The New Realities Of Labor Broached At AmericanHort’s 2016 Plug & Cutting Conference

The labor shortage predicted in the 1990s isn’t a threat anymore, it has come to pass. Greenhouse growers in search of solutions will have to be innovative and resourceful as they explore new ways to recruit workers and reduce labor needs, said Craig Regelbrugge, Senior Vice President of AmericanHort, during a recent presentation on labor at the Plug & Cutting Conference, held September 19-21 in Carlsbad, CA.

Joe Bailey, Human Resources Manager, of Bailey Nurseries and John Erb, Vice President of North American Operations at Driscoll’s, joined Regelbrugge to talk with growers and others in the horticulture industry about how to navigate the new realities of labor. Each one provided a unique view into the current labor crisis, caused in part by demographic shifts ranging from an aging farmworker populations to near “net zero” Mexican migration due to greater difficulty crossing the U.S. border, and shared what their companies have done to address the problem.

Growers will need to leverage several resources during this current and worsening situation to survive, Regelbrugge said, including worker retention, automation/mechanization, outsourcing/offshore, non-traditional sources, and H-2A (including other source countries).

Treat Workers With Dignity To Increase Worker Retention

Erb offered growers a different perspective on labor from a similar industry as he discussed Driscoll’s current challenges with worker protests and calls for global consumer boycotts over alleged labor violations in the U.S. and Mexico. Erb says the company has addressed the labor unrest with reactive measures including the establishment of global worker welfare standards, piloting a Fair Trade USA Program in Baja, Mexico, and engaging consumers to ensure advocacy. Proactively, the company enlisted key stakeholders to address structural issues, and worked to improve community engagement and build greater awareness among growers and others in the berry industry.

Similar to the horticulture industry, Erb said growers in the berry industry are also turning to automation and H-2A for help, but a foundational way to address the labor challenge starts with retaining the workers they already have by building engagement and being responsive to their needs. The number one priority is to treat people with dignity. He suggested growers consider tools such as a LaborVoices program, training for crew leaders focused on communication and conflict resolution, building awareness about and providing in-house or community services, and providing social engagement opportunities that enhance loyalty.

Working With Refugees Not As Unfamilar A Process As Growers Think

Bailey discussed the pros and cons of the H-2A program, which he says has helped with seasonal labor shortages at Bailey Nurseries in St. Paul, MN, but comes with its own set of problems. Primarily, he says worrying about getting workers on time is what keeps him up at night.

Bailey offered this advice to growers involved in the H-2A program:
• Follow rules and regulations
• Be thorough and accurate when filling out the Department of Labor application
• Don’t take shortcuts
• Make sure supervisors are trained on the program and buy in to it
• Apply the first day you can
• Make sure top management stands behind the program
• Enlist good legal help

One area where Bailey Nurseries has had good success is working with Burmese refugees for seasonal labor, which it has done since 2011. Bailey said one advantage agriculture has when working with refugees is that because many positions needed to run a farm or greenhouse don’t require English, greenhouse growers can become preferred employers for refugees who are having difficulty finding work due to difficulties learning English.

Working with refugees shouldn’t be an unfamiliar process to growers, Bailey said, as it is similar to the language, transportation, and cultural issues they had 25 years ago when they first began working with many Spanish-speaking employees.

During Bailey’s presentation, he shared the following tips for growers who want to start working with refugees:
• Seek out groups (churches, agencies, associations) that work with immigrants and refugees. Bailey Nurseries is willing to share it’s the list of those it works with.
• Source bilinguals to help with training, management, and to translate documents
• Develop a translation booklet of key words, phrases, etc.
• Train supervisors and staff on where the refugees come from and their background
• Don’t put up with supervisors that don’t want to make a change and pivot toward new labor pools. Be prepared for pushback and how you will deal with it ─ firmly.

Above all, Bailey said if growers treat the refugees working for them well and follow the Golden Rule, others will follow, as these are self-recruiting communities.


Leave a Reply

More From Labor...

April 23, 2018

Griffin Hosting Cannabis Growers Workshop in May

The half-day program in Colorado will focus on several aspects of crop fertility and nutrition delivery strategies.

Read More

April 20, 2018

Your Weekly Chance to Market the Positive Vibes That Flowers Bring

Each week between now and the end of the year, American Floral Endowment will post a new video promoting flowers.

Read More
Dual Income No Kids (DINK) Young Couple

April 10, 2018

Make Plans to Attend the NICH Annual Conference in Atlanta in June

Everyone in every aspect of consumer horticulture is invited to attend and help create a unified, strategic plan around industry-wide priorities.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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