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August 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.

Are You Helping Your Employees in Their Success?

Aug 31, 2012

If not, you’re likely to spend too much time hiring and training new staff and doing the work of the missing workers.

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

As a dairy owners or manager, you face many challenges in attracting and keeping employees. You must not only compensate employees for the work performed, but you must also offer competitive benefits and training. If you do not succeed in attracting and keeping a skilled work force, you will spend an excessive amount of time hiring and training new employees and doing the work of the missing employees.

Good dairy managers are regularly challenged to find new ways to keep employees motivated and interested in their work. An important part of every manager’s job is that of continuing the development of the people who work under his/her direction to ensure a productive workforce and the on-going ability to meet changing job requirements.

Where to start

You should start your training effort by carefully thinking about your dairy’s goals and objectives, what work is to be performed, and the strengths and weaknesses of your dairy’s workforce. Then think carefully about the knowledge and skills needed to do the job. Knowing what a job requires and how well you want it done will give you information to make training decisions. Dairy managers must consider all employees fairly for training opportunities. Selection of employees for training must ensure that all employees are selected without regard to political preference, race, color, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, age or handicapped condition.

What is the training process?

The training process consists of:

1. Explaining and demonstrating correct task performance;
2. Helping workers to perform under supervision;
3. Allowing personnel to perform alone;
4. Evaluating worker performance; and
5. Coaching employees based on evaluation results (Billikopf, 2003).

These steps may have to be repeated a number of times before an employee will sufficiently grasp what needs to be done.

When training personnel, you may want to:

1. Continually assess workers’ level of understanding;
2. Gear training to the participants;
3. Present only a few concepts at a time;
4. Where needed, divide tasks into simplified components;
5. Involve all workers;
6. Use visual aids (e.g. proper mastitis tube insertion); and
7. Encourage questions (Billikopf, 2003).

Where to get training assistance?

There are various private and public entities that can provide assistance in the training of your dairy employees. Veterinary clinics, artificial insemination companies as well as other dairy related industries may offer periodic hands-on training for dairy employees. Public organizations such as Cooperative Extension may also offer training such as educational seminars or short-courses that may cover topics such as milking management, herd health or other dairy herd related topics. Such educational activities have been well received, especially from non-English speaking dairy employees.

Any training that is conducted should explain the reasons for a certain practice and why that practice needs to be conducted. For example, you may train your milkers in allowing for proper milk let-down, but are they taught why that is important?

For your training program to be successful, training must be both desired by the employee and beneficial to the company. It also critical that employers follow up on training to ensure it produces value for the company. A well thought out training program will assist your employees in being successful in whatever task they are responsible for.

Billikopf, G. E., 2003. Helping workers acquire skills in Labor Management in Agriculture. 2nd Edition, University of California, ANR publication 3417.

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

“Dreamers” Deferred Action Has Candidates Talking about Immigration

Aug 27, 2012

Dairy needs to pay very close attention to the political games being played on this issue, because they will be repeated the next time an immigration solution for agriculture is proposed.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich Straub, attorney

It is presidential political season again, and this time the candidates actually are talking about immigration law as November approaches.

If you remember 2004 and 2008, there was a diminishing amount of debate about immigration reform as Election Day came closer. Things look like they may be different this year. Why? Two words: deferred action. Although this program does not provide a direct fix for dairy, the political debate that has erupted in its wake is very relevant to the agricultural labor crisis.

On June 15, 2012, President Obama announced that deferred action would be made available to an estimated 1.5 million “Dreamers.” These are young people who are undocumented and were brought to the U.S. by their parents, usually at a very young age. Most look, sound and act “American” but typically had no choice in their parent’s decision to settle in the U.S. If granted, deferred action will allow a Dreamer to live and work in the U.S. even though he or she could otherwise be deported. Deferred action is temporary and does not confer legal status or citizenship.

In a recent blog post, lawyer and Fox News host Greta Van Susteren stated that any lawyer who advised a client to sign up for the program was committing legal malpractice.

Susteren concludes that the program is too risky because of its temporary nature. She speculates that it is nothing more than an invitation to deportation when a future president inevitably takes it away. Susteren’s bottom line: Do not trust the government.

In the interest of full disclosure, I am one of those immigration attorneys who Susteren thinks is committing malpractice. Although there are risks to the program, I am advising most of my clients who qualify to apply. My reasoning is simple: What do they really have to lose?

