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August 2011 Archive for Labor Matters

RSS By: Dairy Today: Labor Matters, Dairy Today

Experts cover today’s key dairy labor issues and offer fool-proof techniques to optimize employee performance, sat­isfaction and longevity.

Ten Management Don’ts for Your Dairy

Aug 29, 2011

Follow these suggestions yourself, and ask everybody from managers to all employees to stick to them on a daily basis.

By Dr. Mireille Chahine, Associate Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, University of Idaho and Mario de Haro Marti, Extension Educator, University of Idaho
Chahine photo   Copy
Dr. Mireille Chahine
1.                   Don’t create a policy every time an employee makes a mistake. Employees are humans and they will make mistakes as we all do. In the place of overreacting and implementing a new policy immediately, have an open conversation with the employee and explain what should have been done and the reason why.
2.                   Don’t yell and say profanities while talking to your employees. We personally know several employees that have left the dairy due to the way they were treated. They could not take it anymore. Screaming and using profanities are considered unprofessional in any workplace, including dairies. The workplace is a place where everyone should feel respected.
3.                   Don’t threaten employees. Threatening employees is a sign of a weak leader. A good manager knows how to discuss employees’ responsibilities and how to correct behaviors without threatening and intimidating employees.
4.                   Don’t assign tasks that are impossible to complete on time. It is frustrating to start a task when you already know it would be impossible to complete it as required, no matter how much effort you put in it. These situations demoralize workers and generate hard feeling toward the manager or owner who gave the order.
5.                   Don’t ask any employee to do anything illegal. Many employees don’t know what is legal or not, and it is the responsibility of the management to make sure their employees always follow the rules and regulations.
6.                   Don’t underestimate the power of one-on-one conversation with your employees to build trust. Even if your employees are Hispanic and their English is not very good, they will still appreciate your effort to talk to them.
DeHaro Marti photo   Copy
Mario de Haro Marti
7.                   Don’t assume your employees understand the reason behind a certain decision. Make sure any decision you make is fair for all employees, regardless of their ethnical background, and explain the reasoning to them.
8.                   Don’t let your employees chose between work and family. Employees really appreciate and need some flexibility in their work to be able to take care of family emergencies or important events like the birth of a child, children’s graduation, marriage of a relative, or other life events.
9.                   Don’t speak negatively about other employees. Also, discourage gossiping among employees. Be fair and cool-headed when one employee comes to you with negative comments about another employee. Stick to the facts and listen to both sides before taking any course of action.
10.               Don’t lie to or mislead employees and stick to your word when promising something.
Follow these suggestions yourself and ask everybody from managers to all employees to stick to them on a daily basis. Having a cordial and good relationship with your workers and promoting good relationships between employees encourage a relaxed working environment where everybody will be more productive, creative, and comfortable.

Required E-Verify Use Moves Closer to Reality

Aug 22, 2011

The Supreme Court's decision to uphold Arizona’s E-Verify law has spurred more legislative proposals requiring employers to use the employee verification system.

Miltner photo   CopyBy Ryan Miltner, attorney
Given the Supreme Court's decision in Chamber of Commerce of the United States v. Whiting, which upheld Arizona’s law requiring employers to utilize E-Verify, proponents of the mandatory use of E-Verify have been emboldened.
Both at the federal and state level, legislatures are considering legislation requiring employers to use the federal database to verify employment eligibility of workers. In Congress, a bill has been introduced that would make E-Verify mandatory for all employers over a two-year period. The bill, H.R. 800, has secured 27 co-sponsors.
H.R. 800, entitled the Jobs Recovery by Ensuring a Legal American Workforce Act of 2011, would make E-Verify a permanent federal program. Federal contractors and subcontractors, along with employers of more than 250 people, would be required to use E-Verify one year after the act’s passage. Employers of more than 100 people would be required to use the program beginning 18 months after passage. All other employers would be required to utilize E-Verify two years after passage.
H.R. 800 would also require that E-Verify be used for all current employees. It requires the Department of Homeland Security to improve the operation of the E-Verify system and hire additional employees to administer the program.
A separate bill, H.R. 2000, entitled the Secure America through Verification and Enforcement Act of 2011 (SAVE Act) provides a framework for increased border security as well as mandatory E-Verify use. The SAVE Act also provides for phased-in mandatory compliance, over a four-year period. Neither the SAVE Act nor H.R. 800 would preempt state laws that prohibit the use of E-Verify. Neither bill provides any special treatment for agriculture.
However, as drafted, neither bill would restrict state laws that impose greater requirements or impose greater penalties upon employers. This issue of state law preemption is an important one for the employer community, as several states have taken it upon themselves to craft legislation aimed at the employment of illegal aliens given the Supreme Court's endorsement of similar laws in Arizona. Mississippi, South Carolina and Utah now also mandate E-Verify use, although Utah exempts employees with fewer than 15 employees. Other states impose the requirement on state contractors. Legislation is pending in Pennsylvania, Michigan and New Jersey.
So, will Congress act this year on mandatory E-Verify? Both H.R. 800 and the SAVE Act have been referred to committees, where they await action. Congress will return from the Labor Day recess on Sept. 5. On the agenda will be appropriations bills (the new fiscal year begins on Oct. 1), trade agreements awaiting action, job creation, a pending transportation bill, tax reform, and, of course, budget and debt issues.
This could leave little room for immigration, at least for this calendar year. However, when Congress does finally act on immigration, it certainly looks like mandatory E-Verify will be part of the package.

