*Editor's Note: Fred Haskett, Managing Partner – Operations, U S Lawns of West and St. Charles County, offers his thoughts on recent challenges to the H-2B seasonal worker program. Look for more commentary from Fred periodically on the Landscape Management Blog.
A few days ago we said goodbye to our H-2B team. This is always bittersweet – we are glad they are going home to be with their families, their sacrifice of not seeing their wives and children for eight to nine months at a time is something we are greatly aware of and admire them for.
However, most of them have been an integral part of our team / our family for the past 8 years, and we always miss them when they are gone. This year especially, when we have no idea – Thanks to our interference from our Government – if we will ever see them again.
As has been our custom the past few years, we had a dinner the night before they left. Our leadership team shared a few hours with them and talked about family, children, the Holidays and all manner of personnel issues that friends and co-workers share when they come together outside of the workplace.
The next morning Jason Winans our Operations Manager, Mike Harpole our Production Superintendent, and myself drove some of them to the airport and others to the bus station. We all shook hands, grabbed a hug, and told them to travel safe. There were excited smiles and a few tears as they went on their way home to their native land.
During the past seven years St. Louis has become their home away from home and the source of income that makes it possible for them to send their children to high school and university. To have luxuries that we take for granted: Indoor plumbing, telephones, windows, and basic appliances. To have a career that they can be proud of.
During the past seven years these individuals have given us a stable and predictable seasonal workforce and allowed us to grow our small business by 400% in that time period and to provide good, well-paying, seasonal jobs for them and good, well-paying year-round jobs with benefits to our professional / skilled U.S. workers.
My company is a family-owned landscape and lawn care company with a 41-person team. By way of comparison, in 2004, we had only nine team members, six of whom were seasonal.
Since the 2005 season, we have participated in the H-2B visa program to hire seasonal foreign workers to meet the company’s need for a reliable and stable seasonal workforce. Currently, of the 41-person staff, the management team is my-self, my wife, and six year-round landscape professionals. There are also five other full-time, year-round salaried employees. The seasonal workforce consists of 28 workers, of whom 25 are H-2B seasonal workers.
Without the H-2B program, none of this would have been possible. Before we began using the H-2B program in 2005, our annualized turnover rate was well over 200%. Our effort to recruit U.S. workers to fill seasonal jobs and remain in them through the entire season was largely unsuccessful. Today, with the H-2B program, turnover is less than 10%.
If turnover increased to the level we experienced before turning to the H-2B program, our company would suffer serious economic and non-economic injury.
- It would divert resources away from customer service to hiring, training and replacing.
- It would reduce the quality of our service and result in the loss of customers and good will.
- It would reduce our operational efficiency and negatively affect our profitability
- Our worker safety would all suffer as large numbers of inexperienced or barely experienced people would be present on each crew.
- Turnover at the 200% rate that we experienced before using the H-2B program would require that we hire and train two or three new workers every single week during a 36-week season; recruiting and hiring over 100 people just to maintain 28 positions.
- Since workers often leave without notice, we would be constantly short-handed.
This would result in an enormous negative impact on company morale and client satisfaction.
If these new rules proposed by the Department of Labor for the H-2B program go into effect it will leave companies like ours few choices in the short term. The only choices it seems to me are to close our doors or to shrink our company by 40% to 50% and try to deliver a viable service level with turnover rates of up to 200%. Even under this second scenario up to 50% of our full time skilled workforce would lose their jobs, and worker safety and quality of service would suffer.
It will take, I estimate, two to three seasons of very hard focus develop the new training systems required and to go through enough seasonal workers to find a small group of reliable people who are willing to work in a seasonal environment.
If these new H-2B Rules are allowed to take effect, at “BEST,” we will lose irreplaceable skilled professional employees and valued customers, and, at worst, we will lose a family business that we have worked to build and will put all of our U.S. employees out of work.
— Fredric R. Haskett
Landscape Industry Certified Manager
Managing Partner – Operations
U S Lawns of West and St. Charles County