It's Time to Renew Your NCTA Membership
Starting January 1, NCTA membership categories changed to adapt to the state of the industry and the evolving role of NCTA. The new membership options allow you to purchase a benefits package that works best for your budget and for your business.

Don't miss out. Be a part of the community of Christmas Tree professionals and share the knowledge and experiences of thousands who share your concerns, questions and needs.

New NCTA Membership Options:
Introductory Member - $99 + suggested Advocacy Sponsorship
Industry Member - $299 
+ suggested Advocacy Sponsorship
Professional Member - $599 + suggested Advocacy Sponsorship

*Click here to view the benefits for each member type

Additional membership options include:
Supplier - $449
Researcher - Free with a .gov or .edu email address


Download the form below and return it to:
National Christmas Tree Association
P.O. Box 3609
Littleton, CO 80161 

 
 
A Big Win for Christmas Trees!
On March 30, Wisconsin’s Governor Walker signed into law AB648 which states, “the department may not promulgate or enforce a rule related to fire safety that prohibits the seasonal placement of a Christmas tree in the rotunda of the state capitol building or in a church.” It also says that “no city, village, or town may enact or enforce an ordinance related to fire safety that prohibits the seasonal placement of a Christmas tree in the rotunda or the state capitol building or in a church.” If there is already an ordinance in effect,  it does not apply and can’t be enforced. And, the Christmas tree is presumed not to be a fire hazard. This is great news for the industry!

Photo: Wisconsin’s Governor Walker, in the center, signs a bill allowing the seasonal display of real Christmas trees in churches and the Capitol rotunda, and making the presumption that they are not a fire hazard.  On hand for the signing were (L to R) Rep. Kremer, John Jepson, Russell Kook, David Propst, Barb and Dave Cook, Cheryl Nicholson, Adam Field and Sen. Nass.
Five Months In: Trends in Labor Regs and Enforcement
Five Months In: Trends in Labor Regs and Enforcement 
Chris Schulte, CJ Lake, LLC, 
Legal Counsel for AmericanHort


As the country approaches the five-month point in the Trump Administration, we can look back on current trends in regulations and enforcement activities, and look ahead to what these changes and future changes might mean for labor issues in horticulture.  Key positions in the Administration have nominees but are yet to be filled – including Administrator of the Wage & Hour Division (WHD) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) Director, with no nominee yet for Assistant Secretary for the Employment and Training Administration (ETA). The process of developing and implementing policies is still in its early days.  Early signs suggest trends, however, and AmericanHort will continue to provide updates as more information becomes available.

Let’s start with some good news for employers, particularly those in landscaping or using staffing companies or labor contractors to find enough workers.  The Department of Labor’s (DOL) WHD announced on June 7 that it was formally withdrawing the Obama DOL’s 2015 and 2016 guidance on joint employment and independent contractors.  The 2016 guidance looked at the question of who is a worker’s “employer” for purposes of who owes wages and must meet the other obligations that come with employer status.  
 
The new announcement returns to the longstanding interpretation of “employment” and “joint employment” – looking at whether a company has the ability to hire, fire, discipline, direct, and pay a given worker.  This is significantly narrower than the “economic dependence” seven-factor test from the 2016 guidance, which included “indirect” ability to shape wage levels through the contract between an outside entity and the worker’s employer.
 
The Obama DOL guidance had the potential to dramatically reshape staffing agreements, landscape contracts, and farm-labor contractor relationships.  The Trump DOL’s decision to return to the understanding that had been in place for many years should provide more stability and predictability for employers and contractors, allowing them to know with greater confidence who is a worker’s “employer” and who is responsible for wage payments, disclosures, health care coverage, and everything else that comes with that relationship.
 
There have also been a number of developments regarding immigrant and visa workers under the new Administration.  On April 18, 2017, President Trump signed an Executive Order (EO) on “Buy American and Hire American.”  In that EO, the President signaled a policy goal “to create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States, and to protect their economic interests” to be achieved through a policy “to rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad.”  The Secretary of State, Attorney General, Secretary of Labor, and Secretary of Homeland Security were specifically directed to “propose new rules and issue new guidance” to protect the interests of U.S. workers in the administration of the immigration system, including preventing “fraud or abuse.”
 
