Members of the Professional Landcare Network (PLANET) convened on Capitol Hill last week to demonstrate the vital need for passage of H-2B legislation.  The hearing, held by the U.S. House Subcommittee on Immigration, Citizenship, Refugees, Border Security, and International Law, is an outcome of an H-2B briefing held earlier this month to address the concerns from employers who have been shut out of the H-2B program, and allegations of program abuses from the Southern Poverty Law Center.    PLANET provided written testimony, including positive testimonials from employers and H-2B guest workers themselves, many of whom refer friends and relatives to their employers.


 


Bill Zammer of Cape Cod Restaurants, Inc., an H-2B employer, was a panel witness.  He criticized the Southern Poverty Law Center’s anecdotal information and stated that it would be foolish on the part of employers to abuse H-2B employees who have become a mainstay of their business and communities. 


 


Representative Bart Stupak (D-MI) was also a witness and stated that Congress will need to act immediately in extending the H-2B returning worker program to save America’s small and seasonal businesses.


 


Employers continue to face increased immigration enforcement pressure from the federal government, as well as state and local governments. Yet, Congress has failed to fix the one program that allows the landscape industry to maintain its commitment to a legal workforce — the H-2B program. Congress’ failure to renew the H-2B returning worker exemption is placing great hardship on previously thriving family businesses and has already resulted in many millions of dollars of lost revenue this year. The consequences of Congress’ inaction are more detrimental for the majority of companies that see no prospects for additional workers unless Congress acts immediately.


 


PLANET estimates that the approximately 2,800 landscape companies participating in H-2B spend about $77.28 million annually just on landscape equipment. In addition, they spend approximately $115.36 million annually on fleet vehicles, $2.8 million on payroll services, $6 million annually on computers, $4.3 million annually on tires, and $13.6 million on cell phones and wireless radios. 


 


“The H-2B users in the landscape industry have a large impact on the U.S. economy,” states Jason Cupp, CLP, president of PLANET and president of Highland Outdoor in Olathe, Kansas. “If these landscape companies suffer, supplier companies will feel the economic downturn as well.”


 


It is estimated that 2.5 American jobs are tied to each H-2B seasonal worker. There are stringent rules on advertising these jobs to Americans, and companies must work diligently to try to fill these positions with American workers before they are opened up to guest workers. These companies go through an intensive recruitment period in an attempt to hire Americans and must prove that they cannot find Americans to take the jobs. They would gladly hire American workers if they could. 


 


“It’s not just companies in our industry and the communities they serve who are suffering,” said Tom Delaney, PLANET’s director of government affairs. “The H-2B disaster also puts at risk the welfare of American workers and their families. And, as significantly, Congress’ failure to act is placing in jeopardy American jobs at truck assembly and equipment manufacture plants and other companies that support and supply our industry.”


 


Increased enforcement efforts and a plethora of new and sometimes conflicting state and local immigration laws underscore the need for comprehensive immigration reform. It is clear, however, that legislative efforts to address broader immigration issues are unlikely to succeed this season. The landscape industry is already suffering major loses as a result of the expiration of the H-2B returning worker exemption and cannot wait until some type of broader immigration compromise can be reached.


 


PLANET, working in tandem with other industries impacted by H-2B legislative reform, is a key component in gaining extension of the program.  Particularly since this program provides employment relief for one of the fastest growing industries in the nation—the lawn and landscape industry.


 


PLANET is the association of members who create and maintain the QUALITY OF LIFE in communities across America. With more than 4,200 member companies and affiliates, these firms and their employees represent more than 100,000 green industry professionals. To learn more, visit LandcareNetwork.org or call the PLANET office at (800) 395-2522.