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October 2012 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.

Where the Presidential Candidates Stand on Immigration Policy

Oct 29, 2012

A look at Obama’s and Romney’s positions on I-9 audits, visas, enforcement and more.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich Straub, attorney

Election Day is a week away and, if the polls are reliable, most people have already made up their minds about whom they are voting for in the presidential race. Understanding this, I am going to summarize the candidates’ positions on immigration policy, particularly as they relate to dairy. While it is unlikely to change your vote, it is my hope that it will prepare you for what to expect when the polls close, and we finally have a winner.

Employer Sanctions

Obama - Employers can expect continued increases in the number of businesses subject to I-9 audits by the federal government. These audits are known as “silent raids,” because workers whose documents are under suspicion very often simply leave their jobs rather than face further scrutiny. The number of I-9 audits and fines has increased in each year of the Obama administration.

Romney – The candidate has made no statement regarding the I-9 audit program, but it is hard to imagine that it would be curtailed under his administration given the tough language he has used regarding employer sanctions. Romney has stated all employers should be required to use E-Verify, the federal government’s electronic employment verification system. He has stated that tough employer sanctions must be a part of a “self-deportation” system that would make it harder for undocumented workers to find a job.

Visas for Agricultural Workers

Obama - He has endorsed AgJOBS and similar legislation that would allow for undocumented agricultural workers first to apply for a temporary visa, and then have the option of pursuing permanent residence and citizenship. The H-2A visa for “seasonal” agricultural workers also would be streamlined and made available to dairy for the first time. Obama has again promised to pursue comprehensive immigration reform, and some version of AgJOBS has been included in every comprehensive package that has been proposed in Congress.

Romney - He has proposed a guest worker program for agriculture, but the visa would be temporary or seasonal and would not offer a path to citizenship. He has not delineated whether such a program would be new or simply on overhaul of H-2A. He also has not addressed whether it would fulfill the needs of dairy, which is not seasonal. Romney has been clear that he will not grant any visa that is “amnesty,” which probably means that current undocumented workers would not be eligible for the visa.

Congress and Reform

Obama – He campaigned on the promise of comprehensive immigration reform in the first year of his presidency, yet failed to deliver. He has repeated that promise for a second term, but he has not stated what he will do differently to pass reform in a divided Congress. Given the legislative stalemate, he has recently used his administrative powers to make some changes, but only a legislative solution will truly fix the many problems in the immigration system.

Romney – He too has promised significant immigration reform, although he has avoided describing it as comprehensive. He frequently touts his success in reaching bipartisan solutions as governor of Massachusetts, but achieving immigration reform in Congress is likely to be a much more daunting task. Just ask George W. Bush, who also had a successful record of bipartisanship as governor, yet was routinely thwarted in his attempts at reform, primarily by members of his own party. Even if Romney is able to gain the support of Congressional Democrats, there are now fewer pro-reform Republicans than during Bush’s failed attempts at reform in 2006 and 2007.

The Bottom Line

Under either an Obama or Romney administration, employers should expect I-9 audits to continue and likely increase. If Romney makes good on his promise of tougher, Arizona-style employer sanctions, then the enforcement environment could get even more challenging.

Both candidates promise visas that will help agriculture. Obama’s version would offer visas to the current undocumented workforce with the future possibility of permanent residence and citizenship. Romney’s version would establish a guest worker program that probably would not allow the current workforce to legalize.

Both promise to reform the larger system, albeit with different visions. Neither offers any new ideas about how to actually accomplish this before Congress.

Erich C. Straub is an immigration lawyer who practices in Wisconsin and is listed in The Best Lawyers in America, SuperLawyers, and U.S. News and World Report’s Best Law Firms. Straub has spoken to audiences throughout the U.S. on immigration, and frequently advises Wisconsin Dairy Farmers on the topic. He has traveled Washington, D.C., to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform. In 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.” Contact him at (414) 224-8472 or

What Is Your Management Style?

Oct 13, 2012

Great leaders are good at adapting to the environment around them and making changes when needed.