Ryan Miltner is an agricultural and estate planning lawyer in private practice. His agricultural practice is focused on dairy policy and the economic regulation of the dairy industry. The opinions in this article are his own observations prepared for Dairy Today and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of any of his clients. Contact him at

To Bonus or Not to Bonus

Aug 15, 2011

Does the extra money motivate employees, or do they just come to expect it?

GregCofftaPhoto webBy Greg Coffta, Cornell University’s Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team


When it comes to managing milk quality and the team of employees that harvest milk, there is an ongoing debate over whether or not to give milk quality bonuses to milkers. 

On one side of the debate, there is the notion that the employee is motivated first and foremost by money; therefore, supplying a quality bonus for high quality milk is the best way to motivate a team of milkers to be clean, efficient and attentive to milk quality. Many employees on our dairy farms are immigrants who plan to stay here for five to six years maximum -- just enough to build up a life in their home country -- and then return. Money is the reason they have made the long journey north to milk cows, so why shouldn’t milk quality bonuses motivate them?

On the other side of the debate, the view is that an employee gets an hourly rate, and they are already paid to do their job well. Why pay a milk quality bonus? Some of the aforementioned employees would agree with that sentiment, saying something like, “I do the best job because that is what is ethically necessary to truly earn a paycheck.” Another argument on this side of the debate is that when a bonus is given, the employee begins to expect it and eventually just counts it as part of the regular paycheck, thus stifling motivation.
So what is the dairy manager to do? Some have tried the bonus system and then left it because of the frustration of not getting results. Some dairy managers have paid out the same monthly bonus for a long period of time. If the farm gets a premium, the milking/pushing crew shares half of it, regardless of their performance or incremental improvement. Other managers seem to motivate their employees well without the use of a bonus system. Ultimately, the bonus system is one of many tools that can be used by the dairy manager to manage, teach and improve the milking/pushing crew.
A few things can and should be said about the bonus system. Among them: that purpose, communication and clarity are crucial to its success, especially when managing across differences in language. A bonus system should be drawn up and explained clearly to employees so that they truly understand its purpose. A bonus system should use somatic cell counts and bacteria counts only as a part of the bonus equation -- individual employee actions should count as well.
Periodic progress updates must be communicated to employees so that they know when their work is worthy of a bonus, and when it isn’t. Set a standard to be met in order to achieve a bonus. Once the employees achieve the bonus, let them receive it for three to four months, and then reset the standard. 
The bonus should be about continual improvement, and it works best when the bonus is not always given.

In his role as Bilingual Dairy Support Specialist for Cornell University’s Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team, Coffta provides training, translations and meeting facilitation as well as management consulting in English to New York dairy farms. He obtained his bachelor’s degree from SUNY College in Brockport with a double major in Spanish and communications. He earned a master’s degree in education from the University at Bu

Immigration Reform: What Would It Mean for Your Employees?

Aug 08, 2011

Consider the reaction of immigrant dairy employees if immigration reform were passed.

Duvall, Shaun pro photo 1 11   CopyBy Shaun Duvall, Puentes/Bridges
Imagine being invited to a close friend’s wedding. You are thrilled to share the day with them. You buy the best present you can think of, and wrap it and take it with you. You get all dressed up, and arrive at the church, and you have to sit in the back. Then you go to the reception, and you can come in and eat the meal, but you aren’t allowed to have wedding cake, nor can you participate in the dance.
I believe that is how some of these employees feel -- as if they are not quite good enough.
We all have read about the various attempts at reforming our very broken immigration system. We all have our opinions, either pro or con. I don’t advocate any particular legislation. Rather, I try to promote understanding between our culture and that of the immigrants who now (and have always) come here to seek a better life.
Many people are for reform, many are against, and legislators are hesitant to take a stand. Understandably so. This is one of the issues that stir people up in seconds. Just mention it, and you’ll have folks lining up on both sides, ready to argue.
I am not going to do that today. One of my dairy producers suggested that I write about how the immigrant dairy employees would feel if reform were passed. So, I asked several employees on farms in the Midwest. Some are documented, some are not.
When I asked how they would feel with a change in their status, they all said that it would be like a dream come true. There is a real fear of leaving their houses to go grocery shopping. “Every time I get in the car, I wonder if this will be the time I am stopped.” “We’d be able to talk to the police without fear, go to the doctor and to school to learn English.”
Long separations from family also create hardship for employees here. According to a recent bulletin of the Pew Hispanic Centerfewer are coming, and those who are here are staying longer, sometimes 10 years or more. I wonder how we would like being separated from our children for that amount of time.
I asked one employee to describe how it feels to be apart for so long. His eyes welled up with tears, and he said, “Well, we don’t have another choice, so we try not to think about it too much. We try to think about how we are helping them make a better life.” Another commented that it would be so great to be able to go home once a year to see them.
These young men speak with pride about how the money they send home has made a big impact in the development of their hometowns. “Now we have phones in our homes, and the bank is only 15 minutes away.” “My children can go to school and learn a career, so that they don’t have to leave home to provide for their future families.”
Maybe most important of all is that those young men and women would give almost anything to have legal status. Very few choose to defy laws merely to break a law. As they all say, “I come here for necessity, not because I want to.” “No vengo por gusto, vengo por necesidad.”
I wonder how we would feel if we were only partly invited.
Puentes/Bridges is a nonprofit organization that, under Shaun Duvall’s direction, promotes cultural understanding, particularly in the dairy industry. Duvall also operates SJD Language & Culture Services, LLC, a translation and interpretation business. For more information, contact Shaun Duvall at or (608) 685-4705.

