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January 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.

Bridging the Employer/Hispanic Labor Gap with a Trip to Mexico

Jan 28, 2011

With its mission to promote cultural understanding, the Puentes/Bridges program brings dairy producers to Mexico to learn more about their employees’ language, culture and family.

 
Duvall, Shaun pro photo 1 11   CopyBy Shaun Duvall, Puentes/Bridges
 
I am not from a dairy farm. My only encounter with agriculture came as a child, going to my uncles’ ranch in South Dakota. But I have a deep love for rural life, and live in a town of 700 souls. Spanish is not my native tongue. But I have been teaching it in various ways for almost 30 years.
 
These two elements of my life merged in 2001, when the Puentes/Bridges program was created. I got to where I needed to be and found my passion.  I wanted to help our local dairy producers create better understanding and relationships with their newly arrived Latino (mostly Mexican) employees.
 
Puentes/Bridges’ mission is to promote cultural understanding. We have been doing this through cultural immersion trips to Mexico for more than 150 people. There are few things in life more satisfying than helping people, who share little in terms of culture and geography, learn that they share so much humanity. 
 
Puentes trips are primarily, though not exclusively, for dairy producers who want to know their employees’ language, culture, and most importantly, family. We take the producers to the homes of the employees’ parents, wives, or children for a meeting, and usually a meal. The itinerary is flexible. We typically take 10 days, five in a rural community, and include intensive Spanish classes and a homestay, cultural excursions and discussions about current events. The cost is kept as low as possible. The “a-ha” moment, though, is the visits to the families.
 
Each time we visit, something very special happens. A bond is created between the producer and employee family. For the employees and their families, the fact that the producer would care enough to travel all the way to rural Mexico to visit them is huge. For the producer, to understand, see and share a moment of their lives creates a more meaningful relationship with employees.  
Duvall   Dec2005Veracruz 012   Copy
Duvall (center) and Wisconsin's Eileen Trim (left) meet with Trim's former dairy employee in Veracruz, Mexico in 2005. (Photo: Shaun Duvall)
So, how does participating in the Puentes/Bridges program get you where you need to be? We see results not only in having better employee relations, but also in milk quality, and lower costs due to reduced employee turnover.
 
There’s no better way to explain than to use the words of dairy producer participants:
 
  • “After I experienced the Puentes idea, I realized the regular labor management tools were wrong. I let my employees pick who works with them. I use compassion and understanding as tools for motivation. I recognize their actions sometimes are different than ours and react in a way that still gets the right things done. I trust their abilities to learn new jobs and avoid stereotypes. I feel good in a multicultural setting.”
  • “. . . Farming is different than working in a factory. As an employer, I now understand the sacrifices they make to come here and work for me. When I can show that I care about my employees and their lives here and at home, they are more at ease, and it shows. They put pride in their work and work to the best of their ability and it shows everyday on my farm. From the center of my heart, I wish more owner/managers would go on a Puentes/Bridges trip. Life changing!!”
 
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 shaunjd@tds.net or (608) 685-4705.

What You Must Know About Social Security Mismatch and Immigration Obligations

Jan 24, 2011

Establishing procedures to address mismatches consistently must be a part of every employer’s immigration compliance strategy.

 
Anthony Raimondo 2010 06 photoBy Anthony P. Raimondo, attorney
 
Notification that an employee’s name and Social Security Number (SSN) do not match can come in many forms, including a “no match” letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA), a garnishment, or even a complaint from a third party who claims their SSN has been stolen. 
 
Employers still must be aware of their legal obligations when they receive notice that an employee may be using a SSN that is not his or her own.
 
Employers may not hire or employ individuals who they know are not authorized to work in the United States. “Knowing” includes both actual knowledge and “constructive knowledge,” which exists when an employer should know that the employee lacks legal status.
 
A mismatch notification alone is not a basis for constructive knowledge because there are many reasons for a mismatch that have nothing to do with immigration status. For example, a woman who fails to legally change her last name after marriage, but starts using her husband’s name could trigger a mismatch. Employees may use false SSNs to avoid debts, even if they have legal status in the United States. 
 
In the case of a garnishment notice or a complaint from a third party, the employer has no way of knowing whether or not the disputed SSN belongs to the employee or someone else. 
 
Employers cannot ignore SSN mismatches. First, employers are obligated by tax law to use “due diligence” to provide correct payroll tax information to the government. Ignoring a mismatch could result in IRS fines. Second, employers cannot turn a blind eye to the possible immigration implications of the mismatch. While the mismatch itself is not a basis to terminate, information discovered when following up could lead to an obligation to re-verify an I-9 or even terminate the employment.
 
