The new year has arrived, and with it, the opportunity to resolve to do something truly special. I suggest our industry take the opportunity presented by the recent election, with both houses controlled by one party, to influence the new leadership to advance beneficial legislation, much of it long overdue.
Regardless of your party preference or affiliation, with the leadership of both houses of Congress in one party’s hands, an agenda will move forward to the president’s desk and we need to be vocal advocates for our businesses and our industry.
Immigration reform’s time has come. Nursery businesses rely heavily on immigrant labor to get our products to market. Many of these employees have lived in this country for more than 20 years, often without proper documentation. They have helped our businesses thrive, raised families, paid taxes, and been strong contributors to our communities.
These immigrant workers have learned the skills necessary to produce quality plant material and have accumulated the knowledge base that makes them vital to the nursery industry.
I have heard time and again that these undocumented workers take jobs from our citizens. But if that is the case, why are Oregon nurseries, and agriculture in general, experiencing such a labor shortage? My company, along with many of my neighbors, would hire more people and expand production if the labor was available.
Even though the U.S. unemployment rate has improved since we emerged from the last recession, the labor participation rate has declined to 62.7 percent, the lowest level since 1978. That means that 92.6 million Americans, for whatever reason, are not part of the workforce.
Of the 10.9 million Americans currently receiving unemployment benefits, many have simply quit looking for a job. With this many Americans available to work, how can we explain a labor shortage other than to assume that these citizens are not interested in working in the field with mud up to their elbows?
Immigration is just one of many issues that need to be addressed. The Affordable Care Act is beginning to have some deleterious effects on small businesses and individuals. Many businesses are seeing astronomical increases in premiums, and some are not hiring in order to stay under the 50-employee threshold. My premiums for 2015 have doubled as compared to 2014.
This law needs to be changed and replaced by a system that is more market oriented and one that doesn’t put the IRS in control of our healthcare.
The OAN has long been active and effective at both the state and federal levels, advocating for our members. We continue to be active, but the OAN doesn’t have the same level of resources to deploy as we have had in years past. It’s incumbent on all members to work at the grassroots level to complement the OAN’s efforts by contacting their elected representatives and making them hear our concerns.
We can also help by making a contribution to ONPAC or joining the OAN Government Relations Committee. By working together, we can make a greater impact.