Right now The Society of American Florists is getting ready for Congressional Action Days. We ask our members to fly into Washington, D.C., and travel around the Hill, meeting with their specific members of Congress about the issues we think are most important to the industry right now. It gives our members an opportunity to carry their messages to their members of Congress. This is really important because you can say anything in Washington as a lobbyist, but it has to be backed up by the people out there running businesses. We are grateful for the people who come in and carry that message around the Hill. It is also a great opportunity for business owners to connect with their members of Congress.
One of the issues we will be taking to the Hill this year, as we have for the past ten or more years, is that of immigration reform. It is important not just for growers but to wholesalers and retailers. Everyone benefits economically and otherwise when undocumented workers who potentially have to live in the shadows, moving from place to place for fear of being found out, can say, “Yes, I came here as an undocumented worker, but now I want to participate in a program that will allow me to eventually become a citizen of the U.S.”
Right now there is a proposal in the Senate that is not yet a drafted bill. It looks like the Senate is going to move forward on comprehensive immigration reform. We have a lot of new Congress members that we need to be educating. We are back at the beginning with immigration reform. On the bright side, agriculture has laid itself a very good foundation because the Senate proposal, even in a non-drafted form, specifically notes that agriculture will have an expedited opportunity to acquire labor. Congress created a special, carved-out section with respect to getting the laborers a green card and work toward citizenship. That’s a very good thing.
Over the past five years, Congress has been pressuring the Administration, and the Administration has realized how important the issue of immigration is. The government has supported heightened enforcement targeted at agricultural employers. In the President’s announcement on Jan. 29, 2013, in which he discussed his pillars of immigration reform, he stated the Administration will continue to include increased or targeted immigration enforcement on employers, including agriculture employers. Nursery and greenhouse employers are a particularly easy target because the workers are visible. You can easily see the workers outside in a greenhouse or nursery. It is easy for these officials to come in and target these employers. Because we are, as an industry, being targeted in this way, we need to make sure we are not sitting ducks. We want to make sure, in this climate, employers are prepared for audits and know their rights should they be asked for their records.
The Role Of Automation
I am in the la-la land of Washington, so I am not hiring people. But I think to expect growers to have the kind of automation that some operations have in Europe, where they are really highly automated, is not likely. I don’t think automation is ever going to replace human labor. I could be wrong, but it seems to me the way growers produce things in the U.S., there is a certain extent to which the processes can be automated. I don’t think automation would replace the need for real-life, trained employees. We need to continue to support our land-grant colleges and make sure these graduates are going to be good greenhouse managers that will support and grow the industry.