Summing It Up
• Mixed signals are being sent about future U.S. immigration policies for temporary-visa workers from Mexico, a primary source of seasonal help.
• Many club managers are now looking for new ways to find temporary help from other parts of the world. They are also renewing their efforts to attract more help from domestic demographic segments, such as seniors and college students.
• More can be done to have existing workers help with recruiting, and to sell the unique aspects of working at a club.
If it weren’t such a vital issue for clubs and resorts, it might be comical. Certainly, it’s starting to border on the absurd—“border” being the operative word.
Make that unoperative, because no one really knows these days what’s going on with U. S. immigration policy, which has a direct effect on the availability of the seasonal workers that clubs and resorts rely on for temporary help in many aspects of their operations, from course and grounds maintenance to kitchen and dining room help.
The daily news reports make it sound like we’ve started up the Mexican-American war again, with headlines like “Border Agency Nearly Overwhelmed” and “Illegals Going Back by the Planeload.”
Then there’s the circus-like atmosphere that has sprung up around new cottage industries that eagerly solicit entries in “green card lotteries” or entice employers with promises of “premium processing” of temporary-visa workers.
Conflicting rumors fly as to whether current quota and alien registration restrictions are due to either be greatly relaxed, or perhaps tightened even more. President Bush was quoted recently as saying “If there’s a job opening which an American won’t do,” a Mexican ought to be able to cross the border into the U.S., work for as long as, and wherever, he or she wants, and then go back home. Yet Customs officials speak in war-like terms about how they’re losing control of the border. And the Internet, of course, is filled with a lot of ugly, foreign-bashing invective on the issue.
|One Green That Didn’t Keep|
|It was still over a month before St. Patrick’s Day, but the Orlando Convention Center was decked out in full green by the end of the week in February when it was occupied by the Golf Industry Show. The Building of the Green, in the center of the show floor, took a full three days to complete and was a clear highlight of the first GIF?(for a full report on the show, see p. 52). While the green certainly would have been a great attraction for all subsequent shows held in the OCC, not even the Golf Course Superintendents Assn. could figure out how to prolong its life in an airless, waterless, high-intensity environment, so it was disassembled, and materials were given to local courses.|
Again, it might all seem funny, if it didn’t have such real and serious implications for managers in the club and resort industry.
Certainly, Kenneth Adams, General Manager of The Tuxedo Club in Tuxedo Park, N.Y., isn’t amused. “I project that this issue, in a post-9/11 USA, will have an increasingly greater impact on country clubs that traditionally use seasonal labor from Mexico,” Adams says. “The long-term effect (of current efforts to crack down on illegal Mexican workers) will mean that the availability of labor from this source is likely to diminish.”
Searching for Seasonal Answers
After cautioning his CMAA audience that the face of the U. S. immigration system may change dramatically in the near future, Attorney Christopher Lunny provided these frequently asked questions and answers about current work visa regulations, as they apply to temporary workers in club settings:
Q: My friend at a nearby club had his golf course torn up by a recent storm; fortunately, we escaped from having the same type of damage. He’s asked if I could send over some of my temporary foreign grounds crew to help him get things back in shape. Can I share H-2B waiters with another club?
Q: I have hired 50 foreign workers to start employment at my club on May 1st. Does that mean the workers enter the U.S. on that date, or can they arrive earlier and begin work on the 1st?
Q: I’ve looked at the ETA-750 form needed to obtain H-2B workers and it asks me to project the work hours for these positions. These are temporary jobs, though; these workers will have to work when we need them. Plus, for the outdoor grounds workers, weather can affect what and how much they do. For all of these reasons, my club needs some flexibility in the work schedule. Do I have to establish eight-hour shifts for these positions? Does the government really expect me to follow a work schedule that I have to make over 60 days before the work begins?
Q: Can I provide housing and transportation to my temporary foreign workers?
Adams, and many of his peers, are now trying to be proactive about finding alternative sources from which to fill their seasonal labor requirements. In some cases, this means looking to other parts of the world, such as Ireland or Eastern Europe, from where proven, reliable pipelines of students and others who want to seek opportunities in the States are now well-established.
In other cases, it means trying to do more to keep workers now on staff employed on a “permanent part-time” or “perpetual seasonal” basis, or making renewed efforts to tap into potential domestic sources
of help, such as college students or seniors.
But certainly, club managers are attaching a heightened sense of urgency and importance to the subject, which explains why two seminars on the topic at this winter’s Golf Industry and Club Managers Association of America shows played to large crowds of managers eager to get suggestions for new approaches and strategies.
Many Roads to Take
At the Golf Industry Show, Cornell University Professor Thomas Maloney took attendees—primarily course superintendents—through several alternative paths for “becoming an employer of choice.” One of Maloney’s primary messages was, “You can’t just rely on an immigrant workforce anymore…you have to find ways to diversify your recruiting efforts.”
At the same time, however, Maloney stressed that foreign sources remain important, and asserted that clubs could do more to take greater advantage of the existing connections that they already have with immigrant workers.
“To a great extent, it’s easier to recruit through your existing labor pool,” he said. “Understand that these are employees from a collectivist culture. Their worlds center around their families, and their work. They will help you recruit, and they will police themselves. If anything, they will overprotect members of their group.
“But if you encourage them to help you find other workers, they will be respond positively, and it will only help solidify your relationship with them,” Maloney said.