Regardless of how the mismatch came to light, the employer should follow the procedure below. 
 
1.                   Verify records. Compare the employee’s SSN with his or her records. If the records do not match the W-4 form, then correct the W-4 form and report the correction to the SSA. Maintain copies of correspondence submitting corrected information to the SSA.
 
2.                   Notify the employee of the discrepancy. If the business has been using the number provided by the employee, then inform the employee that there is a problem with the SSN and that he or she must resolve it with the SSA. Tell the employee to report the correct information once it has been resolved. Do not give the employee a deadline to report the information unless the policy is to discharge employees who fail to provide corrected information. If a deadline is imposed, it must allow a reasonable amount of time to resolve the problem.
 
3.                   Confirm instructions in writing. Write a letter directing the employee to resolve the issue with the SSA and asking the employee to provide updated information, and include it with the employee’s pay check. The employer must continue to pay payroll taxes, regardless of any mismatch.
 
If the employee returns with new information, the employer should correct its records and notify the SSA of the correction. If the employer does not receive corrected information by the end of the tax year, send a letter to the employee asking them to complete a new W-4 with their corrected SSN. Under IRS policy, once an employer has requested the update in two successive tax years, it does not need to ask again. As a matter of policy, having employees submit a new W-4 on an annual basis will serve as an annual solicitation for the correct SSN.
 
If the employee does not return with corrected information, do not automatically fire the employee or re-verify their I-9 unless the employee used the questionable SSN on the I-9. In that case, re-verify but do not accept any document with the questionable SSN unless and until the mismatch is resolved.
 
4.                   Establish company policy and apply it consistently. The employer must establish and implement a policy and procedure for responding to mismatch letters and to maintain records of responses to mismatch letters. The policy must be applied consistently to all employees in order to avoid claims of discrimination.
 
5.                   Do not terminate. Employers should never assume an employee with a reported mismatch is an undocumented alien, and should never fire an employee solely because of a mismatch letter. But employers cannot ignore information they receive when following up on mismatches.
 
Any employee that admits to being undocumented must be terminated immediately. If the employee comes up with an entirely new identity, then the employer must demand an explanation. If the explanation is reasonable (such as a legal name change), then the employer can accept it and should re-verify the I-9.
 
If an employee repeatedly fails to correct a mismatch, company policy will control. If the employer has a policy of terminating for failure to provide accurate information, then the employee should be terminated for failure to provide accurate information on hire. But such a policy must be enforced consistently. Otherwise, the employer can continue to employ the individual, but must be aware that it may not be able to terminate others who provide inaccurate personal data.
 
Establishing procedures to address mismatches consistently must be a part of every employer’s immigration compliance strategy.
 
Based in Fresno, Calif., Anthony Raimondo is a labor attorney specializing in agricultural labor issues, primarily in the dairy industry. He counsels farmers on legal compliance and labor relations strategies and defends them before courts and administrative agencies. He has run counter-organizing campaigns against the country's most aggressive agricultural unions and has negotiated favorable contracts for unionized employers. He is also the primary labor resource for Western United Dairymen. Contact him at (559) 433-1300 or Anthony.Raimondo@mccormickbarstow.com.

Culture and Compensation

Jan 16, 2011

 ChuckSchwartau photo 

Many farms offer non-cash bonuses to their employees. The catch is to be sure these extras truly offer value to employees, especially if they come from a foreign culture.

 
By Chuck Schwartau
Extension Educator, University of Minnesota, Rochester Regional Office
 
 
Many farms include some sort of “non-cash” bonuses in their total compensation package. These extras might be meat or milk, use of farm tools or vehicles for specific purposes, or perhaps garden space for families in their employ. 
 
All of these can have value to the employees with relatively little cash cost to the employer. The catch is to be sure what you offer in the way of these extras is something that is truly of value to the employee.
 
A few years ago when I was conducting a series of programs on labor management, this topic of compensation generated a great deal of conversation. One farm wife related this story.
 
The farm provided so many pounds of ground beef each week to its employees since they all had families and lived in homes that were owned by the farm. Nothing was ever said, and each week the employees took their meat home. One day, the farm wife happened to be at one of the home sites and noticed a large chunk of this ground beef in the dog dish.
 
Needless to say, she was a bit upset. She spoke with the employee’s wife and expressed her concern that this meat was intended for the family and was rather expensive dog food. During the course of the discussion, it came out that the part of Mexico from which this family had come was not familiar with ground beef and how to use it. They were very familiar with chopped beef, but ground beef was just another strange American item to them, and they didn’t know what to do with it. The ground beef had little value to the employee and his family.
 