Take Control of Your Workforce Sooner Rather than Later

Aug 01, 2011

Avoid labor lawsuits and litigation costs by actively engaging with your employees and proactively managing your dairy to prevent small problems from becoming big ones.

Anthony Raimondo 2010 06 photoBy Anthony P. Raimondo, attorney
Dairy producers are very proactive when it comes to herd health and cow productivity. Dairies carefully monitor their cows for the first sign of ill health and respond quickly with treatment. Diets are monitored and adjusted to maximize animal health. Dairy producers know that if they catch problems early, they can keep a small problem from becoming a big problem.
But when it comes to labor issues, too often dairies wait for a problem to occur, rather than taking the steps to prevent small problems from becoming big problems. 
In the dairy industry, owners and managers too often fail to fully engage with the workforce to manage labor issues. As long as the cows are getting milked and there are no obvious problems, the workers are often left on their own to get the work done. But this type of passive management stifles communication and allows small problems to become big problems.
Discrimination lawsuits against dairies are becoming increasingly common. Employees and the lawyers who represent them have come to realize that dairies are often vulnerable to these types of claims.
Recent examples include a dairy mechanic who suddenly quit and then accused the dairy of firing him because of his race. His positive drug test result came in within a few days of his quitting. In another case, a dairy chose to lay off an unproductive worker who had bounced around to a number of jobs and not done well in any of them. The dairy laid him off to save costs. He sued for age discrimination. In another case, a worker suffered a stroke and never contacted the dairy to tell them he was able to return to work. He still did not contact the dairy when they informed him in writing that they were letting him go because of his apparent inability to work. He sued, claiming that the dairy never contacted him to see if he could return to work and accusing the dairy of discriminating against him because of a disability.
What all these cases have in common is that in each case, the dairy had a strong defense. But in each case, the dairy did little to document the performance and disciplinary problems of the employee. In each case, the dairy would have been in a better position if it had been more proactive in managing the employees and documenting the background of the dispute. These dairies spent tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees, and ultimately settled the cases to avoid more legal costs. 
Lawsuits are expensive, and one reason almost all of them settle is because of this cost. Even when the defense is strong, the prospect of an expensive trial can be daunting if a case can be settled for less money.
But there are steps that can be taken to prevent this problem, or to give the dairy a chance to get the case dismissed before trial.
The starting point is an effective employee handbook. A handbook tells the employees -- and the world -what the rules and policies are. It’s the foundation of workplace management. The handbook should be dairy-specific (not an office or industrial handbook with the names changed), and should be tailored to the unique features of the particular workplace. Rules violations should be enforced through discipline, and discipline and job performance should be documented in writing. It is not enough to describe a person as a poor worker. To have the upper hand with a court or jury, it is essential to have records that will paint a picture of the worker’s history. 
But the true key to prevention is actively engaging with the workforce, and proactively managing the dairy. Waiting for a problem does nothing but ensure that when problems arise, they are bigger than they need to be. The more engaged the farmer is in managing the workforce, the earlier that farmer will recognize developing problems, and the more options there will be to address problems and avoid getting dragged into court. Even if the dairy has to work with a labor attorney to deal with a problem employee, dealing with the problem upfront is far less expensive than dealing with it after the fact in a lawsuit.
Active day-to-day management can protect the farm from expensive and stressful litigation. At the start, taking an active role in managing the workforce may seem difficult, but if a dairy can keep its cows healthy and productive, it can take control of labor challenges as well.
The goal of this article is to provide employers with current labor and employment law information. The contents should not be interpreted or construed as legal advice or opinion. For individual responses to questions or concerns regarding any given situation, the reader should consult with Anthony Raimondo at McCormick Barstow LLP in Fresno, at (559)433-1300
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