The Society of American Florists (SAF) has lined up several experts to educate industry members about the four issues they will discuss with lawmakers and their staff on Capitol Hill during the association’s 39th Annual Congressional Action Days (CAD), March 11-12.
On Day 1 of CAD, March 11, industry specialists will describe how a large minimum wage increase would hurt businesses, the essential need for continued research into pest management and environmental initiatives, the strong demand to maintain government data on floriculture crops and how immigration policy affects growers’ labor force.
“After our briefings with some of the best in the industry, CAD participants will feel ready to discuss the nuts and bolts of these important issues with their elected representatives and key staff,” said Shawn McBurney, SAF’s senior director of government relations. “They can refer to written talking points and handouts but telling stories in their own words about how their businesses are affected often is the most effective way to get through.”
McBurney and Skip Paal, AAF, president of the Rutland Beard Floral Group in Catonsville, Maryland, will address the proposed minimum wage hike to $15 from the current $7.25 by 2024, with automatic increases beyond that tied to the wage inflation rate. Such a jump would lead to reduced hours and layoffs. With very narrow profit margins, floral businesses cannot absorb increased labor costs, while raising prices may put many out of business. The mandatory increase also would hurt entry-level workers unable to obtain jobs because employers would have to cut positions. Raising the minimum wage drives up other related costs including taxes, insurance and benefit packages.
McBurney has worked in government relations for more than 25 years, in positions on Capitol Hill, in a presidential administration, for a trade association and a nonprofit. Paal is a member of SAF’s Board of Directors and has served on the SAF Retailers Council, Government Joint Council and Technology Committee. He manages business operations for 16 retail floral shops in Maryland and New Jersey and will share his practical concerns about doubling the minimum wage.
Joe Bischoff, one of SAF’s lobbyists with Cornerstone Government Affairs, and Terrill Nell, AAF, Ph.D., will detail the critical need for greater investment through the Floriculture and Nursey Research Initiative (FNRI).
Bischoff joined the agriculture and natural resources team at his firm following his work in government and regulatory affairs for the horticulture industry. He previously focused on science-based solutions for plant health and crop production challenges and has served on the National Invasive Species Council’s Invasive Species Advisory Committee, the National Clean Plant Network and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture.
Nell is research coordinator for the American Floral Endowment, professor emeritus of floriculture at the University of Florida, past SAF President and the recipient of SAF’s 2015 Paul Ecke Jr. Award, which recognizes exemplary devotion to profession, industry and community. Nell has significantly contributed to improvements in production and handling in the floral industry and continues to conduct flower and plant postharvest research.
FNRI successes, which have benefited all sectors of the industry, include longer lasting cut flowers, water- and energy-conservation practices and better control of invasive insects. But as costs rise, supporters must insist on continued investment in critical research.
Marvin Miller, AAF, Ph.D., will join Bischoff in presenting information about the Floriculture Crops Report. Miller, market research manager for Ball Horticultural Company in West Chicago, Illinois, has served on SAF’s board of directors, Growers Council, Government Joint Council, and Awards Committee. The long-time veteran of SAF’s annual Congressional Action Days is particularly qualified to brief on the crops report because, in 2017, he was appointed to the National Agricultural Statistics Service’s (NASS’s) Advisory Committee on Agriculture Statistics. NASS publishes the report, which is full of valuable information including wholesale value, number of producers, hired workers and geographical areas with the most floricultural production.
Miller also serves on the American Floral Endowment’s board of trustees and is treasurer and past president of America in Bloom, a nonprofit organization that promotes community enhancement through flowers, plants and trees. He will make the case for ongoing funding of the report that growers use to identify market trends and opportunities, and which researchers consult as a tool. Without continued funding, NASS cannot publish the report, as happened in 2017 and 2018. The next report is due out in May 2019, thanks to SAF’s lobbying last year.
“Floriculture is the sixth largest farmgate value crop category in the U.S. — a lot of lawmakers don’t realize that,” Marvin said during last year’s CAD. “This is the benchmark report for our industry.”
McBurney and Mike Mooney will inform participants about immigration and E-Verify.
Mooney is the general manager of Dramm & Echter, Inc., in Encinitas, California, overseeing sales, shipping, receiving and production planning for his family’s third generation business. He serves on SAF’s Board of Directors, Growers Council and Government Joint Council and serves on the CalFlowers Board of Directors since 2013 and has been active in the California Cut Flower Commission.
SAF opposes stand-alone mandatory electronic verification, or E-Verify legislation, because it would deprive the industry of its workforce, exacerbating an already critical shortage of workers. The industry depends on a shrinking number of manual laborers to harvest fragile flowers, fruits and vegetables.
SAF’s position is to provide realistic ways to establish a legally authorized workforce and guest worker program as part of overall immigration policies. These include enforcing immigration laws at the border, improving verification of employment authorization and creating an acceptable guest worker program.
Also during the CAD Issue and Advocacy Training session, Alice Gomez and John Sandell, two other members of Cornerstone Government Affairs, will provide an insider’s status report on trade and infrastructure legislation and regulations. They are not among the issues CAD participants will take to the Hill, but SAF wants to ensure they have the latest information on these relevant topics.
Gomez, an attorney and professional member of the food and agriculture practice group, joined Cornerstone Government Affairs in 2007. She represents producer organizations, international entities, commodity research and promotion programs, food manufacturers and distributors on issues related to the marketing of agricultural products, international trade and nutrition.
Sandell, senior vice president at Cornerstone, joined the firm in 2018 after seven years serving the House Ways and Means Committee, where he advised, staffed and briefed the chairman, members, and senior staff on tax law and tax policy.
And Professional lobbyist trainer Stephanie Vance of Advocacy Associates, LLC, will give participants a hands-on lesson in effective Hill Communication. She’s been a lobbyist, congressional aid, legislative director and chief of staff on Capitol Hill and builds that first-hand expertise into fast, funny training scenarios to help her audience prepare for whatever comes their way on The Hill. Vance’s lively, interactive programs are always full of fresh practical advice. Her sessions always earn top marks from CAD veterans and first timers alike.
Christy O’Farrell is a contributing writer for the Society of American Florists.