Outlook 2006: Prepare for new H-2B push

December 1, 2005 -  By

By: Ron Hall

For most of you, laborers make up the largest part of your in-season workforce and those employees are most often hired on a temporary basis (see figures). Who fills these spots? In many cases it’s immigrant laborers.

To continue to get the seasonal employees many of you depend on, you’ll be asked to join the fight to extend the Save Our Small and Seasonal Businesses Act of 2005. That fight begins again in early 2006.

What will you be asked to do? Simple. You’ll be asked to tell your U.S. senator or representative that the H-2B program, the legal way to use immigrant labor, is a business issue and not an immigration issue, and that the SOSSB Act is necessary to get enough of these workers. You’ll be asked to tell them what this source of labor means to your business and the many customers it serves. So says Donald Mooers, LLC, the Bethesda, Md., attorney who helped spearhead the successful SOSSB Act effort this past season.

Basically, the SOSSB Act provides for an exemption from the cap for workers who have already been counted toward the H-2B cap during any of one of the three fiscal years. Such workers will be considered as “returning workers.” The law also reallocates the H-2B visas so that no more than 33,000 can be used during the first six months of the fiscal year, in this case Oct. 1, 2005.

“The Green Industry is in a unique position to make sure the H-2B bill is extended,” Mooers says.

Enforcement on the rise

The availability of reliable labor continues to be a big concern for the landscape/lawn service industry. Unfortunately, the labor picture into next season isn’t cheery. This is particularly true regarding seasonal, unskilled, immigrant workers. These workers are available in two varieties, the so-called “illegals” and H-2B workers.

While H-2B is the preferred route for most employers, there’s little doubt that many immigrants on company payrolls (across many industries) are working without proper documentation.

By law, employers are only required to see that the workers have documentation, not to assess if it is genuine or not.

“The great unknown is how the immigration service will enforce our laws. Increasingly we hear about crackdowns around the country,” Mooers says. “The Green Industry is one of the first industries they will be looking at.”

What’s next?

“What we’re seeing is unprecedented growth in the number of businesses that are applying for H-2B visas this year, a massive increase,” says Mooers.

He cites three reasons: concern among employers of enforcement action for using illegals, a greater awareness of H-2B among all service industries needing seasonal workers and organic growth within the Green Industry itself. As companies grow, they require more workers.

When it established H-2B more than a decade ago, Congress set a cap of 66,000 visas. Last year the cap was reached before many landscape companies could secure visas for their workers. Other industries, those with seasons starting earlier in the year, snapped up many of the visas.

This led to an unprecedented and successful effort by industry to secure more H-2B workers through the SOSSB Act this past spring.

“What we fear is that even with the return worker capacity the demand will outstrip the available visas. Congress needs to act starting soon to get this bill (SOSSB Act) extended past September 30, 2006,” Mooers says.

What’s your labor outlook?

“The biggest issue is getting and keeping employees who have a driver’s license—a major problem.”—Bill Phagan, president of Green Industry Consulting, Tampa, Fla.

“There is risk involved with assuming that the H-2B program will always be there. The successful contractor will learn that recruiting workers is a full-time job.”—Tony Bass, president of Super Lawn Trucks, Bonaire, Ga.

“I’m not one for predicting the future, but there could be more layoffs in the industry, especially in situations where new equipment can do the work of two to three people, where now it may only take one operator.”—Walter Bonvell, grounds foreman, Xavier University.

LM Staff

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