As the discussion continued, another farmer related he had subscribed to the Spanish edition of some magazines and kept them in the break room of the dairy for the employees to read. Some of you might be doing something similar if you print out the Spanish addendums now available in many dairy industry magazines. The catch on this farm was when he discovered about half of his Spanish-speaking employees had minimal reading skills. In their home countries, they had entered the workforce at a very young age to help support their families, so they had very little education.
 
In both these examples, the intentions were very good, and in the mind of the employers, they were offering something the employees would appreciate. Unfortunately, because of the cultures in which those employees grew up, these “extras” had little or no value to the employee.
 
You might not have had quite the same experiences as these farmers cited, but have you considered whether non-cash portions of your compensation package are items your employees value as highly as you think? You might find there are other compensations they would value more. 
 
One farmer in our area had experience with employees calling that they couldn’t come to work because they didn’t have gas money. Since having employees report for their shifts is important, he saw value to helping put gas in their cars. Rather than just opening up the hose on the farm gas tank, he offered a pre-paid gas card at a local gas station as part of the extra compensation. 
 
Take Home Message: Spend some time getting to know your employees. Learn about their family situations and what they might appreciate receiving. We are all working to earn a living and we would hope your compensation package is fair in helping toward that goal, but sometimes it is those small things that can make a difference – if they are the right things.
 
Chuck Schwartau has been with the University of Minnesota Extension Service for 31 years. As part of the Extension Dairy Team, he focuses on workforce development and management, dairy business organization and risk management. Contact him at cschwart@umn.edu or (507) 536-6301.

A Thin Line: Immigration Compliance

Jan 10, 2011

With workplace audits an Obama priority, complying with immigration laws presents significant challenges for employers. Here are valuable I-9 pointers from a labor attorney who works regularly with dairies on immigration laws.

 

By AnthoAnthony Raimondo 2010 06 photony P. Raimondo
MCCORMICK, BARSTOW, SHEPPARD, WAYTE & CARRUTH LLP

Agricultural employers face significant challenges in achieving compliance with immigration laws.  The demographic of available employees contains a large number of undocumented immigrants, and employers must take great care to protect themselves from immigration violations.

It is unlawful for any person or entity to hire an alien for employment knowing that the alien is not authorized to work in the U.S.  It is also unlawful to continue to employ an alien while knowing that the alien is, or has become, unauthorized for employment.  An employer has a defense if he or she complies in good faith with the verification process, typically referred to as the I-9 process. 

In immigration law, "knowledge" indicates not only actual knowledge but also "constructive knowledge." Constructive knowledge is awareness of facts or circumstances that would lead a reasonable person to know about the alien’s status.  Constructive knowledge that an employee is not authorized to work includes, but is not limited to, circumstances where an employer fails to complete the I-9 form or has information available to it that would indicate that a person is not authorized to work. Knowledge that an employee is unauthorized may not be inferred from an employee’s appearance or accent, nor may it be inferred from mere suspicions or rumors. 

Accordingly, the first critical component of immigration compliance is the I-9 verification process.  The current I-9 form was released Aug. 7, 2009, and expires on Aug. 31, 2012.  Too often, I-9s are completed on "auto-pilot," leading to errors that can create liability.  The I-9 is the strongest defense against immigration charges, but can only help if it is completed properly.

1. Employers must complete I-9 forms for all new hires, including U.S. citizens. The employee must complete Section 1 of the I-9 form no later than the first day of work, and if they are given help of any kind, the person assisting them must sign the Preparer/Translator certification. There is a Spanish form, but it can only be used in Puerto Rico. The employee then has three business days to produce documents so that the employer can fill out Section 2, the document verification section of the form.

2. Documents must be originals that "reasonably appear genuine on their face." Employers must provide the employee with the list of acceptable documents with the I-9 form so that the employee can decide which documents to present. Employers cannot specify which documents to produce, such as telling the employee to provide a drivers’ license and Social Security cards.  Requiring more or different documents than are necessary is "document abuse," a prohibited form of discrimination. If a mistake is made on the form, do not use white-out or obliterate the mistake, as this may cause suspicion. Employers are not required to retain copies of the documents (just the original I-9), and should not keep copies. All that the copies do is allow the government to second-guess whether the document really appeared to be genuine.

3. If an employer has information available to it indicating that an employee is not authorized to work, there is a duty to inquire further about the employee’s status. If an employer receives a mismatch notice and the employee used a Social Security card for verification, it should re-verify the I-9 without using the questionable Social Security number (SSN) if the employee cannot verify the accuracy of the SSN.  (My next article in this series will discuss SSN mismatch issues in detail.) 

