Prepare Your Greenhouse Operation For Potential Immigration Changes

Carole Barton

Immigration is once again in the national news as bipartisan efforts to address the issue are suddenly a priority in Washington. No matter what direction a potential agreement takes, chances are that greenhouse and nursery businesses will be impacted in some fashion.

That was certainly the case during the last significant round of immigration legislation at the state level following the 2010 elections. Alabama, for example, passed regulations in 2011 that mandated strict enforcement of immigration standards and required employers to use the eVerify program to ensure the legal status of prospective employees.

We spoke with Carole Barton, co-owner of Barton’s Greenhouse and Nursery in Alabaster, Ala., who adapted to the new regulations in late 2011 and 2012. She described how they managed through the changes and offered some advice for other growers who might find themselves in a similar situation.

GG: When we met at Greenhouse Grower’s GROW Summit back in the fall of 2011, you were keeping a close eye on immigration legislation being passed back in Alabama. How did that impact your business?
 
Barton: We were watching the progress of the legislative debate in Alabama because, since many of our most experienced workers were immigrants, there was a likelihood that our business, and those of many of our customers, would be affected.

The law was tough and to make it worse, the rhetoric was mean-spirited. The state became a very unwelcoming and at times hostile place for folks who had lived there — and paid taxes —for many years. Several parts of the law- especially the ability of the police to check papers at routine traffic stops and impound vehicles on the spot- struck fear in the hearts of immigrants and many just packed up and left.

The new law did not require e-Verification of employees already on the payroll, so technically none of our then-current employees would have had to be eVerified. However, the law as it was originally passed required that businesses that sell to, or have contracts or grants with, state entities — agencies, municipalities, universities, etc. — sign and have notarized an affidavit for each entity they did business with stating, “You will not knowingly employ, hire for employment, or continue to employ an unauthorized alien.” Penalties for noncompliance were harsh, with stiff fines and potentially the loss of one’s business license. A significant amount of our business is state-related, so we had no choice but to comply.

We had all our employees’ paperwork and Social Security cards but, having recently attended seminars by immigration lawyers on how amazingly difficult, expensive and time-consuming it is for immigrants to enter the U.S. legally, we were not surprised when some of those documents turned out to be false.  It was heartbreaking to let go workers who had done such a wonderful job for us for so many years.

We ended up losing 7 people with more than 55 years of experience. We’re not a big operation, so that put a major dent in our work force. These were folks in the trenches who had years of experience running the potting lines, sticking cuttings, pulling orders, etc. We miss them still.

GG: Were you able to replace those workers in time for spring in 2012?
 
Barton: We advertised our openings and also used a temp service. To find the 6 folks who have stayed with us, many of whom have a family or friend connection to other employees, we had to go through a whole lot more. That was a true adventure in every sense of the word, and even though the experience was hair-raising at times, we got some amazing stories out of it.

The folks who stuck with us had to learn and absorb a lot of information really quickly. They were new to every aspect of our business, from procedures to pot sizes to plant names. And since they were a majority of our workforce last spring, they worked really hard to get up to speed in time for the season. And since last spring came so early, there was a lot of “trial by fire training” around our place.

We notified our customers that we had a lot of new folks and asked them to let us know if any problems with quality or counts slipped through the cracks and got to their shops or jobsites. We asked them to send back any plants with quality problems and we would use the returned plants as a teaching tool. Gratefully very little came back. After the season, a few of our largest customers told us that the chaos and challenges we were experiencing at the nursery did not filter through to them. Between the remaining experienced folks who really stepped up to the plate, and the dedicated new folks who got a little whiplash navigating their crazy learning curve, we made it through.

GG: Did you consider other alternatives – replacing them with equipment rather than more people?
 
Barton: We would have to look very closely at the payback. We replaced a bulky $50,000 transplanter with a little Blackmore Punch N Gro and that’s worked well for several years. The smaller, simpler machine is much better suited to our place. It would be nice to add more automation, but we would have to study carefully whether our facility or our budget would be able to accommodate major renovation. Lean flow would be interesting to try, because we know we have wasted motion and would like to become more efficient.

GG: How did you handle training with so many new employees?
 
Barton: We hadn’t had to do a lot of training for a pretty long time because we had so many experienced personnel. Before the law passed, we were able to put a new employee with an experienced person who would show them the ropes. The new person would shadow the experienced worker and learn how to do things. Last spring we didn’t have anybody to shadow anymore.

So we were forced to look hard at our training, to get some information together and get more formalized in our processes. In the end that was a big help. We fussed and stomped about it, but it was really a good project, something that needed to be done. That was a silver lining to losing so many good people.

GG: What advice would you have for growers who might find themselves in a similar situation?
 
Barton: Let’s see what happens with the immigration reform they’re talking about in Washington right now. Hopefully no one else will have to go through what we did.

Also take a look at your new-hire training program if you don’t have one on paper. Outline procedures and put together introductory training checklists and power points for new folks to go through and seasoned ones to review. Even if you’re in good shape with your employees, it’s good to have on hand.

And keep your fingers crossed that our elected officials in DC will come up with a plan to fix our broken immigration system.

Leave a Reply

More From Grow Initiative...
Workers

July 23, 2016

5 Reasons To Invest In Employee Training

Training and developing your employees is critical to the future success of your organization and the horticulture industry at large. Here are five reasons why your employees are worth the effort.

