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Published: Tuesday, 5/2/2006

Area plant wholesalers report mixed results in labor boycott

Northwest Ohio's $100 million-a-year wholesale plant and flower industry is heavily dependent on immigrant labor, but employers interviewed yesterday reported a mixed result of the boycott.

At Ohlman's Farm & Greenhouse, Toledo, about half of the 40-person work force stayed away, said owner Larry Ohlman. The workers, all of Hispanic descent, advised Mr. Ohlman in advance that they would comply with calls by national Hispanic leaders to skip work.

Even though it is peak season for the greenhouse, which ships to retail customers as far west as Chicago and as far south as Louisville, Mr. Ohlman reported no disruption in business. He said he has no quarrel with workers' decision to stay away.

"It's time for a day off," he said. "We've been working so hard, it's a welcome relief to take time out and respect what this is all about."

Lucas County ranks in the top 5 percent of counties in the nation in number of greenhouses.

In contrast, some greenhouses said no workers stayed away.

"All of our workers showed up today," said Larry Schmidt, owner of Schmidt Brothers Inc., Swanton, which employs Hispanic migrant workers.

At Bettinger Farms, Spencer Township, just two of 30 workers failed to show up.

Owner Ron Bettinger assumes the absence, involving a married couple, is related to the boycott. "They're here every day," he said. "We tried calling them but couldn't get an answer."

Many landscaping firms also rely on immigrants from Mexico and Central American countries to supplement their labor pools.

Floralandscape Inc., Toledo, employs a dozen guest workers from Mexico. "We had no call-ins and nobody asked to take the day off," said owner Doug Bettinger.

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