How Bailey Nurseries Has Found Solutions To The Labor Shortage

bailey-nurseries-team
Working with refugees from Southeast Asia was a natural fit for Bailey Nurseries because it has a company culture of embracing diversity. L to R: William Soe, Dari Nieves Rubio, Ae Paw, Joe Bailey, and Isabel Toledo. Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries.

Mon Dine isn’t your typical Bailey Nurseries employee. His name means “hurricane” for starters, because he was born during a tumultuous year of a political uprising in his country. The military there killed his father and shot his brother, who has spent the last year recovering in the hospital.

Mon Dine hasn’t seen his wife in two years. She’s stuck in Myanmar (formerly Burma) in Southeast Asia, unable to come to the U.S. During Bailey Nurseries’ busy season, Mon Dine works in the Human Resources department. It’s one of two jobs he works to support his family, and in his spare time, he is learning English or studying for a test. He plans to return to his homeland one day, to help his people.

To Joe Bailey, Human Resources Director at Bailey Nurseries, Mon Dine is a hero.

“He is the kindest, most humble, and grateful person,” Bailey says. “One of his culture’s social mores is to be happy, no matter their plight. That’s incredibly admirable to have that outlook on life given some terrible circumstances. For me, it puts a bad day in perspective.”

A Changing Workforce Leads To New Avenues For Labor

Bailey’s great grandfather J.V. Bailey founded Bailey Nurseries in 1905. The company’s main headquarters sits on the original farm location in St. Paul, MN, with additional production and distribution facilities based in Oregon, Washington, and Illinois. The operation grows trees, shrubs, perennials, and liners, producing these products in greenhouses, bare root fields, and in containers. Bailey Nurseries is well known for its Endless Summer, First Editions, and Easy Elegance brands. In 2014, Greenhouse Grower awarded the company its Medal of Excellence for Marketing award for the Endless Summer hydrangea campaign.

Bailey runs the company with his four brothers and four cousins. Two of the cousins are fifth generation family members.

“We have been fortunate to have great mentors in our grandfather, Gordon Bailey Sr., and our fathers, Gordie and Rod,” Bailey says. “We are very much a family business, and we have a wonderful workforce that is like an extended family.”

But it wasn’t always so.

During the 111 years of its history, the operation has weathered several ups and downs with its seasonal workforce. During World War II, many of the young men working for the operation enlisted in the military, triggering the start of a long-standing relationship between Bailey Nurseries and the Mexican immigrants that filled the labor gaps.

Mexican immigrants made up 95% of Bailey Nurseries’ workforce during the 1990s, until an unexpected event, in the form of an INS (Immigration and Naturalization Services) audit of I-9 forms, took the nursery down a different path. Almost overnight, the company lost 137 experienced workers who lacked proper work authorization, even though they had initially presented what appeared to be genuine documents. The struggle to find reliable seasonal labor began in earnest.

In 2008, Bailey Nurseries brought in its first H-2A workers, a costly move taken to obtain experienced, seasonal workers. The decision to join the H-2A program has been a mixed blessing. For the last four years, the nursery has been fully staffed, which means the company has successfully staffed 450 seasonal positions each spring in Minnesota during a three-week period, a feat that others growers are wondering how to accomplish.

“Most of them [H-2A workers] have been with us for 10 years now, so when they come back each spring it is a real shot in the arm for us. They get off the bus and start pulling orders or loading trucks,” Bailey says. “You just can’t replace that kind of experience. Our quality is better, shipping mistakes go down, and injuries go down with an experienced workforce.”

The veteran workforce and low turnover has resulted in very few disciplinary issues or attendance problems, allowing supervisors to focus less on people problems and more on managing the workload.

H-2A Necessitates Strict Attention To The Minutia Of Detail

Then there’s the other side of the H-2A program — the expense, the bureaucracy, and the onerous regulations. Bailey Nurseries works through this by having the proper human resource staff in place to handle all the paperwork related to the recruiting and application process. The company also retains ongoing legal counsel to help with Department of Labor (DOL) audits and recordkeeping. And it thoroughly trains its supervisors on the program and its regulations.

The staff is careful to pay attention to detail and not cut any corners. One thing out of place can mean a stalled application that results in a delayed workforce.

“The biggest risk with the program is not getting your workers on time or on your date of need,” Bailey says. “As the H-2A program gains popularity, there will be inevitable log jams with the bureaucratic process, whether it’s on the front end with the DOL or at the back end when you are trying to get your workers their visas at the U.S. consulate in their homeland. Have a plan B in mind and make sure you are prepared to get your federal elected officials involved to expedite the process if needed.”

bailey-nurseries-veterans-workforce
Shipping mistakes and work-related injuries have gone down at Bailey Nurseries, in part because it has a veteran workforce that returns each spring. Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries.