Labor Secretary Acosta was sworn in on April 28, and on June 6, he issued a press release titled “US Secretary of Labor Protects Americans, Directs Agencies to Aggressively Confront Visa Program Fraud and Abuse.”  In that statement, Secretary Acosta announced that he had conducted a thorough review of DOL’s foreign worker visa programs and called for vigorous enforcement of existing laws, “including heightened use of criminal referrals.”  Specific enforcement proposals include:
 
  • Directing WHD to use “all its tools” in conducting audits. 
  • Directing ETA to develop proposed changes to labor certification application forms. 
  • Directing ETA and the Solicitor’s Office to coordinate enforcement activities and make referrals of criminal fraud to the Office of Inspector General. 
  • Establishing a working group within ETA, WHD and the Solicitor’s Office to supervise this effort, coordinate enforcement, and avoid duplication of efforts. 
DOL will also coordinate with the Departments of Justice and Homeland Security to investigate and detect visa program fraud and abuse.  Secretary Acosta also stated that DOL has “begun to prioritize and publicize the investigation and prosecution of entities in violation of visa programs.”
 
Among those investigations the Department is “publicizing” involves G Farms of Arizona.  In that case, the H-2A employer is accused of housing its workers in shipping containers in “illegal and life-threatening housing.”  The allegations in that case will need to be proven at trial but are certainly outside the behavior that any AmericanHort member would find acceptable.  The Department secured a preliminary injunction against the employer – the first such case in which DOL has done so.
 
In another case involving outrageous factual allegations and relatively new enforcement techniques, an unregistered farm labor contractor in Fresno, California was arrested and charged by the Fresno County District Attorney with six felony counts of human trafficking and extortion involving three workers from Tijuana, Mexico.  The accused allegedly kept the workers’ visas and passports and made “direct or implied threats of physical harm and threats to report them to immigration.”  It is not clear whether the workers came to the U.S. on H-2A visas or entered the country in some other fashion.  Human trafficking investigations have typically focused on prostitution and child labor situations; relatively few prosecutions have been brought against agricultural employers involving migrant farm workers.  Last week, Attorney General Sessions told a conference of law enforcement officials that DOJ would make fighting human trafficking a top priority.
 
Immigration enforcement, particularly interior enforcement by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), was a cornerstone of the Trump campaign and has been one of the most public exercises of the new administration’s power so far.  In Congressional testimony on June 13, acting ICE Director Thomas Homan described significantly increased immigration enforcement activities already in place and in the coming months, as to both criminals and non-criminals in the U.S. illegally.  Arrests of non-criminal aliens during the first three months of the new administration are 157% higher than the same period in 2016.  Acting Director Homan specifically told those in the country illegally that “You should be uncomfortable, you should look over your shoulder and you need to be worried.”  The President’s Budget, provided to Congress last month, calls for significant increases in funding for border operations, ICE enforcement, and beds in detention centers for those arrested and awaiting deportation.
 
Overall, the trends discussed during the months-long campaign for the White House have been borne out:  generally pro-business policies, protecting U.S. workers from foreign competition, and aggressive immigration enforcement.  In industries like agriculture, where the immigration policy and employment policy inevitably intersect, this can lead to difficult situations for employers.  Going forward, AmericanHort will be at the forefront of these issues and we will continue to work together to help our members navigate these new waters.
Choose Real
Real Christmas Trees Benefit the Environment
While they're growing, Real Christmas Trees support life by absorbing carbon dioxide and other gases and emitting fresh oxygen. The farms that grow Christmas Trees stabilize soil, protect water supplies and provide refuge for wildlife while creating scenic green belts. Often, Christmas Trees are grown on soil that doesn't support other crops. See what the experts say about Real Christmas Trees.

Real Christmas Trees Are Renewable
Real Christmas Trees are grown on farms just like any other agricultural crop. To ensure a constant supply, Christmas Tree growers plant one to three new seedlings for every tree they harvest. On the other hand, artificial trees are a petroleum-based product manufactured primarily in Chinese factories. The average family uses an artificial tree for only six to nine years before throwing it away, where it will remain in a landfill for centuries after disposal.

Real Christmas Trees Are Recyclable
Real Christmas Trees are biodegradable, which means they can be easily reused or recycled for mulch and other purposes. Learn about the many ways that Real Christmas Trees are being recycled and reused in communities nationwide.

Listen to the broadcast by NPR News's Adam Cole, Tree-Incarnation: Christmas Trees Return To Nature (A Poem)
NCTA or CTPB?

NCTA or CTPB?

Why the Christmas tree industry needs both organizations.

