CREVE COEUR, Mo. – There aren’t enough people to cut the grass in Creve Coeur.
On some city-owned properties, such as the corner of Ladue and Mosley roads, the weeds are sprouting and spreading, and the bushes haven’t been trimmed.
What’s happening on those slivers of public land in an affluent suburb of St. Louis far from the border can be traced to a larger debate on national immigration policies.
It’s a small snapshot of the big shortage of seasonal workers, mostly from Mexico, relied upon by local landscaping companies to provide labor during busy summer months.
The U.S. government issues 66,000 H-2B visas annually to allow foreign workers to be in the country temporarily for seasonal nonfarm labor. Most positions in the St. Louis area pay $13.81 an hour.
Last year, 15,000 additional visas were allowed. And the federal spending bill approved in March authorized adding more, although that hasn’t happened.
More visas should be allowed, and delays in getting workers here are crippling local businesses, said Pete Schepis, director of operations for the Greenwood Group landscaping company based in Wentzville.
His company is one of the firms used by Creve Coeur to do its mowing. Last year, it got 44 workers through the program. It requested 48 workers this year, but has none, Schepis said. The firm usually has about 65 employees this time of year. It has 12 now. And hiring American workers at a time when unemployment remains low and employers nationwide are trying to fill millions of jobs isn’t filling the void.
“We can’t get people to come to work. We try to hire people. They come for a week or two weeks, we’ve had people come for a day,” Schepis said. “The government thinks there are people out there who want to do these jobs, and that’s just not the case.”
The same is true at Munie Greencare Professionals. It has offices in nine states, and applied for 160 workers through the visa program. But it got only 63, said Erin Barr, director of human resources operations.
Munie crews are working six days a week to keep up with demand.
And there are delays in getting workers here. The five Mexican workers employed by downtown-based C&C Seamless Guttering Inc. arrived in mid-April, a couple of weeks later than last year due to delays, said David Casteel, the company’s president. They’re the same five he hired the previous year — he said such continuity is vital in his business, which also has difficulty hiring U.S. workers.
“It’s really important that we get the same guys back who have been trained and established relationships with us and our customers,” said Casteel.
The uncertainty puts workers who want to come to the United States in limbo, said Gabriela Ramirez-Arellano, business counselor at the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of St. Louis.
And the labor shortage can be seen in less consequential ways in places such as Creve Coeur, which has outsourced the bulk of its mowing for about a decade.
Patty Schvey, 71, who has lived in the area for 20 years, lamented that people who want to work in the United States are not being allowed to. “I have news for you — we’re feeling the effects of that here in cozy little Creve Coeur,” she said, describing the corner near her home as an urban jungle.