Working With Refugees A Natural Fit For Bailey Nurseries

With 450 seasonal positions to fill in Minnesota, which doesn’t include the several hundred additional employees working at the company’s other divisions, Bailey Nurseries needed more than H-2A workers to fill the gaps in its seasonal workforce. Working with refugees was a logical next step in acquiring labor.

“We have employed workers from more than 25 different countries over the years, so our company has a culture that embraces diversity,” Bailey says.

The company started working with the Southeast Asia refugees in 2011, employing 20 of them that first year and working up to the 200 it currently employs. Most of the refugees start out as seasonal workers and several of them have moved to skilled positions. Close to 100 of them now work year round. The refugees now make up 50% of the seasonal workforce at Bailey Nurseries’ Minnesota operation, where it used to be 95% Latino.

The first few years working with the refugees were more challenging due to the language barrier, so the company enlisted the help of a local refugee organization for help with translating. Now many of the refugees speak English and help with translating in the workplace and navigating training and safety issues.

Bailey Nurseries also did its part to ease the transition by translating important documents into the refugees’ language and creating a translation booklet with phonetic pronunciations of key words and phrases used in the nursery, as well as working with the local school district to offer Adult Basic Education to more than 100 of its employees.

The company brought in an expert on the refugee community to help its supervisors understand where the refugees came from, why they were persecuted, and why they were in the U.S. The same expert met with the top 25 leaders of the refugee workforce and talked about career opportunities at the nursery.

Another initial concern was integrating the southeast Asian refugees with the Latino workforce. Fortunately, both groups got along really well, in part bonding due to their common challenging backgrounds. They teach each other their languages, share food, and play soccer together. There has even been one marriage between a refugee and a Mexican-born worker.

To make it all work, the company takes care to run a workplace free of discrimination, racism, and harassment.

“You have to nip these things in the bud and make sure supervisors are trained on how to deal with these issues,” Bailey says.

PTSD: An Unusual Challenge For A Greenhouse Operation

Several of the refugees working at Bailey Nurseries have had family members killed, maimed, or tortured because of the political conflicts in their country. Genocide has been declared on them, and they have been hunted by the Burmese government, which brings up another challenge — PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder.

“It’s important to have the resources available to help the refugees deal with these issues. They aren’t used to American health care,” Bailey says. “Many grew up in refugee camps that are primitive in nature and have never seen the world outside their camps. You have to hold some hands to get them help with the more difficult issues.”

The company’s Midwest Human Resources Manager, Isabel Toledo, an immigrant herself, has been instrumental in making the refugees’ transition to the greenhouse workforce a smooth one. She has developed strong relationships with the refugee agencies, brought in training for the employees, and finds employees the care they need when situations arise.

“She is the main reason why we have a seasonal workforce that is 85% returning, trained, and reliable,” Bailey says. “She has a can-do attitude and realizes there are solutions to all of our problems.”

Above all, Toledo has always treated the refugees with dignity and respect, something Bailey says is the most important thing the company can provide for them, to help them develop the confidence and skills they need to make a great member of the company and a good member of society.

What does the future hold for the refugees working at Bailey Nurseries? Bailey says the company hopes to train more of the staff on basic horticulture skills, in the hopes it will pique their interest in the plant world and our great industry.

“I hope some of our refugees learn basic work ethic skills at our nursery that can take them onto careers as nurses or doctors,” he says. “And the ones that want to be great nurserymen and women will have the opportunity to do that at Bailey Nurseries.”

Topics: , , ,

Leave a Reply

One comment on “How Bailey Nurseries Has Found Solutions To The Labor Shortage

More From Labor...
Berger-Equipment

November 17, 2017

How You Can Help Berger in Donating to Hurricane Harvey Victims (While Learning More About Plant Production)

Between Nov. 23-27, Berger will donate $1 for every download of its free technical plant production guides to hurricane relief efforts.

Read More
Damarys-Mora-Crawford-Costa-Farms

November 16, 2017

Costa Farms’ New Marketing Director Eager to Tap Into Changing Consumer Needs

In her new position, Damarys Mora Crawford will lead Costa Farms’ marketing team and create and execute strategic marketing initiatives to support continued sales growth for the company’s retail customers.

Read More
Cordyline Candy Cane (Excelsa Gardens, Inc.)

November 14, 2017

Garden-Retailers Pick Their Favorite Products From The Landscape Show

Grower-retailers have once again named their favorite new products, this time as part of the Cool Product Awards at The Landscape Show 2017 in Orlando, FL. Awards were presented to 12 companies, representing 14 products.

Read More
Latest Stories

October 27, 2017

AmericanHort Issues Statement on the House Judiciary Co…

The Committee’s action is just the first step in what will be a long and important legislative process.