By Tim O’Connor, Executive Director


I know some confusion exists about what the National Christmas Tree Association (NCTA) and the Christmas Tree Promotion Board (CTPB) each do, why the industry needs both organizations, and the importance of funding NCTA now that growers are required to pay into the checkoff program. These questions are not unique to the Christmas tree industry. In my career I have worked for five other agricultural organizations in industries that have both a trade association and a checkoff program; the same questions exist in those industries and, in all sectors of agriculture. It is highly important for Christmas tree growers to understand the differences between NCTA and CTPB and the importance of both organizations.

NCTA fills a unique and critical role as the advocacy organization for the Christmas Tree Industry; it represents the industry in public policy and governmental affairs; advancing positions that support the industry and defending against legislation and regulations that could negatively affect the industry. CTPB is expressly prohibited from conducting any public policy activities by its USDA oversight regulations. If NCTA were not acting on your behalf in public policy matters you would simply be helpless on the sidelines as key issues of importance to the industry were in play.

For example, a few of the issues NCTA advances and defends as industry priorities are:

  • Maintaining IRS Designation that Christmas tree production is classified as lumber and therefore taxed at capital gains rates.

  • Ensuring Christmas tree production retains its agricultural status and associated overtime wage payment exemptions.

  • Positively influencing fire codes to protect opportunities for real trees.

  • Providing the White House Christmas tree each year.

CTPB can’t work on these vital industry advocacy matters because it is a checkoff program. All checkoff programs are prohibited from funding public policy advocacy initiatives because their revenue comes from a government mandated assessment.  NCTA, on the other hand, is funded by members’ dues payments, sponsorships, state TIP fund investments and advertising from its publications. NCTA can undertake public policy advocacy work because it’s funding is derived through these voluntary contributions from the industry.

CTPB’s mission is to conduct promotion, education and research programs to increase demand for real Christmas trees. The industry has seen significant erosion in demand for real Christmas trees as many consumers have found artificial trees to be “easier” to use. Reversing this demand loss will require a sustained promotion and education program, which is now possible with the resources available through the checkoff managed by CTPB.

To build long-term sustained demand it is highly important that we connect real Christmas trees with young Millennial families as they are beginning to form their own family traditions. The Millennial generation is the largest in US history, even larger than the Baby Boomer generation; they are about one-fourth of the US population and have $2.5 trillion in purchasing power. They are the best-educated cohort of young adults in US history and are the first generation of digital natives utilizing technology and social media to make most of their purchasing decisions. CTPB’s marketing campaign prioritizes Millennial families as its core target because of the long-term importance of not losing these consumers for the future.

Having worked for both trade associations and checkoff programs I know the value the industry receives from each organization delivering results that matter to advance the industry. To be successful you need NCTA representing your interests as your advocate and CTPB building demand for your products. It is not helpful to the industry if growers make the decision because they are required to pay an assessment to one organization they will no longer voluntarily pay to support the other.

CTPB is launching its first consumer ad campaign for the 2016 Christmas season. It will be exciting and we encourage the whole industry to utilize the campaign to extend its reach to consumers and ability to build demand.

NCTA is going through a transition to be more focused and more effective. There have been some disconnects between growers and NCTA in the past; but that was the past. This is a new future for NCTA, a future that seeks to be more connected with the industry.

Let’s move forward together to make the Christmas tree industry stronger by supporting both NCTA and CTPB to accomplish their missions.

America Chooses... What’s Next?

By Craig Regelbrugge

The votes are counted, the dust has begun to settle, and it was a “change election” the likes of which we have not seen in a long, long time. And the pollsters will be cleaning egg off their faces for weeks to come. In some ways, the ending of this protracted, bitter campaign season is a bit like the dog that chased, then with some surprise, caught the car. Attention now turns to preparing to govern.

Our industry undoubtedly had plenty of Trump supporters and plenty of Clinton supporters, with a variety of personal and professional reasons. Of the former, some are surely weary after years of Obama “government is the solution” regulatory initiatives and policies. Some prioritized the balance of the Supreme Court. Of Clinton supporters, many felt she had the experience and credentials on her side. Some were ready to see the first woman President elected. Many struggled with who was the lesser of evils.

Beyond our industry, and certainly across the Rust Belt states where results were most stunning, voters weren’t so much making a political or policy choice as they were revealing deep economic and cultural anxieties. And a sense that “government is working against me, not for me.” So although Clinton appears to have actually won the popular vote, she lost key states that were, to varying degrees, taken almost for granted by her campaign.

