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Government Affairs: The presidential election’s effects on our workforce

September 7, 2016 -  By

In my July Landscape Management blog post, I looked at where the two then-presumptive presidential candidates stood on immigration issues, specifically comprehensive immigration reform and the H-2B guest-worker program.

Now that both candidates have been officially nominated by their respective parties, let’s look a bit deeper into how each candidate’s policies might affect the overall workforce available to the landscape contracting industry.

While what’s promised during an election campaign may or may not make it into federal policy or programs once a candidate is elected, at this point, we need to take the candidates at their word that they will do what they say.

Trump immigration policies

In November 2015, Donald Trump stated that he would have a “deportation force” forcibly remove and send back to their country of origin the 11 million undocumented people living in this country. Then, with his poll numbers slipping in mid-August, Trump indicated that he was “softening” his stance on what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented people in this country.

But after a week of significant push-back from his conservative base and confusion within his own campaign as to where he stood, Trump doubled-down on his initial position. In his Aug. 31 immigration policy speech, Trump reiterated that hat he would create a deportation task force to deport the undocumented.

In that speech, Trump promised, “We’re going to triple the number of ICE (U.S. Immigration & Customs Enforcement) deportation officers. Within ICE I am going to create a new special deportation task force focused on identifying and quickly removing the most dangerous criminal illegal immigrants in America…

“In a Trump administration all immigration laws will be enforced. As with any law enforcement activity, we will set priorities. But unlike this administration, no one will be immune or exempt from enforcement.

“Anyone who has entered the United States illegally is subject to deportation.

“For those here illegally today, who are seeking legal status, they will have one route and one route only. To return home and apply for reentry like everybody else.”

Clinton’s immigration policies

Hillary Clinton’s immigration policy with respect to the undocumented immigrants living in this country has not changed since the primary. She supports a path to citizenship for those here illegally after they pass a background check and pay a fine. In fact, she has proposed comprehensive immigration reform legislation that includes a path to citizenship as a priority for her first 100 days of her administration, if elected.

What this means to landscape contractors

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study of employment of undocumented workers in the U.S., 24 percent of all workers in landscape services were undocumented in 2012. The landscape industry has one of the highest concentrations of undocumented workers of all the industry groups Pew studied.

Surveys of landscape company owners consistently identify finding workers among the top three problems they face in running their companies. Imagine the effect if 24 percent of our industry’s workforce vanished. Competition for the remaining workers would intensify enormously, making any current labor shortages even worse.

As well, our industry will be competing with other heavy users of undocumented workers, such as construction, apparel manufacturing and agricultural crop production.

So even if you don’t think that you currently employ undocumented workers, any disruption in the undocumented immigrant labor force will have a significant effect on your landscape contracting business.

And if you think that the H-2B program will save your business, neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton like guest-worker programs. Both see these programs as taking jobs from U.S. citizens. If we lose 24 percent of our landscape workforce, there are not nearly enough H-2B workers to fill the gap.

Tough decision

Owners of landscape contracting businesses will decide whom to vote for this November based on a number of issues, with immigration reform being just one. Regardless of who occupies the White House come January 2017, know that how our new president handles the millions of undocumented workers in this country could have an enormous effect on your business.

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About the Author:

Gregg Robertson, Landscape Management's government relations blogger, is a government relations consultant for the Pennsylvania Landscape & Nursery Association (PLNA) and president of Conewago Ventures. From 2002 until May 2013 he served as president of PLNA. Reach him at gregg.robertson@conewagoventures.com.

1 Comment on "Government Affairs: The presidential election’s effects on our workforce"

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  1. Duane Thompson says:

    Undocumented workers are illegal, hence criminal. Businesses who hire illegals are also criminals. Business owners and HR people who break the law should be prosecuted. If I don’t have enough cash to operate my business,does that make it legal to rob a bank? Of course not. All parties involved have made a choice to break the law. If you can’t get all the work done, don’t take more on. I understand worker importance and have dealt with it for 25 years. I have NEVER hired an illegal, and will never knowingly hire one, filling out I-9 forms helps !I would advise those breaking the law to take steps now to stop breaking the law, and stop whining. Take action. Being patriotic means upholding the laws of the country. I believe in hiring the USA and buying things made in the USA.