Who wins the worker lotto?

A worker with Quality Service Lawn and Landscape at work cutting grass.
A worker with Quality Service Lawn and Landscape at work cutting grass. Photo by Anna Thibodeaux

Employers say import labor supports their business

As Luke Reedy cut the grass in the yard of a client in the Willowdale community, he expressed frustration over how he didn’t “win the lottery” and didn’t get four workers he needed.

Finding and keeping help has proven challenging for Reedy and his business, Quality Service Lawn and Landscape in Luling. But he had found help through a federal program called H-2B in the last two years.

This year, the program changed by literally awarding employees, which is imported labor from countries like Mexico, by lottery.

Reedy didn’t win.

Although he wants to hire locally, many of these employees won’t do the heavier work of landscaping or come with issues.

“It’s a lot of heroin and lately meth has become a big problem,” he said. “People work a week or two and quit or don’t show up.”

This is why he sought H-2B labor.

“I got them last year,” he said. “It cost me around $12,000 to get four workers in this program. One took off and went back home, but the three that stayed never missed one day and it was fine.”

These workers are temporary agricultural workers (includes landscaping) who are legally allowed to come from other countries to work in the U.S. They get prevailing wage and raises, pay taxes, as well as pay Social Security and unemployment insurance.

These workers get temporary VISAs to work in the U.S. For Reedy, he needed them from April to November when business slowed down. The U.S. Department of Labor and Homeland Security administer the program and this year it began assigning 66,000 workers nationally by lottery.

But in Luling, where Reedy operates his business, he lost workers who were trained and had the option to return to their jobs this year. It was a critical benefit for his company with more than 100 clients.

“We’re having to go to people we’ve had in the past to see if they want to come back,” he said. “I get calls all the time, but now I have to dedicate the time training them. Everyone says they know cutting grass and weed eating, but they don’t do the fine manicuring we do.”

Reedy has had so much turnover that he sent 26 W-2s in one year.

He readily conceded the arduous labor with landscaping isn’t for everyone, but he’s trying to keep business going.

In St. Rose, Chase Mullin, owner of Mullin Landscape Associates, thought he had lost the lottery, too.

Mullin had actually been approved for all 18 workers he wanted, who mostly help in the maintenance side of his business during spring and summer, but they came a month later than expected.

“We really had no idea they were coming,” he said. “It made it difficult to plan.”

Even so, Mullin welcomed them since his searches for workers hadn’t generated the desired number of local hires.

But he said he considers it a national problem with young people not as interested in a trade, lower unemployment rates and many people are not willing to do the physical labor that comes with his business.

“This is our third year using H-2B labor,” he said. “We’ve grown significantly year over year.”

Mullin employs 100 people regularly in his peak season of work so the additional help is important to his business, too.

Both Reedy and Mullin say they want to keep these trained workers coming back so much so that Reedy provides them housing.

“I’ve always wanted to do things the right way and the H-2B program helped me to do that,” Reedy said. “I don’t want to be one of those guys picking people up in the Home Depot parking lot.”

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