Higginbotham 5 12   CopyBy Gerald Higginbotham, Ph.D, PAS

During my years with California’s Cooperative Extension, I had the opportunity to become well acquainted with various dairy families. I was always intrigued by the various management methods exhibited by the father or mother as they worked with their family members.

The usual situation was that the father or mother had little or no formal education. Their schooling was basically “the school of hard knocks.” The parents started in the dairy business with practically nothing and gradually increased their dairy farm cow numbers over time. They managed to be quite successful even with their limited formal education. Their children recognized the value of an education and subsequently graduated from college. Some returned to the dairy to help in the management of the operation. They were eager to apply the knowledge they had learned in their formal education to the dairy.

This is where I noticed conflicts arise between the parents and children, which usually concerned the unwillingness of the father or mother to allow changes to be made to the management of the dairy at the suggestion of the son or daughter. The parent usually had the response “I’ve been doing it this way all my life and we don’t need to change.” That was probably true whether it was deemed a successful pattern or not. In one instance, a promising young dairyman, recognizing that his father would not be open to his suggestions, decided to leave the family operation. This caused great heartache among family members.

How can these situations be avoided? A solution can be found in examining management styles. Management styles can be divided into two kinds: autocratic and democratic.

The autocratic leader requires control over all organizational decisions and requests little input from his or her team or family members. He or she may also be referred to as authoritarian. In a positive sense, autocratic leaders are good at making decisions, although they may not always be the most informed. On the negative side, people who work for autocratic dairy managers or owners often feel as though their contributions are not valued. The autocratic leader often only considers how his decisions will affect him or her and not other employees.

The democratic leader gives everyone equal say in decisions. The “leadership by committee” approach makes employees and family members feel that they have a part in the final decision. The collaborative style of management often leads to more thought-out decisions in relation to problem solving.

If you are contemplating a change in management style, first identify what type of manager you are and determine if a change is needed. The most effective way to figure out if a change is needed in your management style is to solicit feedback from those who are under your leadership.

According to Jon Picoult, founder and principal of Watermark Consulting, one of the defining qualities of good managers is that they can look inward to examine their own strengths and weaknesses. They’re also willing and happy to listen to outside input on how they can grow and change.

If you have decided that a change in management style is needed, how do you proceed? According to Picoult, you should think about each thing you say and do, and before reacting, catch yourself and do something differently before you fall into your comfort zone. Great leaders are good at adapting to the environment around them and making changes when needed.

Sometimes it can be hard to change one’s style of management after using the same style for so many years. It takes extraordinary effort from within to recognize that changes are necessary in order to have harmony in the workplace, whether it is among family members or employees. Family members and employees need to be supportive in the management transition, as change is not always easy to achieve -- but having a support network eases the transition.

Dubois, Lou. How to change your management style. May 4, 2011. Inc.

Dr. Gerald Higginbotham is Ruminant Business Manager in California for Micronutrients, a Division of Heritage Technologies, LLC. He received his B.S. and M.S. degrees from Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah and Ph.D degree from the University of Arizona. Dr. Higginbotham is a member of the American Registry of Professional Animal Scientists and is a diplomat of the American College of Animal Sciences. Contact him at 559-907-8013 or

5 Tips to Maximize Labor Productivity

Oct 08, 2012

It doesn’t matter if it’s a milker or a herdsman -- hiring the right person for the job is critical to the success of your operation, and it should be taken very seriously.

Soriano photo 1 12By Felix Soriano, MS, PAS, APN Consulting, LLC

Employees play a key role in the success and profitability of your dairy. This is why I spend so much time giving advice on how to improve labor productivity at many dairies I work with.
Before I share some tips on how to improve employee’s productivity, it is important to understand what productivity means.

Dr. Gregory Billikopf, from the Univ. of California, defines productivity as simply: PRODUCTIVITY = ABILITY + MOTIVATION.

So, how do we improve labor productivity according to this simple equation? Let’s look at each one of these two components individually:

Ability – This is what an employee can do. Quite frankly, once you hire a person to do a specific job, there isn’t much you can do about his/her ability to do that job (or lack of ability). You may train and develop their skills, but if they lack the specific abilities required to do a particular job, then it may be better to just find them another job in the dairy that doesn’t require those abilities.