Susteren completely ignores this part of the equation. Many of these young people are smart and industrious, but they see their youth and futures slipping away because they are undocumented and cannot enter the U.S. workforce in a way that is commensurate with their abilities. The Dream Act, which would grant these young people a path to citizenship, has been proposed since 2001 and has failed to pass Congress even though it has enjoyed majority support in many votes. Is 11 years enough? How much longer should we ask these kids to wait?

I do agree with one of Susteren’s points: Do not trust the government. In particular, do not trust politicians, many of whom have repeatedly turned a blind eye to this issue. In my opinion, young people should apply for the program and then scream like hell if any politician dares to try and take it away. It seems like that is the only way anything gets done in today’s political environment.

So what is really going on with Susteren’s criticism? Politics, pure and simple, and both political parties are guilty. Mitt Romney, a moderate Republican with no significant history on immigration, went hard to right on the issue in the primaries in order to attack Rick Perry. Now that Romney is the nominee, Obama has announced deferred action just months before the election to shore up his support with Latinos and exploit Romney’s extreme position on the issue. Romney, by his own admission, needs at least 38% of the Latino vote to win the election, so he has to get out of the box that Obama has put him in. The Romney counter-punch: Deferred action is either a cynical, reckless political action or cleverly disguised plot to deport Latino kids. Enter Greta Van Susteren.

Sorry for the cynicism, but haven’t we seen this dance too many times now? Dairy needs to pay very close attention to the political games being played on this issue, because they will be repeated the next time an immigration solution for agriculture is proposed. Susteran says do not trust the government. I say, do not trust the politicians.

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. Mr. 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

When Injuries Occur: Reasonable Accomodation and Disability Discrimination

Aug 20, 2012

Simple steps you can take to protect your dairy from bogus claims.

Anthony Raimondo 2010 06 photoBy Anthony P. Raimondo, attorney

Disability discrimination lawsuits are a growing problem in the dairy industry. Employees who leave the dairy who have suffered either workplace injuries or medical conditions unrelated to work are increasingly claiming that they were discriminated against on the basis of a disability. Dairy producers can take simple steps to protect themselves from these claims.

Generally, disability discrimination laws require employers to offer reasonable accommodation to a disabled worker where the accommodation will allow the employee to perform the essential duties of the position and there is no undue hardship to the business. Employers must engage employees in an “interactive process” to determine what, if any, reasonable accommodations will enable the employee to return to work.

An accommodation can be almost anything that enables a disabled employee to perform the essential duties of the position. Examples include additional equipment, such as a back brace, wrist brace or ergonomic chair. An accommodation can be a change in job duties, such as assigning the heaviest lifting to another employee, or allowing employees time for extra rest breaks. Sometimes, the accommodation can even be for a leave of absence so that the condition can improve.

Whether the accommodation is “reasonable” depends upon the circumstances of the employment and the nature of the accommodation sought. Large businesses typically are seen as having more flexibility to grant a requested accommodation, while smaller businesses may have more difficulty doing so.

Economics is also a consideration, as the cost of the accommodation can be taken into account. But if there is a reasonable accommodation that will enable the employee to perform the essential duties of the position, then it must be granted. Sometimes, more than one reasonable accommodation will exist. The employer is not required to choose the accommodation that is most desired by the employee and may choose the one that it thinks is best in light of the overall circumstances.

Often, the legal issues turn on whether or not the employer engaged in an “interactive process” to determine what, if any, accommodations are available. This process is a critical part of the employer’s obligation and should be carefully documented. The interactive process is simply a process of communication to determine what accommodations may enable the employee to return to work.

Employers should require employees to provide current medical restrictions and should schedule a meeting with the employee to discuss what accommodations the employee thinks are needed, and what the employer thinks can be done. This should be a give and take where both sides suggest ideas in order to come up with a list of possible accommodations.

Consideration should be given to all of the alternatives, and if one or more are reasonable accommodations that do not present an undue hardship, then one should be selected and approved. The process may also include providing a written job description to the employee’s doctor with a request to the doctor to provide input on what the employee can and cannot do.

