December 29, 2010

Supplementing The H-2A Program

A Midwestern grower, like many of his colleagues across the country, has a difficult time pinning down reliable, hard-working Americans to work in his greenhouses. He’s turned to H-2A on occasion for labor solutions, but the program is a costly one and litigation prone, so he’s looked for help elsewhere. Two places the grower has turned are the Communications for America Education Program (CAEP) and the Minnesota Agricultural Student Trainee (MAST) program. Both have become great labor sources for him and easier to manage than H-2A. Both are also programs many growers know little about. “What I like about CAEP is they’re nice people to deal with, they are flexible and they try to find you the people who best match your individual situation,” says the Midwestern grower. “Some other programs do that, too.” MAST is a flexible program, as well, and it’s one the Midwestern grower heard about through […]

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December 22, 2010

The Power Of Service Learning Programs

Central Missouri Subcontracting Enterprise (CMSE) is a sheltered workshop that has provided employment for developmentally disabled adults for 40 years. CMSE subcontracts assembly work for dozens of manufacturers in central Missouri, like 3M, Quaker Oats, Square D, ABC Labs, plus hospitals and publishers. It had flourished until last year, when several clients cut back due to the economy and outsourcing overseas. Executive Director Bruce Young was devastated. He would have to find more sources to keep 130 people employed. He sought help at his local Rotary Club meeting of business friends. Member Bill Regan answered the call: “Build a greenhouse!” So they did. The Project A greenhouse with 5,400 square feet was built adjacent to CMSE’s facility. Regan brought many skills to the new enterprise. He has a master’s degree in horticulture, 35 years of experience propagating geranium cuttings and he has garden center experience as an owner. He is […]

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November 22, 2010

HIRE Act: Tax Incentives For Hiring Unemployed Workers

Did you know the government enacted two tax benefits last spring available to businesses that hired workers who were previously unemployed or working part time? This could impact growers who laid off workers during the winter and rehired (or hired new) in the spring. Here are the facts: –Employers who hire unemployed workers after Feb. 3, 2010 and before Jan. 1, 2011 may qualify for a 6.2 percent payroll tax incentive (in effect, exempting them from their share of Social Security taxes on wages paid to those workers after March 18, 2010). –The reduced tax withholding has no effect on the employee’s future Social Security benefits, and employers still need to withhold the employee’s 6.2 percent share of Social Security taxes, as well as income taxes. The employer and employee’s shares of Medicare taxes would also still apply to these wages. –Also, for each worker retained for at least a […]

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January 14, 2010

Study Says Immigration Reform Is Best Solution

The American Nursery and Landscape Association (ANLA) shared its perspective with Congressional staff during a briefing that reviewed an important new study regarding immigration reform. The study, conducted by UCLA economist Raul Hinojosa, looked at three possible immigration reform scenarios: comprehensive immigration reform, a temporary worker program only and an enforcement-only scheme based on deportation.  The study found that comprehensive immigration reform that includes legalization and flexible future visa programs will result in $1.5 trillion in economic growth over 10 years. By contrast, reliance on a temporary worker program alone would result in significantly less growth, and a deportation-only approach would bleed $2.5 trillion from the U.S. economy over the same 10-year period.  The study and implications were reviewed in detail in an afternoon Congressional staff briefing led by Hinojosa. Representatives from ANLA and United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) then provided perspectives from business and labor. ANLA vice president […]

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January 6, 2010

ANLA Breaks Down Health Care Reform

The following analysis was provided by the American Nursery & Landscape Association (ANLA). The complete analysis is available to members at ANLA.org. On Christmas Eve morning, the United States Senate voted to approve its version of a massive health care overhaul. The legislative process is far from over, and enactment into law is not assured. The next step will be for a conference committee to try to produce a final package that may borrow from both the earlier House-passed version, and the Senate bill. The ultimate question is whether moderates and liberals will step over lines already drawn in the sand, to approve a final bill that falls short of their respective goals. Early signs are that the House may largely defer to the Senate’s version, but many do not expect final passage until at least February. Though the process isn’t over, employers everywhere are scrambling to understand what the […]

