Positions On Essential
Worker Immigration Issues
CLCA represents approximately 2,000 licensed contractors who design, install, and maintain landscaping on residential, commercial and public properties, including parks, schools, highways and golf courses. California’s licensed contractors, mostly small and mid-sized California-based businesses, employ more than 86,500 workers and contribute more than $5.5 billion to the state’s economy.
Menu Of Topics Discussed
This document summarizes our positions on pending and future federal immigration reform legislation and the reasons for those positions.
- CLCA Supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform
- Legal Status of Unauthorized Workers
- Future Flow of Workers.
- Return to Rule of Law
- Reform Must Be Comprehensive
- CLCA Members Pay Above-Average Wages to Workers.
- Immigrant Labor is Essential to the Functioning of Many Service Industries and to the Overall Health of the U.S. Economy.
- California’s Landscape Industry Faces a Growing Shortage of Essential Labor.
1. CLCA Supports Comprehensive Immigration Reform
Comprehensive immigration reform must accomplish all three of the following goals:
- A just resolution of the legal status of unauthorized workers if they meet strict requirements
- A process that allows for immigrants and foreign temporary workers in numbers that more realistically match the economy’s need for foreign labor
- Tougher enforcement, both on the border and in the workplace
2. Legal Status of Unauthorized Workers
Any overhaul of the nation’s immigration laws must include a practical answer for the estimated 12 million unauthorized immigrants already in this country. Amnesty is unacceptable, but so is mass deportation. National security and the rule of law require that the country find a way to deal realistically with the underground immigrant population.
The practical answer should include a program for unauthorized workers to earn permanent status if they meet strict requirements such as paying their taxes, passing law enforcement screening, and learning English.
3. Future Flow of Workers.
Reform of the nation’s broken immigration system must include a new process to allow enough new immigrants and temporary workers to fill jobs that native-born workers will not take—without displacing those native-born workers. This process should be market driven and adjustable, depending on the needs of our economy.
The H-2B temporary worker programs now available have an unrealistic cap on the number of workers allowed and other practical impediments to wider use. As a result, legal avenues for foreign workers to fill landscaping jobs supply only a miniscule percentage of the California landscape labor force.
4. Return to Rule of Law
As part of an overhaul package that includes a path to legalization for unauthorized workers and more realistic immigration quotas, the U.S. must regain control of who enters the country. This requires improved border enforcement and a mandatory employment eligibility system that functions efficiently and inexpensively for employers, workers, and government agencies.
In addition, disincentives for illegal immigration must be created, including penalties against employers who knowingly hire unauthorized workers. CLCA supports reasonable enforcement against employers if comprehensive immigration reform is achieved.
5. Reform Must Be Comprehensive
All three of the above goals must be addressed. Accomplishing only one or two of them will not work. None of these individual goals has a chance of success if the others are ignored.
6. CLCA Members Pay Above-Average Wages to Workers.
Wages typically paid to unauthorized workers in the California landscaping industry are relatively high for semi-skilled and unskilled work.
Entry-level positions in landscape maintenance and construction pay at least two dollars above the minimum wage in California. With experience and promotion to supervisory positions, landscape workers typically command $15 to $20 and more per hour, plus benefits.
We support giving undocumented workers legal status so they will not be subject to exploitation by unscrupulous employers. Once foreign workers are able to exercise their legal rights under our labor laws without fear of retaliation, they will be in a better position to bargain for improved wages and benefits.
Legal status for foreign workers will also help curb the underground economy, which cheats taxpayers by failing to pay employer taxes and fees and endangers workers due to a lack of workers’ compensation insurance and the protections afforded by compliance with workplace safety laws.
7. Immigrant Labor is Essential to the Functioning of Many Service Industries and to the Overall Health of the U.S. Economy.
Employers of immigrants will tell you that these workers are some of their best and hardest-working employees, and, in many cases, that their businesses couldn’t function without them.
In addition to landscaping and construction, reasonably priced and dependable immigrant labor is essential to restaurants, hotels, nursing homes, farms, and scores of other businesses that need to fill jobs that Americans often don’t want.
Immigrant workers help keep large sectors of our economy functioning. They work hard and bring a self-starting, independent, and entrepreneurial spirit to America. Most studies show a net plus to the economy from immigrant labor with a small negative impact on those in the lowest paying jobs.
These workers are helping to support our economy. Removing them would mean invading workplaces across America and disrupting business on an unprecedented scale.
The status quo is untenable, as it puts employers in a strange “don’t ask, don’t tell” situation where they can never be sure of their workforce. The status quo only benefits smugglers, document fraud rings, and employers who undercut their competition by breaking the law.
Landscape contractors who find it necessary to employ unskilled and semiskilled workers also find it difficult to function or grow when faced with continuing uncertainty over national immigration policy.
8. California’s Landscape Industry Faces a Growing Shortage of Essential Labor.
The landscaping industry relies heavily on an immigrant labor force. Landscaping is physically demanding work. It is performed in hot, cold, and sometimes rainy weather. Some landscaping jobs are seasonal. American-born workers increasingly are not attracted to such jobs.
Because landscaping work involves outdoor manual labor, it is to some extent young person’s work. Yet America has an aging workforce. At the same time, the landscape industry is growing and therefore has a need for more workers, partly because this same aging population tends to enlarge the market for landscaping services. Immigrants, who tend to be young, address this unmet need for younger workers in the landscape industry.
The American native-born workforce is increasingly unlikely to fill less-skilled jobs. Between 1994 and 2004, the proportion of the native-born labor force age 25-44 fell from 63.3 percent to 52.9 percent, while the proportion of native-born workers age 25 and older with a high school diploma or less fell from 44.3 percent to 37.8 percent. The younger workforce is both shrinking and better educated. Given these demographic realities, we need to have a program that allows landscape contractors to utilize immigrant labor when U.S. workers are not available.
Paying higher wages to attract more workers is not the answer. The long-term demographic projections show that job growth will outstrip the supply of workers. It’s not just a matter of offering landscape workers more pay. Supply and demand play a role, but there is an upper limit to how much an employer can charge for their product or service, and thus there is an upper limit to what employers can pay their employees. This is especially true in our trade, where unlicensed operators and underground economy competitors underbid legitimate contractors and thereby keep prices rock bottom low. There really are some jobs that U.S. workers just aren’t willing to do at any reasonable price.