity? Hello H-2A. Rather than finding this program to be a sensible safe haven providing willing, able, and legal workers, new participants will soon become aware of how the US Department of Labor has created a “gotcha” regulatory scheme that imposes hyper-inflationary wage requirements, undermines workforce morale and productivity, exceeds the bounds of enabling legislation, and upends American principle. How so? First, there is the mandatory wage rate for H-2A participants—AEWR (Adverse Effect Wage Rate). Ostensibly designed to protect American worker interests, it is a derived wage rate based on misappropriated data from USDA Farm Labor Surveys never intended for this purpose. Total gross wages, reflecting a full range of ag worker experience and compensation, are conveniently transformed into the base wage rate for H-2A (by region). As a consequence, the higher wages and pay incentives earned by more experienced and productive workers yield a premium base wage that is well above current prevailing (median) wage rates. Sound like a rigged process? It gets better. Through a new regulatory interpretation of “Corresponding Employment,” the Department now says that any entry level employee—no matter how unwilling, unable, or inexperienced—must likewise be paid this experienced/skilled wage rate that AEWR represents—if they perform just one menial task in common with their H-2A co-workers. This breach of fairness, if applied to other businesses, would have a revolutionary impact—as the societal goal of equal pay for equal work becomes zealously twisted into a misdirected policy of equal pay for unequal work. Once again, the “convenience of insanity”!
Over the course of our involvement with H-2A since 1999, we have witnessed the change of an already complex program into a prime example of simpleminded regulatory excess. In a fight against this new Department of Labor “Corresponding Employment” mandate, our company is in the midst of challenging this overreach through the Department’s internal review process and, if necessary, an appeal to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. Left unchallenged, the Department is well on its way to legislating a self-spiraling minimum wage mechanism divorced from reality, and in clear violation of Congressional intent… just because it can. Some might question why we have taken up this fight. We do it because someone must—lest this current “convenience of insanity” turns into an “inconvenience of insanity” that bankrupts our industry.
Ed Overdevest Overdevest Nurseries Bridgeton, NJ email@example.com
Every Tool, Every Option AmericanHort is advising member employers that there are no silver bullet solutions to the labor woes they are reporting. For the foreseeable future, that means digging deep into the toolkit and being open to new approaches. This year’s GrowPro: Plug & Cutting conference, September 19–21, 2016 in Calsbad, California, will offer fresh insights. Resettled refugees now comprise a large share of the workforce at Bailey Nurseries’ St. Paul headquarters operation. How is it working? How have they dealt with language and integration issues? Hear the answers, first-hand, from Joe Bailey, who heads their human resources program. What can we learn from just outside our industry? Driscoll’s, with growers all over the Americas and beyond, has become a brand synonymous with fresh, delicious berries. Yet berries are one of the most labor-intensive crops out there. How is Driscoll’s approaching labor issues with an eye on getting fresh product to the consumer and protecting their brand? Just like water, labor is an essential input for horticulture. And with the labor situation becoming just as fickle as the weather, creative ingenuity will be key. Visit AmericanHort.org/Plug to learn more.
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Hiring and Training Seasonal and Temporary Employees By Kathy Fediw, LEED AP ID+C, CLP, CLT
Nearly every business in the horticulture industry has a need to hire temporary or seasonal employees, depending on their “peak season.” The early and late spring planting season is peak for many garden centers, nurseries, growers, and landscape businesses. For interiorscapers, the holiday decorating season is usually the peak season, often requiring hiring additional labor to work days, nights, and weekends during one of the most hectic times of the year. Finding, hiring, and training those temporary employees can be a nightmare.
Start with Hiring the Right People for the Job Most managers and owners wait until the last minute, then panic and hire the first person who comes through the door, especially if they are already knee-deep in Christmas trees or bedding plants. But it pays off to hire the best people you can find. It will take, on average, two to three weeks to find someone, check their references, and get them on board, so getting an early start is important.
