Landscape companies are struggling to find workers willing to do projects like this one. | Courtesy of Murrie Mehrer

If you’re wondering why your lawn care company hasn’t cut your grass and its owner keeps giving you the runaround, you’re not alone. According to longtime lawn care company owner Murrie Mehrer, 60, of Lakeland, the landscaping industry is facing a critical worker shortage crisis.  

Mehrer has run “All that Gardening by Murrie,” since 1988. She said Florida’s new immigration law, known as Senate Bill 1718,  is one factor causing issues for her business, and the lawn care industry in general. 

“We are struggling to find good help. It was bad after COVID, and after the new law passed, most of them left the state,” Mehrer said. 

Before the law went into effect, she said her Lakeland-based landscaping company had upwards of seven workers. Since the law went into effect, she’s lost five of them. 

“We spent time and years training, and teaching these people. Now most of them are gone. The immigrants with legal status are in high demand, and they know it. When you do find one, they want top dollar. We can’t afford to pay someone per day what the average yard pays us in a month,” Mehrer said. 

Construction, roofing, tree trimming and other businesses have also reported challenges.

Under the new law, which went into effect July 1, businesses with 25 or more employees must use the federal E-Verify electronic system to ensure new hires can legally work in the United States or beginning in 2024, face a $1,000 daily fine and possible suspension of business licenses after multiple findings of noncompliance. It also prohibits undocumented immigrants from using drivers’ licenses issued in other states, and requires hospitals that accept Medicaid to ask patients about their immigration status upon admission. 

Another facet of the law makes it a third-degree felony if someone transports someone into Florida who they “reasonably should know has entered the United States in violation of the law.” For families with mixed immigration status, this could make it illegal for a husband to drive his undocumented wife into the state. Mehrer believes this is why many have fled. 

“People are scared and nervous. It causes all kinds of stress on entire families,” Mehrer said. 

Searching for workers

Finding workers who are citizens or able to work legally in the United States and who want to do landscaping work in the hot sun has proven to be quite the challenge. 

Murrie Mehrer, Landscape company owner

“The industry is hurting for help. The people that are here, wanting to work, are now demanding higher pay. Higher pay means prices will have to go up,” Mehrer explained. “I (would) love to see all of those people that said the immigrants were taking our jobs. Where are they? We could use the help! It’s very hard to run a business without help. “

She said the increase in minimum wage has added to the issue. 

“Most people here do not want to work. Most are receiving some kind of government help, or they can go work at McDonald’s, in the air conditioning, for what we are paying. The folks that are able to work don’t have a driver’s license, and the ones that do, don’t have the experience or work ethic,” she said. “When you find someone that has all the credentials, get ready to pay them close to $200 per day. As a small business, we cannot afford that. “

Jim Delp, 56, former owner of A-1 Landscape Management Company, said he got so tired of constantly trying to find workers that he sold his business of 28 years. 

“The last five years were the worst. I went through COVID, that was crap. Then went through no one wanted to work because everyone was making $900 in unemployment. I put it up for sale,” Delp explained. “American people, young guys, don’t want to work. If you do find one, they whine and cry and moan about what you’re paying them and what they’re doing.”

There’s data to support Delp’s analysis. According to a report released Aug. 10 by the United States Chamber of Commerce, Florida has a “more severe” worker shortage, with 57 available workers for every 100 job openings and a labor force participation rate at 59.7 percent. 

Delp grew tired of trying to find solutions to the problem and decided instead to sell the company in April to a French Canadian, who needed to own a business to support his E-2 investor visa. Delp still does irrigation and tree-cutting work on the side. 

At 60 years old, Mehrer was looking forward to working less too, and allowing her employees to do more. But with the worker shortage, that’s not possible. 

“You have worked your butt off all these years, in hopes that after 30 years you catch a little break, but instead we have to continue to work. Now our bodies are tired and beaten from the years of hard labor. Most of us don’t have any retirement or insurance. And if we did, it won’t be for long, having to pay all this labor,” Mehrer said. “You can’t sell your business. Everyone is in the same boat. You’re stuck! It’s horrible.” 

Long waits, lost profits

The lack of workers is cutting into her profit margins. She’s had to turn down work from clients. The job of converting a mulch flower bed into rocks may not be able to get done for one to two months out. 

“I deleted my ad from the Sophisticated Flyer (magazine) until we can find some good dependable help. I have customers that have been waiting for over three months for me to start jobs. We subbed out some of the accounts, and lost customers that have been with us for over 18 years. They complained about the quality of the work and the work not getting done on time. We don’t have the manpower,” Mehrer explained. 

According to Delp, he’d interview a hundred people and only a handful would show up to work. He said the ones who did show up wouldn’t complete the job, and some didn’t even return for their paycheck. 

“I lost money because I’d have to call (customers) and say I can’t get to your job today because I had two who decided not to show up,” Delp said. 

Prices are up

Mehrer said she has had to raise her prices 10 to 15 percent. 

“I just started to send out notices to customers about price increases. I had already raised prices during COVID. Not sure how customers will react… I have no choice,” Mehrer explained. 

Mehrer is hoping lawmakers will do something to resolve the labor shortage and she thinks giving immigrants a path to legal work is the answer. 

“They are only shifting addresses. They are not going back home. Most of them are hardworking people, simply looking for a better life. … So give them driving privileges.  Make them responsible for taxes, traffic violations, and whatever else comes their way, like the rest of us,” she said, adding that immigrants who are incarcerated should be deported.  

“If they have never been in trouble with the law, with the exception of a minor traffic violation, let them take an English test, and grant them a visa or (residency) status. Make them responsible and accountable like the rest of us,” Mehrer urged.

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Stephanie Claytor has been a broadcast and digital journalist in Lakeland since 2016, covering Polk County for Bay News 9 and currently free-lancing for LkldNow. She is an author of travel and children's books.

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  1. As for the landscape manpower shortage: we should not be using illegals : any workers should be here only on a legal status. And the workers should be paid fair and competitive wages. If the companies have to charge more: so be it. We need to raise wages drastically so that people can afford housing, food, and necessities. If you don’t want to pay for lawn service, do it yourself or have your teenager do it. But pay workers more than they can make on welfare and we wouldn’t have a shortage of workers.

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