A good example of this is hiring someone without the right physical abilities to milk cows. If high cow throughput is a big goal for the dairy, and employees are required to spend long hours in the parlor maintaining a consistent and high milking pace, then a short, stocky and unfit person most likely won’t get the job done to the manager’s expectations. This person won’t be able to reach the front teats of the cows, will be tired before the end of the shift, and will slow down other people in the parlor. Whose fault is this? The employee trying to find a job? Or the manager for hiring the wrong person for that job?

This is why it’s so important to take more seriously the selection process when hiring new employees. It doesn’t matter if you are hiring a milker or a herdsman, hiring the right person for the job is critical to the success of your operation, and it should be taken very seriously.
So, to ensure good productivity, the first thing you need to do as a manager is to hire the right people for the right job. Make sure they have the abilities that are required for that particular job. For this, having a written job description can be very beneficial.

Motivation – Keeping employees motivated is the key driver of labor productivity. I have written extensively about this topic (for more information go to my website,

Here are 5 tips on how to keep employees motivated (i.e., productive) :

1. Eliminate any frustrations or roadblocks. Pay special attention to the needs of your best workers/high performers. Oftentimes, excellent workers become mediocre because of frustrations that their managers were not able to resolve for them. Examples of these are:
• When they don’t get all the necessary tools to perform their job on time and as expected.
• When poor performance is tolerated and high achievers, like them, feel taken advantage of.
• When high performers are underutilized.
• When they are not rewarded or compensated according to their performance.

2. Define clear goals and expectations. In order to make your workers accountable, the first step is to spell out expectations up front and in clear terms. How will their performance be evaluated? What is expected from them? And what are the goals they need to achieve? For example, what is the loading accuracy expected for each batch of TMR feed the feeder prepares every day? Is there a goal for shrink losses of each ingredient in the commodity shed? Remember, part of your goal as a manager is to ensure that every worker knows exactly what is expected from them.

3. Monitor and document performance, and give them feedback. Keeping track of each worker’s performance will help them achieve your expectations and goals. For example, check parlor performance numbers like milk flow in the first minute, cows per hour, somatic cell counts (SCC). Share this information with each milking shift and let them know how they are doing, what do they need to improve, how they can achieve those goals.

4. Define the rules of the game. Every dairy operation should have an employee handbook with a short but clear list of rules and policies. It is also important to clearly define the consequences of not abiding to those rules. A good example of this is cow handling techniques and what you, as a manager, expect from your employees when it comes to care of the animals and proper stockmanship. I spend a lot of time working with employees on this and helping them better understand cow behavior and proper cow handling.

5. Correct failure and reward success. Do you have anyone in your team not performing to your expectations? If so, what are you doing about it? Sometimes, part of the reason why some people underperform is because this person was not properly trained, or the manager didn’t take enough time to coach this person, or because the employee never received the necessary tools to succeed.

Other times, you may have to have a conversation with the person who’s underperforming and discuss the seriousness of the case. Re-train the employee and establish a plan with a deadline of how things must improve, after which a decision will have to be made whether that person should stay with the dairy or not.

On the other hand, whether it’s through bonus programs, or special perks, or schedule preferences, or all of the above, make sure that high performers are properly rewarded and compensated for their hard work.

These tips will help you keep your employees motivated, which consequently will help you improve labor productivity.

Felix Soriano, president and founder of APN Consulting, has more than 10 years of experience working with dairy producers and developing tools and programs to improve dairy performance and profitability. He has a Master of Science degree from Virginia Tech and received an Agricultural Labor Management Certificate from the University of California. Born and raised in Argentina, Soriano can relate and communicate very well with Hispanic employees to help bridge the communication and cultural gap between workers and managers. While working as a manager for a feed additive company, Soriano developed his leadership and supervisory skills. Now based in Pennsylvania, Soriano can be reached at 215-738-9130 or or Visit his website at  
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