It also pays off to hire 25 percent to 35 percent more people than you think you’ll need. Stuff happens—people get sick, people get tired, and people get sick and tired and just don’t show up. When you have an extra person in your back pocket, you can fire anyone who isn’t working out instead of having to put up with unacceptable behavior just because you have no one else to do the work. Who makes a good seasonal employee? First and foremost, someone who NEEDS THE MONEY! They are less likely to walk off the job half-way through the season (or day, for that matter.) Yet you should also keep the same standards for seasonal employees as for those you hire for more permanent positions. And keep an eye out for someone who would make a good permanent employee—chances are good that you’ll find someone you’d like to keep on board, or at least keep in mind to re-hire for your next peak season. Be sure to check references and driving records, and if possible send your new hire for a drug test and physical exam. This may seem like unnecessary extra work and expense, but seasonals will most likely be doing physical labor and/or driving your vehicles. Do you really want to hire an accident waiting for a chance to happen? A worker’s compensation claim can wind up costing your business thousands of dollars in claims, and there are unscrupulous people out there who have made a very nice living by “having accidents.”
Training Seasonal & Temporary Employees You most likely will not have the time to give your seasonal employees the same amount of training as you would for a permanent employee. During their first day, review any relevant company policies, such as safety rules, dress code, conduct standards, pay day, and anything else that directly pertains to their job. The rest they can read about in your employee manual, which they should receive.
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Since most of your seasonal employees will be doing hands-on work (as opposed to managerial or administrative work), make your training as handson as possible and as close to their starting time as possible, even if that is just for an hour or so before they go out with the rest of their crew.
…If possible, cross-train your seasonals to do several different tasks. After all, not every job will have garland to hang! … Be as job-specific as possible. If her primary job will be hanging Christmas garland, show your new employee how to lift, carry, position, and attach garland as safely as possible. Break down the task into easy-to-follow steps. Then allow your employee to hang a piece of garland herself, helping and correcting as needed. Give some feedback, and then allow your new worker to do the entire task again on her own, under your watchful eye.
Keep a close eye on all of your seasonal help. Check the quality of their work and give them as much positive feedback and encouragement as possible. Make sure they get breaks and something to eat and drink to keep up their stamina and mental focus. Remember that their wellbeing and safety is your primary responsibility while they are working for you. Send them home to their loving families in as good—or better— condition as when they came to you. And keep your eye out for those diamonds you’ll want to keep, who often appear when you least expect it. Merry Christmas!
Kathy Fediw, LEED AP ID+C, CLP, CLT President Johnson Fediw Associates firstname.lastname@example.org Kathy Fediw, LEED AP, CLP, CLT is a published author, consultant, speaker and trainer specializing in interior plantscaping. For more information on her company, Johnson Fediw Associates, and a free subscription to I-Plants online magazine, go to InteriorscapeConsultant.com.
You may want to create a “cheat sheet” for your seasonal employees with the steps written down for each task they’ll be asked to do. This can be on a 4” x 6” index card so she can keep it with her at all times. These also come in handy when someone new begins half-way through the season. If possible, cross-train your seasonals to do several different tasks. After all, not every job will have garland to hang! Knowing how to hang wreaths, position Christmas trees, make a bow, hang outdoor lighting, and water poinsettias will come in handy.
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Determining Insecticide Residues in Plant Pollen & Nectar By David Kuack
Cowles said whether or not the active ingredient of neonicotinoid pesticides can make it to the pollen and nectar of plants has not been thoroughly studied. “This is what makes the research so challenging,” he said. “Everything is so likely to be dynamic. These insecticides’ active ingredients can be broken down by sunlight.”
Horticultural Research Institute is funding research aimed at protecting pollinators by determining the concentration of systemic insecticides in nectar and pollen of ornamental plants. While some large retailers of ornamental plants have already told growers to discontinue the application of neonicotinoid insecticides to their crops, it has not yet been determined if this class of chemicals when properly used has a negative impact on pollinators. “The reality is some of the activist groups that are driving an agenda are engaged in corporate campaigns,” said Craig Regelbrugge, senior vice president for industry advocacy and research at AmericanHort. “These groups obviously have trained their sights on the mass retailers.”
Figure 1. Agricultural scientist Richard Cowles at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station is studying the concentration of neonicotinoids in the nectar and pollen of ornamental plants.
