Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Feds pushing Hispanic landscapers out of business

Environmental and labor issues threaten future for the industry and its workers.

MIAMI, FL -- The landscaping industry in the United States could soon be facing severe job losses due to pending labor and environmental policy changes that are being advanced by two separate government agencies in Washington D.C. To bring attention to the matter, organizations such as the
National Hispanic Landscapers Alliance (NHLA) have been busy raising awareness within the industry of the impending threats and creating dialogue with administration and congressional leaders about the impact that such policies will have on the industry.

Despite its solid contribution to the economies of many communities in the United States, the viability of many landscaping industry firms is threatened by pending and proposed Department of Labor (DOL) rules which, if enacted, will impede their access to seasonal immigrant workers. Additionally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is advancing policies that would sharply reduce the demand for landscaping services across the country. As a consequence of these issues, the industry might have no choice but to cut thousands of jobs.

According to industry insiders, among those most affected will be the half million Hispanic-Americans which make-up an estimated 80 percent of the landscape industry workforce. The NHLA was established to provide these professionals with a means through which to advocate on behalf of their businesses, the livelihood of their employees and the quality of life in their communities. Among its initiatives, the organization educates the American public and policymakers about the many environmental and human health benefits made possible through the landscape industry and promotes and facilitates the professional advancement of its members.

"With so many Hispanic households depending on the landscape industry for their livelihood, we need our government to establish sound policy, which will allow our industry to flourish, so we can continue to provide a better life for our families, our workers and our communities," declared Chuy Medrano, NHLA president.

Within just a few months of the organization's inception it has met with members of Congress and key national Hispanic organizations to discuss the industry's priorities. Among these are concerns about the effects of the EPA WaterSense program policies for building exteriors and the rule changes DOL has planned or proposed for H-2B Seasonal Worker program.

The EPA's WaterSense criteria, in particular, has immense implications not only for the industry, but for the public in general, since one of its key components calls for a 50 percent reduction in the use of turf. While the policy is "voluntary," the EPA is actively promoting its adoption into construction codes. This reduction in turf would have many adverse environmental ramifications including a reduction in carbon sequestration, oxygen production, and the cooling effect of lawns, and increases in run-off and erosion. These effects would be in addition to the significant reduction in workforce for the industry that would be caused by this policy. In the end, these actions would make communities poorer in more ways than one.

An even more immediate threat is coming from DOL program changes that would curtail the industry's ability to fill thousands of seasonal laborer positions with temporary immigrant laborers. Changes by the DOL to the H-2B program would sharply increase costs and make it difficult for reputable employers to sustain, much less expand operations. Thousands of industry jobs that depend on an ample supply of laborers are certain to be casualties should such proposed policies be enacted.

"We are recruiting fellow Hispanic-owned businesses in the landscape industry including designers, growers, suppliers, distributors, contractors, and also non-Hispanic owned firms with key Hispanic employees to join the Alliance," said Medrano. "As part of this process we are also educating them about the importance of engaging policy makers and informing those in the communities where we live and work about the value of the landscape industry and the adverse affects of undue regulation on our well being and theirs."

The founding members of the NHLA include some of the largest U.S. Hispanic-owned landscaping companies as well as firms with Hispanics in key management positions. In addition to Chuy Medrano (Co-Cal Landscapes – CO) the other NHLA officers are President-elect Raul Berrios (RulyScapes – VA), Secretary Veronica de Hoyos (Lawn Management Company – TX) and Treasurer Mark Dominguez (The Landscape Partners – TX).

Throughout the year, the NHLA will hold meetings across the country to gather input from industry peers, learn about the critical issues in local communities, educate policy makers and recruit new members. Membership in the National Hispanic Landscape Alliance is also open to Hispanic college students who aspire to a career in the industry.

About NHLA
The National Hispanic Landscape Alliance is an association that facilitates and promotes the advancement of Hispanics as landscape industry professionals and leaders and provides half million U.S. Hispanic landscaping professionals a voice in the national dialogue on environmentally responsible landscape practices, and a means through which to advocate on behalf of their businesses, the livelihood of their employees, and the quality of life in their communities.

SOURCE National Hispanic Landscape Alliance

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