Documenting the interactive process does not need to be difficult. Employers should have an extra person in the room who is responsible for taking notes during the discussion with the employee. The parties should agree as to who will pursue any necessary follow-up. For example, if the employer is going to send a job description to the doctor, agree to provide it, but make the employee responsible for following up to make sure the doctor actually gives input. Employers should require the employee to ensure that the most current medical restrictions are on file. If the employee agrees that there is no accommodation that would allow him or her to return to work, be careful to note this in the record of the conversation.

One of the reasons these types of cases are becoming increasingly common is that most dairy employers have no record that they have ever communicated directly with the employee regarding the return to work, and plaintiffs’ attorneys will simply accuse the employer of never having engaged in the interactive process. But a simple certified letter requesting current work restrictions, careful management of light duty and return to work process, as well as a documented conversation with the employee about what work can and cannot be done can make such cases more difficult to pursue, and can provide the dairy producer with an advantage in the process.

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, consult with Anthony Raimondo at McCormick Barstow LLP in Fresno, Calif., at (559) 433-1300.

Is a Non-traditional Workforce in Your Future?

Aug 12, 2012

With the difficulties of hiring immigrant and even local labor, looking outside the typical employee audience may reap benefits.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension

A common question among dairy farmers is, “Where will our workforce come from in the future?” The question is asked as there seems to be limited progress toward immigration reform or temporary worker programs that fit the dairy industry, and because many farms report difficulty hiring and retaining local workers.

That first question should probably raise a couple more questions in its wake.

Why do you depend heavily on immigrant labor? While some people outside the industry claim it is because farmers want cheap labor, this is not necessarily true. Most dairy operators will probably tell you their pay is better than many other local jobs. Some dairy positions are very well paid. Yet it often appears the local convenience store or other entry level job becomes more attractive than working on a dairy farm.

Another common response is that immigrant employees reliably show up for work when they are expected and have the attitude that they want to work. There is frequently the concern, however, about the legal status of immigrant employees, which could leave the farm in a precarious position.

If you are unable to hire and retain local labor, why? If you have hired local labor and not been satisfied, what is the cause of the discontent? Is the problem with the employees or with the employer? How well do you as the employer train the employee? Do you pay a competitive wage to other industries and employers in the community? Remember, farming is hard and sometimes dirty work that may justify a higher pay than some other industries.

Have you been hiring the right kind of people for your dairy? Sometimes it is convenient to hire the person who shows up at the door at the right time rather than hiring the person who brings the skills and attitudes you need on the farm.

Maybe it is time to consider alternative sources for your workforce. Last year I was asked to assist an organization that serves the local immigrant population in southeastern Minnesota. Their proposal was to provide agricultural training to legally documented refugees in the community so they would be more attractive as potential employees on area farms. Their target audience was almost entirely African refugees who have resettled in the region. This pool of potential employees presented no concern for legal status since they were here as refugees and permitted to work. They also offered the extra benefit of little or no language barrier so often experienced because nearly all of them spoke excellent English. This was not a group typically thought of when farmers are looking for workers, but it could be an excellent source.

A July 2012, issue of Workforce magazine had an article that also posed an interesting question for employers in general. Why not hire autistic employees? The autism spectrum has a wide range of effects on people, but many are quite capable of performing very well in the right employment situation. A dairy farm might be an excellent candidate for employment.

While many affected by autism may have difficulty in tasks where decisions must be made as part of the job, they often thrive in situations where they have a routine to follow. Dairy farm protocols are nothing but routines that you want followed carefully time after time, day after day. How often do you now find employees who fail to follow protocols? An employee who thrives on routine might be refreshing!

Autistic workers may take a little longer to train and the method might be a little different than used with other employees, but very often supporting agencies are able to assist with training. Once trained, these employees are proving to be dedicated and reliable workers.

Not every job on the farm may be suited for a non-traditional workforce, but there are probably jobs that could be done very well and meet the expectations you have as an employer and farm manager. The two types of employees mentioned in this article may or may not fit or be readily available in your region, but the concept of looking for a workforce outside the typical audience may reap benefits.

Remember, regardless of who is in your workforce, paying attention to orientation, proper training, coaching and feedback can improve the quality of work done and enhance worker satisfaction. Satisfied workers are more likely to work toward goals of the farm and stay in your employment. Not having to always be hiring new employees saves you and farm time and money.

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 or (507) 536-6301.

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