Major data gaps exist regarding the amount of neonicotinoid residues that occur in the nectar and pollen of ornamental plants. “We have the Grand Canyon of data gaps,” said Dr. Richard Cowles, agricultural scientist at the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, in Windsor, Conn. “When it comes to ornamental horticulture crops, we don’t know what the concentration is of the neonicotinoids in the nectar or pollen of those plants. There has been a small amount of data published. The exposure has to be quantified. The hazard is defined by what insecticide is present, at what concentration and how much is available to be consumed. Looking at the residues from leaves or whole flowers has little relevance to pollinators because they only consume nectar or pollen.” 6 | AmericanHort.org
neonicotinoids like dinotefuran and thiamethoxam are much more mobile and will reach throughout the plant tissues much more readily. These insecticides will interact with the plant itself and its physiology and morphology.”
Figure 2. Pesticide residue analyses are being conducted on the pollen and nectar from neonicotinoid-treated plants including sunflower (Helianthus annuus). Cowles has received funding from the Horticultural Research Institute to conduct pesticide residue analysis in pollen and nectar from neonicotinoidtreated plants. “Essential to this whole issue is how much neonicotinoid is toxic to the pollinators,” Cowles said. “There are researchers who are homing in on the toxicology aspects. They have a good idea of just how much neonicotinoid it would take to affect honey bees. There are also beginning to be some inklings of how much active ingredient it takes to affect bumble bees and solitary bees as well. This is one of the toughest and most controversial questions that has been asked in agriculture in a long time. “Problems of sub-lethal poisoning and what impact it may have on a honey bee colony are very difficult to measure. For honey bees, my interpretation is honey bees could consume a steady diet of 5 parts per billion or less of imidacloprid or other neonicotinoid, without ill effects to the colony.”
Differences in Residue Levels Cowles, who is working with sunflower (Helianthus annuus) and swamp milkweed (Asclepius incarnata), expects that different plants will have different levels of neonicotinoid residues. “One of the challenges of doing this research is in order to conduct residue analyses, the plants need to produce large quantities of pollen and nectar,” he said. “There could be major differences in neonicotinoid residues between closely related plants. Neonicotinoids travel in xylem sap and different kinds of plants have different degrees of barriers to movement of these insecticides. For example, there are differences in whether nectaries are connected to xylem tissue among composite plants. “Furthermore, neonicotinoids vary in their ability to cross these barriers. For example, imidacloprid is notoriously bad at reaching certain tissues in the plant. But
has an opportunity to be taken up by the plants,” he said. “There has to be thorough foliar sprays followed by efficient irrigation for the insecticide to reach the roots. “With drench applications the duration the insecticide is available to be picked up by the roots depends entirely on the composition of the growing medium and how excessively that medium is leached. With highly organic potting media one can expect the media to latch onto the imidacloprid and not release it very readily.”
Cowles is applying three different neonicotinoid insecticides (imidacloprid, dinotefuran and thiamethoxam) as both drenches and sprays at three different rates. “The reason for looking at these three insecticides is because they represent the spectrum of mobility of the neonicotinoid insecticides in plants,” he said. “This is based on what I have seen so far with my research.” Figure 4. With the open structure of the potting mixes used to produce ornamental plants, there is enhanced potential loss of neonicotinoid insecticides applied as drenches through irrigation leaching.
Figure 3. Most of the residue studies previously conducted with neonicotinoid insecticides were done with the leaves of plants.
