Feb. 9, 2016 SIGN IN | REGISTER

Hispanic Connection Opens Doors for Niche Group

Bill Clark/Roll Call

Josh Denison, the vice president of Denison Landscaping Inc. in Fort Washington, Md., brings about 160 seasonal workers to the United States on H-2B visas annually, and they make up about one-third of his employees.

Dropping out of the program would force him to lay off the upper-level American workers who would have managed the foreign employees, costing him nearly $6 million in annual revenue, he said after the NHLA recruitment meeting.

“I’d let go 35 or 40 people without even blinking an eye,” he said. “And these guys are like family.”

The organization is also working to overturn an EPA recommendation that landscape designers limit lawn cover to 40 percent of any single property as part of a campaign to save water.

The lawn cover and visa issues put NHLA at odds with environmental groups and labor unions like the AFL-CIO, which has aggressively lobbied for the changes to the visa rules.

“The fact that it’s another employer group aligned with the Chamber of Commerce is more significant than that they happen to be Hispanic,” said Ana Avendano, who directs immigration work for the AFL-CIO. “We haven’t seen an immigrant worker protection regulation for years, and it’s bringing out all these groups that have had the upper hand for so long.”

The organization could very well give pro-business groups a new channel to power and build support in what has traditionally been a liberal community. In just a matter of weeks, NHLA seems to be getting the attention that other landscaping groups have strived for.

Egües met this week with the Labor Department and at least a dozen Republican and Democratic lawmakers who have large Hispanic constituencies, including Reps. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) and David Wu (D-Ore.). Neither Member’s office responded to calls requesting comment.

Other landscape industry organizations have all but given up on direct meetings with federal agencies, and some believe that lawmakers’ influence over the agencies has eroded.

“The Department of Labor has gone wild, and there is a question about how much legislators can actually do to influence regulatory agencies,” said Tom Delaney, director of governmental affairs at the Professional Landcare Network, an international group that works on behalf of the entire industry, including suppliers and equipment manufacturers. “If they cared about us, they would have met with us before they proposed the regulations. They are just really out of control.”

Delaney said he hopes NHLA will have sway with the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, which has historically opposed industry priorities, and Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, who is Hispanic. A spokesman for the caucus was not familiar with the new group and declined to comment on its issues.

To be sure, NHLA is small by Washington standards, with members in just five states and an operating budget of less than $20,000 for its initial activities, including member recruitment and meetings in Washington.

That reality is not lost on Egües, who thanks the rosary in his pocket for the number of meetings he’s gotten on the Hill.

“We’re a little organization,” he said. “We can get eaten up real fast, so our strategies have to be different.”

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