Maloney cautioned against the tendency to cut corners when using this approach. “Don’t just settle for the ‘pulse method,’ as in, ‘Bring me someone with a pulse,’” he said. “Make sure you have the same criteria for the potential job candidates that your Hispanic employees help you recruit as you would for candidates from any sources: experience, knowledge and skills, dependability, and previous employment references.”
Walter Montrose, Course Superintendent at Westwood Country Club in Vienna, Va., confirmed that this can be a very workable approach. “Other than myself and my assistant, we have had an all-Hispanic (course and grounds) workforce at our club for the last 12 years,” Montrose told the Golf Industry Show group. “We don’t consider this to be the result of a recruitment ‘strategy,’ but rather because we’ve created a comfortable environment that gets these workers to come and stay. It’s a family atmosphere, primarily with workers from Bolivia and El Salvador.
“Word-of-mouth (among existing workers) gets us any new people that we need; we don’t have to advertise,” Montrose continued. “These workers understand that we understand them, and there are no issues, language or otherwise. Two have moved up to becoming outstanding middle managers, as our mechanic and foreman.”
Maloney encouraged the group to set up a bonus program for temporary-visa workers who help recruit others, in the same fashion that referral bonuses are paid to other club employees. “You can also give them a bump for coming back the next season themselves,” he said.
In his presentation on “The Foreign Labor Solution” at the Club Managers Association of America meeting in New Orleans, Tallahassee, Fla.-based attorney Christopher Lunny confirmed that these types of bonuses can be issued to H-2B workers—but only if a club has stated, when arranging for those workers through the Department of Labor and the Customs and Immigration Service, that its temporary workers could receive discretionary bonus pay.
“More often than not, employers’ legal petitions list only the hourly pay that they expect to provide,” Lunny noted in answering a series of frequently asked questions about H-2B regulations (see box at right). He suggested that the phrase “Discretionary Bonus Pay” be included in all USAjob advertisements, as well as in petitions for H-2B workers, to ensure that such bonuses can be granted without jeopardizing the status of either the employee or the employer.
Lunny also confirmed that housing and transportation can also be provided to temporary foreign workers, but again only if the intention to provide those benefits is declared in advance.
Asked if there is any legal reason why health insurance could not also be provided under these conditions, Lunny replied, “There is no legal reason that I’m aware of why seasonal workers can’t be given health insurance and other benefits. The key is that any such benefits (must also) be offered to U.S. workers when the seasonal jobs are advertised in the local U.S. market.
“There may be a practical reason why health insurers don’t want to extend coverage, or (why) clubs (and) resorts may shy away from (offering health insurance),” Lunny added, “but I believe the benefit could be offered; I’m not aware of any law precluding it.”
Back on the homefront, Maloney, with the help of his Golf Industry Show group, provided other suggestions for expanding the reach of clubs’ recruiting efforts for both seasonal and full-time help. These included:
• Cultivate relationships with local golf coaches, to encourage them to regularly send students to the club for possible employment.
• When student honor rolls are published in local papers, look up the students’ addresses and send them notes, telling them to contact you if they’re “ever looking for a job.”
• Be creative in writing help-wanted ads. In addition to the techniques described in the box at right, Maloney also told of an employer who got outstanding response because he recast his ad to state that his greatest need was for a shortstop on the club softball team.
• Put bilingual banners on club vehicles, to turn them into rolling billboards that provide e-mail or phone contact information for anyone seeking employment.
• Regularly send e-mails to friends, members, and associates at supplier companies, asking them to send good candidates your way.
• Take a special look at the possibilities of using senior citizens, especially for some of the less-demanding maintenace jobs. “Next to immigrant workers, I think retirees are the second-best target in the golf course business today,”Maloney says. “They don’t have to work, they choose to work. And they like golf.”
He does urge that, for seniors especially, the right questions be asked in the interview process, such as “Can you routinely walk three miles a day behind a greens mower?” As a rule, very specific questions should be fashioned for interviews, such as “How do you feel about 6:00 AM starts?”
As a group exercise in his Golf Industry Show seminar on “Becoming An Employer of Choice,” Cornell University Professor Thomas Maloney encouraged the course superintendents in attendance to come up with a list of the more special aspects of grounds crew work that could be used to try to enhance the appeal of the job and attract a deeper applicant pool. Here’s the list the group came up with:
• Outside work
(“Work naked” was also suggested, but didn’t make the final list.)
“Love the outdoors? Want your afternoons and weekends off? Want to play at one of the area’s best golf clubs for free? Big Trees Country Club is looking for course maintenance workers who will enjoy these benefits, as well as competitive wages. To apply, contact….”
Ideas for Course & Grounds
Snowbelt-socked clubs had to work hard again through another harsh winter to keep the golf fires well-stoked. One inspired effort that caught our attention came from Westwood CC in Rocky River, Oh. (suburban Cleveland), whose golf pros sent out e-mail announcements of a “Winter Tune Up” opportunity, after arranging with a nearby facility to offer indoor instruction using a simulator. The Westwood pros also hooked up with a personal trainer in the area to offer a special golf fitness assessment program during February.
Then, as winter finally drew to a close, Rancocas Golf Club, Willingboro, N.J., tapped into what it knew had to be near-bursting levels of sports enthusiam (and golf anxiety) by offering a “March Madness” special ($80 discount on prepaid packs of 5 green fees tickets) that could only be purchased during the first weekend of the NCAA basketball tournament.
Got a great Course & Grounds idea you’d like to share? Send it to [email protected]