NE Ohio short on landscape workers


Associated Press

AKRON

Low unemployment rates, a cap on immigrant seasonal workers and applicants unable to pass drug tests are causing a severe shortage of employees as the summer landscaping season gets underway, Ohio companies say.

Getting seasonal workers “is a huge, huge issue this year,” Sandy Munley, executive director of the Ohio Landscape Association, told the Akron Beacon Journal for a story Sunday.

Part of the problem is the nation’s unemployment rate, which has fallen to an 18-year low of 3.8 percent, reducing the number of people looking for jobs.

A far bigger issue is changes limiting the number of seasonal workers allowed into the country under the H-2B visa program, the paper reported.

A decades-old law caps the number of immigrant seasonal workers at 66,000 for the whole country. In the past, returning workers didn’t count against the cap. But there’s no exemption this year, creating a shortage of such workers, even as the government waived the limit to allow 15,000 more workers.

Demand this year outstripped supply by about three times, said Gray Delany, executive director of the Seasonal Employment Alliance in Leesburg, Va.

In Boston Heights in Northeast Ohio, Joe Chiera ended up hiring 15 people from Puerto Rico to fill jobs at his company, Impact Landscape & Maintenance.

“We are having major struggles finding people to work,” said Chiera, who brought the workers to Ohio on the company’s dime.

As U.S. citizens, Puerto Ricans face no travel restrictions and can work as long as they want. Multiple U.S. companies have turned to Puerto Rico this year to fill housekeeping, landscaping and kitchen jobs.

Landscaping can be hard work, with employees outdoors under all weather conditions, company owners say. Pay starts at about $13 an hour — well above Ohio’s minimum wage of $8.30.

— which works out to $520 for a 40-hour work week.

Employers say solving the problem is not as simple as just hiring U.S. citizens to do the work. In many cases locals are not as reliable as the H-2B workers, several landscaping employers said.

Jacob Grimm said his 25-person firm, Brothers Grimm Landscape & Design in Akron, received 146 job applications last year. Of those, 120 people did not come in for an interview, he told the Beacon Journal.

Of two dozen remaining applicants, half declined to take a drug test. Of four people who took jobs, only one remains this year, Grimm said.

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Information from: Akron Beacon Journal, http://www.ohio.com

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