Come 2017, many see business-friendly opportunity on the horizon. Significant infrastructure spending is a distinct possibility. So is tax reform. There could be significant efforts to roll back or reshape some of the Obama administration’s most prominent but controversial achievements and initiatives, ranging from the Affordable Care Act to labor and environmental regulation to certain immigration executive actions. There may be new challenges and threats, as well.

Here are three dynamics to watch in the days and weeks ahead.

Trump and Ryan – House Speaker Paul Ryan and Candidate Trump had a rocky relationship during the campaign. Will they bridge their differences? The House is poised to hold its leadership elections swiftly. Ryan is politically savvy and policy-driven. He understands that it’s not enough to be “against everything;” you need to have alternative solutions. If he is elected to continue as Speaker in 2017, we’ll have a steady legislative hand on the wheel and a better shot at a realistic, coordinated, policy-oriented legislative agenda in the House next year. If House Republicans reject Ryan, the next six months could be much more chaotic.

The Pence Factor – While Trump has absolutely no governing experience, Vice President-elect Mike Pence is an experienced lawmaker, having served six terms in the U.S. House before becoming Governor of Indiana. He may play an outsize role in the process of shaping a Trump administration cabinet, and as a liaison to Congress come January.

Checks and Balances – The American electorate usually displays an instinctual preference for the check-and-balance of divided government. This time, the “change wave” put Republicans in control of everything. Admittedly, their margin of control in both chambers is a bit narrower. In the Senate, Republicans lost two seats (Incumbent Mark Kirk (R-IL) lost to challenger Tammy Duckworth, and Kelly Ayotte (R-NH) to Governor Maggie Hassan).

Though clever procedural moves are sometimes possible, under Senate rules it typically takes 60 votes to take up legislation, and to end debate and vote on final passage. This gives incoming minority leader Chuck Schumer more than a little power, if and so long as his caucus of 48 Senators is unified. But the 2018 electoral map is hostile for Democrats, who will be defending 25 of 33 seats. These 25 include a Rust Belt swath from Pennsylvania to Wisconsin where Trump prevailed, so incumbents might be skittish about stonewalling much of a Trump legislative agenda.

A cautionary note. Ours is an industry substantially reliant on foreign-born labor. It runs the gamut – citizens, legal permanent residents, temporary and seasonal visa holders, refugees, and (presumably), quite a few unauthorized workers whose employment documents aren’t as good as they look. Trump wasn’t elected on the immigration issue, but regardless of how you feel about it, his campaign rhetoric resonated with voters who have lost faith in their government and believe in the rule of law.

So what happens next on this critical issue? The Trump transition team point persons on immigration have called for tougher, some would say heavy-handed, immigration laws. Early moves will surely be enforcement-centric. Trump’s calls for a border wall and tripling the number of immigration enforcement agents won’t happen all that quickly; these things require major funding, and involve Congress. That takes time. As would imposing mandatory E-Verify, which Trump has supported.

But some things could be done sooner, and within current resources. He could rescind the Obama executive actions granting deferred action, such as the Deferred Action for Child Arrivals (DACA) program, or limiting refugee admissions, for instance. While these aren’t often seen as business issues, there are many DACA recipients and a growing number of people admitted as refugees now employed in horticulture.

A Trump administration could also return to the practice of worksite enforcement, whether that means raids, or I-9 audits, substantially worsening the labor challenges already facing many horticulture businesses. Screening practices for visa applicants abroad could change, slowing the already-clogged pipeline for H-2A and B worker admission during peak seasons. Perhaps there will be some openings for positive visa program reforms, but it’ll be defense more than offense for the foreseeable future.

The Long View. AmericanHort has earned a reputation for credibility, integrity, and taking the long view. Our leaders and staff understand that a good reputation takes years to build and minutes to destroy. We are about good policy, not politics or party. And so, we’ll continue to work with elected men and women of both parties who want to support policies that ensure a vibrant future for our industry and our country.

You are a key part of this equation. Especially after an election like this one, elected officials aren’t as interested in hearing from a lobbyist (even one who is a horticulturist!) than a constituent who is running a business, creating jobs, paying taxes, and doing his or her part to keep America great. Your voice, your participation, your support will be ever more critical in the months ahead.


  
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Join or Renew Today!
Download the form below and return it to:
National Christmas Tree Association
P.O. Box 3609
Littleton, CO 80161

 

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