Read More
BeeSmart

July 21, 2016

How You Can Get Involved In Research

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) supports scientific research and students for the advancement of the horticultural industry.

Read More

July 19, 2016

Do You Grow Young Plants? Only 4 Days Left To Take Our 2016 Young Plant Survey!

If your operation produces plugs or liners for wholesale growers, please take a few minutes to participate in Greenhouse Grower’s 2016 Young Plant Grower Survey. We know you are very busy and we value your time and input. This survey should only take a few minutes. Greenhouse Grower’s Young Plant Grower Survey has played a key role in building our Top 20 Young Plant Growers list over the years. The information helps us zero in on trends taking shape and the challenges you’re facing as young plant growers. If you have any questions about this survey or you are not the right contact for this at your operation, please email me at [email protected], or please forward the survey link to the appropriate person. We would like to wrap up this survey by July 25, so please take it soon! Thank you in advance for your participation. We value your opinion! » […]

Read More
Latest Stories
Workers

July 23, 2016

5 Reasons To Invest In Employee Training

Training and developing your employees is critical to the future success of your organization and the horticulture industry at large. Here are five reasons why your employees are worth the effort.

Read More
BeeSmart

July 21, 2016

How You Can Get Involved In Research

The Horticultural Research Institute (HRI) supports scientific research and students for the advancement of the horticultural industry.

Read More

July 9, 2016

Market The Experience Of Gardening, Minus The Fuss

Greenhouse Grower editor Laura Drotleff says the industry should promote plants and gardening in bite-size chunks that help consumers build skills.

Read More
Grower Education

July 7, 2016

Two Industry Veterans Discuss How To Meet The Challenge…

Two industry players have a conversation on how we can deliver the level of grower education needed to address complex issues associated with production practices and pest management strategies.

Read More
'Violets Pride' from Week's Roses Downton Abbey Garden Rose Collection

July 6, 2016

6 Key Insights From The Generations Of Flowers Study

Being local and offering expert recommendations are hidden opportunities in the floral business. This was one of six insights during a recent webinar analyzing the Generations of Flowers study from the Society of American Florists and the American Floral Endowment.

Read More
Sakata Birthday Cake Feature

May 28, 2016

10 Creative Marketing Ideas From 2016 California Spring…

Grower-retailers often look to breeders for ideas on how to increase plant sales with smart marketing plans. The California Spring Trials were filled with great concepts to reach customers.

Read More
HGTV_2015CAST

April 24, 2016

9 Business Predictions Smart Brands Should Pay Attentio…

Andreas von der Heydt, Director of Kindle at Amazon, recently predicted what smart businesses will do in 2016 to strengthen their brands and promote their products.

Read More
Lin Schmale 1996

April 23, 2016

SAF’s Lin Schmale Offers Lessons From An Industry…

Schmale represented the floriculture industry on Capitol Hill for more than 20 years. The advocate has recently retired, and shares some valuable insights from her career.

Read More
An Edible Evening At Stephen F Austin

April 11, 2016

How The Greenhouse Industry Can Propagate Gardeners The…

Jared Barnes at Stephen F. Austin University says we are the experts at propagating plants. That’s knowledge we can put to good use to envision how to attract new gardeners and future horticulturists to the industry.

Read More
Congressional Action Days 2016

April 5, 2016

Floral Industry Leaders Make Progress And (In Some Case…

Nearly 90 floral industry members gathered in the nation’s capital in March to meet with lawmakers in the annual event coordinated by the Society of American Florists.

Read More
Student Video Horticulture Education

April 2, 2016

Use Videos Featuring Your Millennial Employees To Recru…

Your Millennial employees may be the best spokespeople you have for your business. Why not encourage them to make a 30-second video talking about why they got into horticulture?

Read More
One symptom of Botrytis blight is gray, fuzzy sporulation on foliage and flowers, similar to that shown on the flower of this hibiscus

March 25, 2016

American Floral Endowment Will Fund Research Projects A…

AFE’s primary research funding priorities cover everything from pest control to production management. Funding applications are due June 1.

Read More
kendall farms

March 12, 2016

3 Grower Brands That Give Customers What They Want

With product information, reviews, and price comparisons at their fingertips, Millennials are turning to brands that can offer maximum convenience at the lowest cost.

Read More
NatureFresh Internship Program

March 8, 2016

NatureFresh Develops Innovative, Interactive Program Fo…

Through WeAreTheGrower.com, students can get hands-on experience connecting with consumers at community events, and sharing their experiences via social media.

Read More
Kristine Lonergan, Garden State Growers

March 7, 2016

How To Make Your Brand Connect With Millennials

Marketing to tech-savvy Millennials means paying attention to their shopping habits and motivations to build relationships that help them connect with gardening.

Read More
Uber provides value to consumers by making their lives better

March 6, 2016

How To Market To Both Millennials And Boomers

While Millennials have become the all-important generation among many marketers, there are some important parallels that can be drawn between Millennials and Boomers.

Read More
This row of tomatoes with large fruit load is part of an on-going project with DeRuiter Seed Co

February 24, 2016

University Of Arizona’s Greenhouse Crop Production &…

The annual event features a comprehensive educational program as well as a hands-on workshop. Registration is now open.

Read More
Carol Miller

February 16, 2016

Why America Needs Plant Evangelists

If we want to have more people buying plants, we can’t sit back and hope for change. We need to share our passion with individual communities and spark a love for plants.

Read More
[gravityform id="35" title="false" description="false"]