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NALP members stress importance of H-2B reform

March 2, 2022 -  By
Joe Drake, Joe Drake, president of J.F.D. Landscapes in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, shares his struggle with securing H-2B workers during the National Association of Landscape Professionals' Legislative Days. (Screencap: LM Staff)

Joe Drake, Joe Drake, president of J.F.D. Landscapes in Chagrin Falls, Ohio, shares his struggle with securing H-2B workers during the National Association of Landscape Professionals’ Legislative Days. (Screencap: LM Staff)

Members of the National Association of Landscape Professionals recently participated in the organization’s Legislative Days. More than 120 NALP members participated in 100 virtual meetings with congressional staffers from all over the country, including Texas, Ohio, Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Kurt Kluznik, president of Yardmaster in Painesville, Ohio, said NALP’s Legislative Days plays an important role in the green industry.

“I usually learn something from meeting with the staffers and particularly their position on H-2B,” he says. “It allows me to thank them for their support or request their support and hopefully make an impression on them that this is a serious issue with serious consequences for our industry.”

A hot topic among the Ohio delegation is the availably of H-2B workers.

Members who sat in on the meetings stressed their frustration with the inability to get workers this year – noting the green industry applied for 136,000 visas for the 33,000 workers in the April cap. Members on the call acknowledged how unlikely their businesses would be to have a chance at those 33,000 workers, with at least two businesses on the call in Group E.

“I’m all about H-2B visas,” Joe Drake, president of J.F.D. Landscapes in Chagrin Falls, Ohio. “If you didn’t win the lottery — which we did not — then you’re out of luck. We’re dropping entire maintenance routes right now, sending cancellation notices to our clients. Because we need 12 visas, and we got zero. We’re having a hard time trying to find anybody that wants to do this work, period.”

Some shared how costly the H-2B program is to participate in. One NALP member shared how it cost her business $20,000 to file and secure transportation for H-2B workers.

“It’s out of necessity,” Drake said. “If we could find a domestic workforce, there’s not a single person that would want to do this.”

A big part of the H-2B conversation with legislative aids and NALP members was the returning worker exception in HR3897. Currently, more than 20 members of the House of Representatives have signed on as cosigners of the bill and there are 68 co-sponsors. HR3897 proposes a returning worker exemption, where returning H-2B workers would not count against the 33,000 cap.

One NALP member — a former H-2B worker for 18 years who received his green card to work permanently in the U.S.— shared how important the program was to him and his crew workers.

Another explained how the lack of a stable workforce in Ohio forced him to cut his business by 40 percent since he did not get H-2B workers.

Drake said his business sent out 30-day cancellations to clients — some his business has worked with for more than 20 years — because he has to cut his seven mowing crews down to four.

“So, our year end, our fiscal year ends (at the end of February). It’s going to be one of our best years ever,” he said. “Starting March 1, we’re going to go down to one that probably having one of our worst because we don’t have those 12 guys (from H-2B). We’re cutting maintenance clients, and I anticipate our sales going to be down by $1 million.”

Importance beyond Legislative Days

Drake shared how important having a relationship with his local legislators is. Something as simple as donating a small amount of money to a campaign can help put you and your business in front of the legislator.

“I want to get to know him when times are not hard,” he said. “You don’t want to be calling him up when you need him and he’s never heard from you before. You really want to be proactive in this whole process.”

Kluznik agrees, noting, “I think the most practical and impactful way is to attend their fundraisers locally and build a relationship. I have done this with (Rep.) David Joyce (R-Ohio-14) and he is a big supporter of our issues.”

Christina Herrick

About the Author:

Christina Herrick is the editor of Landscape Management magazine. Known for her immersive approach to travel from coast to coast in her previous stint as senior editor of American Fruit Grower Magazine, she uses social media (Twitter/Instagram @EditorHerrick) to share her experiences on the road with her audience. Herrick has a degree in journalism from Ohio Northern University and has been in B2B publishing for seven years. She can be reached at cherrick@northcoastmedia.net.

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