Read More
Capitol Hill_ feature

October 19, 2017

AmericanHort’s Main Priorities After Impact Washi…

Now that Impact Washington is over, AmericanHort, with industry support, is looking to continue its focus on tax reform, labor reform, and research and innovation.

Read More
Workers

July 25, 2017

H-2B Gets Cap Increase – Here’s How it Impacts Ho…

Greenhouse Grower caught up with AmericanHort’s Craig Regelbrugge to find out how changes to the non-agricultural guestworker program impacts us, and what it could mean for changes to H-2A, the agricultural guestworker program.

Read More
North Creek Nurseries Head Grower and Owner

July 9, 2017

How to Empower Your Future Managers

If you’re looking to retain employees and develop effective managers, provide them with the skills they need to realize their highest potential.

Read More
Heat Safety App

June 18, 2017

Protect Your Employees from Heat-Related Illnesses with…

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration have released an updated app for smart phones that can help workers stay safe when working outdoors in hot weather.

Read More
labor-supply-and-quality

March 27, 2017

Your Help is Needed to Save H-2B Returning Worker Exemp…

AmericanHort is leading the charge on this effort, but you can also help by contacting your elected officials via phone calls and social media, or by sending AmericanHort your personal story.

Read More
epa-wps-guide-feature-image

January 2, 2017

How Do You Comply With the New Worker Protection Standa…

EPA, in conjunction with the Pesticide Educational Resources Collaborative, has provided a guide to help users of agricultural pesticides comply with the requirements of the 2015 revised federal Worker Protection Standard.

Read More
Workers are required to wear uniforms and use tools restricted to the section of the facility where they work, and street clothes are prohibited

December 16, 2016

House Failure To Address H-2B Exemption Could Affect Sp…

Despite efforts by AmericanHort and others in the industry, the House of Representatives failed to renew the Returning Worker Exemption, a policy that helps ensure that small and seasonal businesses have an adequate workforce for the peak spring season.

Read More
bailey-nurseries-veterans-workforce

December 13, 2016

How Bailey Nurseries Navigates The H-2A Program

Joe Bailey, Human Resources Director at Bailey Nurseries says each operation has to analyze their situation and decide for themselves if the H-2A program is right for them.

Read More
bailey-nurseries-team-feature

December 5, 2016

How Bailey Nurseries Has Found Solutions To The Labor S…

A changing seasonal workforce led this Minnesota-based company to explore new labor sources through the H-2A program and refugee organizations, and it’s working out for the better.

Read More
american-floral-endowment-horticulture-careers-video

October 26, 2016

New American Floral Endowment Video Creates Awareness A…

The American Floral Endowment (AFE) has created a video to promote careers in floriculture and horticulture and to inform students about AFE scholarship and internship programs.

Read More
worker-protection-standard

October 25, 2016

EPA’s Worker Protection Changes To Take Effect In Janua…

The EPA has made a significant number of changes to the Worker Protection Standard, and growers must be compliant by January 2017. Experts from Michigan State University Extension outline how some of these changes could affect you.

Read More
young-professionals

October 25, 2016

AFE Develops Employer Resource Guide For Floral Interns…

The guide was created to help greenhouse and floral companies build a successful internship program, with easy-to-use guidelines and steps to create meaningful learning experiences for the next generation of business leaders.

Read More
EuroAmerican Propagators Greenhouses

October 4, 2016

The New Realities Of Labor Broached At AmericanHort’s 2…

During a labor presentation given at AmericanHort’s 2016 Plug & Cutting Conference, three industry players give their take on the current labor crisis and offer solutions to address the growing challenges.

Read More
Employees separate the plants by stem count, bud development and height. “This process allows us to respond more quickly to specific requests from customers,” Van Wingerden says

September 22, 2016

AmericanHort Hosting Webinar On Overtime Rule Complianc…

The webinar takes place on Thursday, Sept. 29. AmericanHort is also throwing its support behind the Overtime Reform and Enhancement Act.

Read More
Workers

September 20, 2016

How California’s New Overtime Law Will Affect Greenhous…

Some growers say they will have to make hard decisions about worker benefits or the crops they grow. One thing is certain: the need to automate is now more critical than ever.

Read More
Workers at Golden State Bulb Growers clean Calla tubers and select the best quality bulbs, placing them on conveyors to be graded, counted and sorted in the new system

September 13, 2016

Newly Signed California Law Expands Overtime To Farmwor…

The new law, which will be phased in beginning in 2019, is the first of its kind in the nation to end the 80-year-old practice of applying separate labor rules to agricultural laborers.

Read More
Workers at The Farm at Green Village

September 10, 2016

Now Is The Best Time To Demand Federal H-2B Program Sup…

Congress is expected to pass a continuing resolution spending bill in the near future, and whether or not that measure includes an H-2B returning worker exemption could impact your labor supply for 2017.

Read More