Make your home page

Seasonal employers feeling effects of COVID-19

(photo courtesy of Hittle Landscaping)

WESTFIELD, Ind. (Inside INdiana Business) — The COVID-19 pandemic is having an effect on virtually every industry, but as the weather continues to warm up, companies relying on seasonal workers are starting to feel the strain even more. Westfield-based Hittle Landscaping, however, says while it has felt the effects, the crisis has also created an opportunity to help others who find themselves out of work. The company says changes to a federal program for seasonal migrant workers led to the decision to look for local workers.

Hittle President Scott DeNardin talked about the shift in an interview with Inside INdiana Business.

“One of the (reasons) that we’re in such a hiring spree right now is, for the last 14 years, Hittle has used what’s called the seasonal visa labor force opportunity; it’s called H-2B visas (or) non-agricultural visas,” said DeNardin. “And this last year, that program was put into a lottery system where everyone across the country would apply for those seasonal employees. This year, we didn’t get those workers.”

DeNardin said, before the program switched to a lottery format, the company had brought in the same group of 85 seasonal migrant workers for over a decade. 

“So we were immediately coming into springtime without 85 workers, which made us recognize that that program is probably not the best for us and the best thing for Hittle would be to really focus in on hiring local Hoosiers to fill those slots so we don’t have that risk on a year-to-year basis.”

As a result, the company began a hiring spree and has hired some 65 employees over the last eight weeks, with plans to add at least 45 more.

Even if the company was able to secure seasonal migrant workers through the federal program, DeNardin says those workers would not be able to come to the United States because of President Donald Trump’s temporary immigration suspension.

While seasonal agriculture workers are exempt from the travel ban through the H-2A program, DeNardin says those in the H-2B program are not exempt.

DeNardin says because the company and the work it does is considered “essential,” they have taken extra precautions to ensure employee safety. He adds that one of the challenges to finding workers is simply the lack of awareness, generally speaking, that some businesses are actually looking for workers in a time where more news comes out that businesses are laying off or furloughing employees.

Scott Heinemeyer, vice president of human resources for Hittle, says it feels good for the company to provide help for workers who have been negatively affected by the pandemic.

“The thing that resonates with me is number one, we’re very blessed that we can continue to work,” said Heinemeyer. “The other piece of that is I would say a sense of pride; it’s neat to be able to afford an opportunity for folks to continue to work throughout this.”

Hittle says it is looking for workers to fill crew member and crew leader positions. You can find more information by clicking here.