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November 11, 2009

Clocking In & Out From Your BlackBerry

Exaktime introduces its PocketClock/GPS for Blackberry, software that transforms a BlackBerry smartphone into a portable GPS time clock and management tool for supervisors. PocketClock/GPS lets mobile employees or crews clock in and out at dozens of locations each week. “Having mobile employees use handwritten timecards costs companies a fortune,” says Exaktime CEO Tony Pappas. “With this new BlackBerry version of PocketClock/GPS, our customers can give their mobile teams and their managers a great automated timekeeping tool using the smartphone they already own.” Using PocketClock/GPS, workers easily clock in or out and record what type of work they are doing. Each time punch includes a GPS fix so the office knows the location of every clock in/out and can quickly view the travel times between locations. Managers can also set a virtual perimeter around each jobsite to highlight employees clocking in and out when they are not actually at the worksite. […]

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October 19, 2009

Immigration Laws In Need Of Overhaul

Let’s not quibble over semantics. Our nation’s immigration laws are broken. They remind me of a rusty truck with broken windows, propped up on crumbling cinder blocks in an overgrown back yard. No engine, no tires and out of gas. By now, I believe everyone agrees our immigration laws are outdated and don’t work. If they did, there would be legal avenues for those who want to come here to work in jobs Americans are unavailable or unwilling to do–at any price. It literally takes years to get a valid visa to work legally in the United States. By keeping America’s front door closed to economic migrants, our lawmakers have left them no choice but to slip through our backdoor. Frankly, our broken immigration system is not good for anyone. Labor Pains It’s one of the worst-kept secrets: labor-intensive industries like ours have a disproportionate share of workers without proper […]

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September 14, 2009

Lessening Labor Pains At Four Star Greenhouse

Jeff Back wants his production line supervisors walking the lines, encouraging employees and making sure cuttings are stuck at the correct depths. Back when Four Star Greenhouse used hand scanners to track inventory, some supervisors were preoccupied scanning trays as they were loaded on carts and spending less time working directly with employees. But ever since Four Star invested in stationary bar code scanners that track inventory and employee efficiency, supervisors are freed up to ensure quality cuttings are produced and employees are working at a more efficient pace. “There are a couple different reasons why we went with stationary scanners,” says Back, who serves Four Star as general manager. “First, we wanted to free up some labor. We had been using one of our supervisors to do the hand scanning as the product came off the belt. As carts were loaded, supervisors would scan trays on the carts to capture […]

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September 1, 2009

Investing In People

George and Louise Lucas share their success with long-term, dedicated employees. For instance, Lori Fletcher, who manages all the orders and systems that go with them, has been with the company 21 years. Head grower Joe Moore (pictured) has been there for nearly 30 years, starting at age 11. “We try to make Lucas Greenhouses a great place to work, like a family environment, and treat people fairly,” George says. “We want this to be a career. I try to emphasize to all the employees that as my business makes money, they will also make money, get a good bonus and pay raise. I make sure I share the business with everybody and am not putting all the money in my pocket. I know my business does not exist without them. You can have all the good ideas you want, but you have to put them into practice and execute, […]

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May 19, 2009

AgJOBS Bill Making Comeback

Sen. Dianne Feinstein gave a floor speech last week announcing the reintroduction of the Agricultural Job Opportunity, Benefits and Security Act (AgJOBS) of 2009. Feinstein painted a picture of the realities confronting greenhouse workers and workers in similar industries. “Many green industry employers in the growing community are struggling to use the current H-2A program,” says Craig Regelbrugge, co-chair of the Agriculture Coalition for Immigration Reform and vice president for government relations for the American Nursery & Landscape Association. “Many more are fearful about the immigration status of key, experienced and trusted employees.” Labor shortages already resulted in decisions by farm owners and managers to scale back or cease production, or even move operations offshore. Localized and costly labor shortages have also been reported in recent years, and could worsen unless Congress addresses the situation. AgJOBS, when enacted, will overhaul the decades-old H-2A program to make it more affordable and efficient […]

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April 27, 2009

Labor Unions For Legalization Of Illegals

The AFL-CIO and Change to Win, an umbrella group for seven affiliated unions, released a proposal titled “Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform” last week, in which they support the legalization of 12 million undocumented immigrants already in the United States. The Society of American Florists (SAF) shed light on the proposal in its Washington Week In Review eNewsletter, reiterating that domestic workers simply do not want to work in seasonal, migratory positions harvesting flowers or vegetables. SAF is upbeat that the union groups agree. AgJOBS legislation, which addresses the need to overhaul H-2A program long term, also would remain entact in the proposal–another positive. The downside is that the proposal contains a provision framework calling for an independent commission to assess and manage future work flows, based on labor market shortages that are determined on the basis of actual need. To SAF, that provision indicates hostility to temporary or guest-worker […]

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