Differences in Application Methods, Location Cowles said most of the residue studies previously conducted with neonicotinoid insecticides were done with leaves. “When a foliar spray is applied there is an initial immediate absorption of a small amount of the active ingredient that is applied to the surface of the plant,” he said. “As the plant continues to grow the insecticide will only move upwards from directly below where the new growth is originating. An insecticide that is applied as a spray to the leaves cannot go down through the stem and then back up. The insecticide is stuck in the leaves. The only source of neonicotinoids that is available for newly forming tissue is from the stem or what is available for the roots to pick up.” Cowles said if imidacloprid is applied as a foliar spray and not irrigated into the growing medium it cannot reach the roots. “Under certain circumstances there can be insecticide residue on the surface of the growing medium that never
Cowles said the design and components of the growing media used by growers can have a major impact on the amount of insecticide taken up by the plants. For his research Cowles used two different media. For the sunflower studies the growing medium consisted of composted hardwood wood chips, commercial peat moss and a sand component. The medium used for the milkweed studies was obtained from a commercial nursery with the plants. Cowles said the two mixes were very similar. “Most modern potting media have been designed to have a lot of air space to keep the plant roots healthy,” he said. “This means there is going to be a high potential for leaching. Growers trying to keep ornamental plants alive in containers have to water them regularly. With the open structure of the potting mixes, there is enhanced potential loss of these systemic insecticides from the containers. Unless the plants can absorb the insecticide at the time of the drench, when irrigation is resumed, my expectation is that insecticide uptake will drop off very fast based on observations of what happens with fertilizer. The leaching potential of the insecticide is much higher than what I expected.”
David Kuack Freelance Technical Writer Ft Worth, TX email@example.com For more: Richard Cowles, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station, (860) 683-4983; Richard.Cowles@ct.gov. Horticultural Research Institute, (614) 487-1155; firstname.lastname@example.org; hriresearch.org. Craig Regelbrugge, AmericanHort, email@example.com; americanhort.org. Photos by Richard Cowles, Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station 2016:8 | 7
Field & Covered Production Tour
Seed Your Future By John Dole and Brian Trader
Can you imagine a future without horticulture? We all know horticulture is essential to our lives, but did you know there are more jobs available in the industry than there is talent to fill them? One initiative is primed to change this. Seed Your Future, a national initiative started by Longwood Gardens and the American Society for Horticultural Science (ASHS), aims to elevate horticulture as a vital, viable, and exciting career path for today’s youth. Envision a world where our youth in the U.S. know the meaning and importance of horticulture. That’s what we hope Seed Your Future will do. A recent survey we commissioned shows a lower awareness of horticulture among those aged 18 to 34, compared to older adults. This, among many other data points, leads us to believe we need to improve upon educating our youth about our profession. And while most Americans know horticulture is important, many don’t understand that it can provide a variety of rewarding and selfsupporting careers. “At the intersection of science and art, horticulture is one of those fields whose value to society is not fully appreciated,” said Paul B. Redman, Executive Director of Longwood Gardens and Co-Chair of Seed Your Future. We agree wholeheartedly which is why we’ve dedicated our own time and talents to this initiative. Through Seed Your Future, we seek to improve public perception and to engage and excite youth about a future in horticulture. To achieve our goals, we need to create a movement and we need our
industry to unite and help propel it forward. Seed Your Future is developing a national outreach campaign, scheduled to launch in early 2017, which includes an Education Plan to bolster curriculum across the country, and a Marketing & Advocacy Plan to influence youth, parents, and communities through multi-channel and crowdsourcing initiatives. The Education Plan will be tied to topical areas of interest popular with today’s youth. Teachers will be given tools to integrate key horticultural concepts and the love of plants into 7th- through 10th-grade classrooms to support STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Mathematics) learning initiatives. All Seed Your Future curricular materials will be created by Scholastic and will be available on a microsite at Scholastic.com. Subsequent phases could extend the program to elementary schools.
…We need horticulturists— to fill our tables with food, to preserve our native habitats, and to imagine new landscapes and bring them to life. And we need you, to help develop the next generation of horticulturists.… Custom marketing plans will target students and those who influence their career decisions, including parents, teachers, and counselors, in order to increase high school participation in horticulture and plant sciences, and to attract students to 2- and 4-year college and university horticulture programs. Advocacy efforts to change the perception of horticulture will focus on education administrators, government officials, and the general public.
September 14-15, 2016 New Jersey AmericanHort.org/Tour
se u o h n e e r G s a Luc
Overdevest Nurseries Three unique operations, industry award winners, pilot program pioneers, and legacy vision. Walk away with key insights on everything from production techniques to pest management, from water management to marketing, from customer service to disease control.