4. Employers must understand their obligations to update or re-verify expired documents. Expired documents are never acceptable for an initial verification. However, only certain documents will require an employer to update the I-9 upon expiration. The key is whether the underlying authorization to work expires along with the document. For example, if the employee provides a temporary work authorization document, then the I-9 must be updated when the authorization expires. However, if the expiration of the document does not indicate an expiration of the right to work (expired passport, Permanent Resident Alien card, or driver’s license), then there is no need to update the I-9 when the documents expire. 

The Obama administration has made workplace audits a priority in its immigration enforcement policy, and has been auditing agricultural businesses, including dairies. In an audit, the government will run all documents through databases to verify immigration status. If undocumented immigrants are discovered, the employer’s only protection is a properly completed I-9 showing that it lacks actual or constructive knowledge of the employee’s status.

NEXT: Handling Social Security Mismatch.

Based in Fresno, Calif., Anthony Raimondo is a labor attorney specializing in agricultural labor issues, primarily in the dairy industry. He counsels farmers on legal compliance and labor relations strategies and defends them before courts and administrative agencies. He has run counter-organizing campaigns against the country's most aggressive agricultural unions and has negotiated favorable contracts for unionized employers. He is also the primary labor resource for Western United Dairymen. Contact him at (559) 433-1300 or Anthony.Raimondo@mccormickbarstow.com.

Be the Boss: Hispanic Employees Expect It

Jan 03, 2011

GregCofftaPhoto webBy Greg Coffta

Bilingual Dairy Support Specialist
Cornell University, Northwest New York Dairy, Livestock and Field Crops team
 
Having worked with Hispanic, Spanish-speaking employees for some time now, dairy farm owners and managers have learned a thing or two about the cultural differences between themselves and their employees. They have learned, I hope, to recognize the similarities as well.
 
Articles in trade magazines, speakers and conferences and others in the industry have provided information on the cultural dynamics that we are witnessing on dairy farms. As farm owners/managers, you are probably familiar with the specifics by now: the need for Dish to get the best channels in Spanish, Phone cards, money orders, shopping, etc.
 
But there is also an important, overarching concept to keep in mind while managing Hispanic employees.
 
“Power Distance”
Geert Hofstede’s work on cultural dynamics introduced this concept. Power distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of institutions and organizations expect and accept that power is distributed unequally.
 
Some cultures, like that of the U.S., emphasize cooperative decision-making, teamwork and the perception of equality between employer and employee. This is known as “low power distance.” On the other hand, some cultures emphasize hierarchy, order and chain of command. In these cultures of “high power distance,” an employer is recognized as having the authority as the decision-maker, while the employees are expected to meet the employer’s demands.
 
Hofstede surveyed 53 countries around the world and rated them on a continuum of high to low power distance. The U.S. ranks at the bottom of the list at #38 – l --- low power distance. The countries from which most of our Hispanic employees originate, such as Mexico and Guatemala, rank at the top of the list: #5 and #2, respectively.
 
How does this impact management on your farm? Consider the differences the management style. Generally, we here in the U.S. invite employee feedback, ask the employees what their work preferences are, and even expect to have our employees make some independent decisions.
 
Our employees, on the other hand, expect to have a boss. I’ve noticed on so many dairies that the Hispanic employees become frustrated when the manager doesn’t give strong directions. Many Hispanic dairy employees that I’ve met prefer to be given orders and specific job duties. Without orders and duties, a perceived lack of authority could arise and further disgruntle the employees.
 
So how can we manage this dynamic? Take a command role when managing your Hispanic employees as a group. Be a boss while being fair and objective. Make decisions with certitude and give your employees direction rather than acting unsure or asking them what they want. Along with this, make an effort to get to know your employees– if they have family, or if they are buying a plot of land in Mexico.
 
As you build rapport, your employees will learn your individual management style and healthy work relationships will develop.
 
 
Low Power Distance
 
Regions:
Germany, Great Britain, United States
 
• Subordinates are more comfortable with and demand the right to contribute to and critique the decision-making of those in power.
• People relate to one another more as equals, regardless of formal positions.
• Low power distance countries expect and accept power relations that are more consultative or democratic.
 
High Power Distance
 
Regions:
Mexico, Guatemala, East Asia
 
• Subordinates acknowledge the power of others, based on where they are situated in certain formal, hierarchical positions.
• In high power distance countries, the less powerful accept power relations that are more autocratic and paternalistic.
• Employees don’t expect to be decision-makers.
 
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 Buffalo. Contact Coffta at gjc53@cornell.edu.
 
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