Later in the day on Monday, July 16, landscapers attended panel discussions on a number of topics related to legislation they would be reviewing the next day on the Hill with their members of Congress.
The topics included how the Farm Bill is not just about agriculture, H-2B, EPA regulations, e-Verify, advocacy and social media.
Tim Daniels, legislative director for Congressman Andy Harris, spoke at the H-2B panel and shared some of the current issues the program is encountering. Unlike most legislature, H-2B faces opposition from both parties for various reasons and the main goal for its proponents is to secure enough visas for the various industries that use it.
According to Daniels, 135,000 is the highest number of visas ever allowed. Yet he says the number of returning workers doesn’t matter if you look at how they are beneficial to businesses and the country.
He explained that the restrictions on legal immigration causes unnecessary stressors and forces some to consider hiring illegal immigrants or going out of business.
“The demand for visas is at an all-time high,” he said.
As for actionable items to ask of their representatives, Daniels said to request support for a permanent returning worker exemption. He encouraged landscapers to share their personal stories of how their business is suffering from this problem to help make the issue real with Congress members.
During another panel discussion, David Payne, president of CODAVATE, and Will Lopez, vice president customer success for Phone2Action led a presentation on how landscapers’ usage of social media can actually affect policy.
According to Payne, tweets are significant, as members of Congress are on Twitter, along with 80 percent of the rest of the population.
“You need to use social media to push back,” he said.
Payne also shared the tips that the magic number of retweets needed for a member of Congress to take notice of a tweet is 30.
Meanwhile, Lopez encouraged landscapers to follow their legislators on social media, as they often use the platforms to monitor and engage with constituents on certain topics. He also promoted the idea of keeping legislators accountable by tweeting a photo with them after they promised to help and retweeting it if they do not follow through later on.
Payne acknowledged that most businesses are reluctant to engage in political topics, but he pointed out how brands like REI and Patagonia have taken a stand on matters that relate to them and still remain successful businesses.
The following day, landscapers traded in their spades for suits as they traveled to Capitol Hill to meet with their senators and representatives.
Andrew Bray, vice president of government relations for NALP, reminded the attendees that the most important thing they do is share with their legislators what they do and how they serve their constituents.
After breakfast and a short word from Rep. Rodney Davis of Illinois, teams from different states split up heading to their set appointments, armed with their leave-behind packets.
A delegation from Illinois met with legislative assistant Kevin Lefeber for Sen. Richard Durbin to share their recent struggles with H-2B. James Schwantz, CEO of Acres Group, based in Wauconda, Illinois, explained how his company generally employs 270 H-2B workers and how for a short period of time they believed they were not getting their laborers this year.
When they evaluated what would need to be done if this occurred, Schwantz said they would have had to lay off a third of their staff. While they eventually did get their workers, Schwantz wanted to stress how not getting H-2B workers affects their American workers as well.
“Waiting is scary for us,” he said.
Meanwhile, Munie Greencare, based in Caseyville, Illinois, was not so fortunate as they applied for visas in both February and April, needing 169 visas and ending up with only 63. The company works in eight states, so while some locations received their workers, others did not.
“It has been an extremely difficult year,” said Joe Munie, president of Munie Greencare.
According to Munie, they have been forced to have crews work 12 hours a week for six days a week and have not taken on any new jobs since April in order to just maintain their current customers.
While Lefeber said it was unlikely for anything to be done about the matter until after the next election, the landscapers from Illinois stressed the permanent returning worker exemption would be needed far sooner than that.
“The companies that don’t win the lottery are going to go out of business,” Munie said.
The group also briefly touched on the Farm Bill and requested the senator include the Title IX FIFRA-related provisions, which would allow lawn care operators to continue to use their pesticide products.
“We’re licensed to use these products and want to keep these tools,” said Harold Enger with Spring-Green.
The group also went on to speak to Mark Copeland, a policy advisor for Sen. Tammy Duckworth. After sharing their stories once more, Copeland admitted there was no silver bullet for the issue but encouraged the NALP members to continue speaking to their legislators and sharing their struggles.