The SeedYourFuture.org website, launched in March 2016, will continue to evolve as a national digital platform where young people can share a repository of posts, comments, and photos that celebrate horticulture. The initiative is supported by more than 150 organizations, including leaders from all fields of the horticulture industry, horticultural associations, public gardens, public agencies, K–12 and higher education. Currently, more than $750,000 has been raised to support Seed Your Future. We need horticulturists—to fill our tables with food, to preserve our native habitats, and to imagine new landscapes and bring them to life. And we need you, to help develop the next generation of horticulturists.
horticulture careers and make sure that horticulture, and the millions of people who depend on it, thrives well into the future. John Dole Interim Associate Dean and Director of Academic Programs NC State University
Brian Tradere Coordinator of Domestic and International Studies at Longwood Gardens
Dr. John Dole is Interim Associate Dean and Director of Academic Programs at NC State University and President-Elect of the American Society for Horticultural Science. Dr. Brian Trader is the Coordinator of Domestic and International Studies at Longwood Gardens and the Interim-Director of the Longwood Graduate Program at the University of Delaware. Both serve on the Steering Committee for Seed Your Future.
Visit SeedYourFuture.org to learn more. Share news about the initiative with others. Donate to the campaign to help bring our industry back into balance. Finally, introduce young people to fulfilling 8 | AmericanHort.org
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Labor Pains, H-2B, and the Odd Politics of Immigration Reform…continued from page 1
H-2Battleground In his companion column on page 2, New Jersey grower Ed Overdevest describes his family’s fight against some of the most challenging regulatory burdens plaguing H-2A. I will go into a bit more detail about H-2B. The H-2B program as we know it was created during Ronald Reagan’s time. H-2B workers are allowed to fill temporary or seasonal jobs fewer than 10 months in duration. A wide variety of industries use it, ranging from landscaping to seasonal resorts to seafood processing to fairs and carnivals. The landscape sector is the single largest program user, with H-2B visa holders comprising nearly 5 percent of the labor force in the sector (this is the seasonal “surge” labor that complements the industry’s yearround workforce). As Congress has always been reluctant to admit very many less-educated workers into our economy, the program features a rather tiny annual visa cap of 66,000. Opponents of the program argue that H-2B workers take American jobs and undermine U.S. workers’ wages. But the
claims don’t stand up to scrutiny or reason. For starters, every position must be advertised and posted on an electronic job registry in advance of an employer receiving permission to bring in foreign temporary workers. Secondly, the program has an array of wage and labor protections.
DOING IT ALL, ALL FOR YOU—
On wages, workers must be paid not less than the mean average wage for the occupation in the area of employment. A reporter on Cape Cod recently told me that every time she writes an H-2B story, commenters rant about “cheap labor.” She wondered if the claim is true. I looked up the minimum required wage for approved certifications for landscape laborers in Massachusetts. Virtually every position had to be paid a wage not less than between $15 and $21 per hour. But the politics are what they are, and union attacks strike a popular chord in these times. Well, why don’t Americans apply for these jobs? Would things suddenly change if the offered wages were a few dollars higher? Not likely. What the unions don’t understand (or choose not to admit) is the role temporary workers play in industries like ours. Most businesses have a yearround workforce, with employees engaged in design and sales, office administration, management, the mechanic’s shop, and other jobs. These workers stick around during the slower seasons. When the busy seasons come, temporary workers enable the business to bulk up, get the work done, and hopefully make a profit. The temporary workers help the business to succeed, and to ensure that the year-round labor force can be sustained. Economically, we are back in good enough times that the H-2B cap was hit in 2015. Many employers were left without legal access to “seasonal surge” workers. After a fierce fight, Congress stepped in. For 2016, returning workers who had obeyed the law could return exempt from the cap. This is a continuation of policy Congress implemented on a bipartisan basis in 2005–2007. So far, we’re winning the battle to continue the returning worker cap exemption in 2017. But that depends on Congress actually approving a 2017 spending package, or at least a stop-gap measure that includes the H-2B provision, in time for it to help (meaning, midDecember or earlier). Until we have clarity on that, employers using or considering H-2B would be wise to consider contingency plans. Craig Regelbrugge AmericanHort Senior Vice President Industry Advocacy & Research CraigR@AmericanHort.org 202-789-8111
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