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July 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.

Time Management is a Task for Every Day

Jul 25, 2011

Planning helps get important tasks done before they become critically urgent and helps put unimportant tasks in their proper place. 

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension
Dairy operators frequently ask about time management. Sometimes it is the owner/manager fretting over having enough time to do all he or she needs to get done. Sometimes it is concern about utilizing employees’ time efficiently. In either case, it is a topic that should be in front of the team every day – not as a problem, but as an opportunity. 
Good time management helps owners/managers maintain control of the business because they know the important tasks are getting done in a timely fashion. Good time management prevents activities from becoming emergencies because they were ignored earlier.
A big factor of time management is planning. Look ahead for important tasks and write them down to be sure they stay in front of you rather than suddenly catch up with you.
Put major tasks on your calendar first to help insure you are ready. This also helps you avoid putting less important but more frequent tasks into the time necessary for the big job.
Most dairies have routine tasks that probably happen as expected, but their scheduling impact may not be fully realized. If you are drying cows, setting cows up for timed breeding, performing herd checks and moving cows between groups on the same day every week, do you have these tasks spread out, or have you gotten into a habit of performing them all on one day?
Trying to accomplish too many tasks on one day puts extra stress on the staff and the cows. This tight scheduling creates an atmosphere for making mistakes and cutting corners because you feel like you are running out of time. It takes more staff on the given day, resulting in overloads (and maybe overtime) on one day, and a relative shortage of work another day. Spreading those tasks over the week enables them all to be done by the same staff and allowing more time to be sure each gets it proper attention on its assigned day. 
For less frequent tasks, set up a system to assign priorities for attention. There are many variations on Steven Covey’s time quadrants that help sort tasks into priority lists. Whether you use Covey’s or some other priority-setting method, such a tool will help get important tasks done before they become critically urgent, and help put unimportant tasks in their proper place. 
Once priority items are identified, note when they should be done and get them into the schedule. If you schedule a time, they are much more likely to be accomplished than if you set them aside for “when I have time.”
If you identify tasks that take more time than you or your staff can afford to take, consider hiring a contractor for the specific task. The proper contractor will probably have the right tools for the job (do you have them?) and the skills to get the job done more quickly and competently. An example of this is hoof care. Most farms hire the hoof trimmer. What are some other tasks that might be better handled the same way?
How much time do you or your employees waste looking for a particular tool or supply item only to finally give up and go buy one? I know at my house the lost tool only shows up the day after I bought its replacement. Avoid both the wasted time and possible expense by having a message board on which you list “lost” or “missing” items, and items someone thinks needs to be purchased. Someone else on the staff might know exactly where an item is located and never thought it might be on someone else’s “misplaced” list. 
One last item: Schedule and make known the time for people to take off. A balance in life helps keep good employees on your farm. It shows you value them and their contribution to the farm business. You want them to take time with their families or do things for themselves. Time away from the farm also helps give the mind a break as well as the body. People who take vacation tend to come back refreshed and ready for more productive time at work.
Don’t forget to schedule that time off for yourself as well!
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.

When Hiring Undocumented Workers Goes Criminal

Jul 18, 2011

By Attorney Erich C. Straub

You are a responsible business owner who makes every effort to follow the law, so you always fill out your I-9 forms when hiring a new employee.  You check the identification documents of a new hire, but you are not a document fraud expert. You have heard that many undocumented workers use identification numbers and documents that are real, but actually belong to someone else.  The first language of your new hire is not English, but you are careful not to question the worker about his or her immigration background lest you open yourself up to a discrimination claim.

This is the dilemma faced by thousands of dairy producers across the county. In the absence of immigration reform, most do their best to follow the law but are uncomfortably aware that they remain vulnerable to legal sanctions.  Under federal law, it is unlawful to hire, recruit or refer for a fee, a person who is not authorized to work in the U.S. In most instances the legal sanction is civil and results in a fine, but there are circumstances that rise to the level of criminal liability.  Two dairy producers who recently were criminally prosecuted provide cautionary tales.

In U.S. v. Barney, an owner of a large commercial dairy farm in upstate New York was charged in March of 2011 with harboring illegal aliens. The case is still pending before the Northern District of New York, and therefore the defendant is presumed innocent until proven guilty. According to the criminal complaint, a county sheriff‘s deputy visited the defendant’s dairy farm due to the accidental death of an employee. During the course of the deputy’s investigation, the defendant allegedly admitted to the deputy that he employed several undocumented workers. The deceased employee was also an undocumented worker.

Based upon these admissions, the county deputy contacted Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”). An ICE officer met the deputy at the farm, and proceeded to ask the defendant for consent to search the property “for people.” The ICE officer further told the defendant that if he did not give consent a search warrant would be obtained.

In response, the defendant allegedly stated “Why don’t I just show you where they are” and escorted the ICE officer to trailers where undocumented workers were residing on his farm. The undocumented workers were arrested and interviewed by ICE. The criminal complaint alleges that the employees provided statements that the defendant knew they were in the U.S. illegally but hired them anyway.

The elements of the offense of alien harboring include the following: (1) an alien entered or remained in the U.S. in violation of the law; (2) the defendant knowingly concealed, harbored, or shielded from detection the alien within the U.S.; and (3) the defendant either knew or acted in reckless disregard of the fact that the alien entered or remained in the U.S. in violation of the law.

If the defendant is convicted of harboring illegal aliens, then he could face both a fine as well as a prison sentence. Because the government is alleging that the defendant harbored illegal aliens for “commercial advantage or private financial gain,” the maximum sentence in this case is 10 years imprisonment.

In U.S. v. Verhaar, the defendants pleaded guilty in June of 2011 to knowingly hiring unauthorized aliens at their Michigan dairy farm in violation of 8 U.S.C. §1324a(a)(1)(A). Although it is only a misdemeanor punishable to up to six months imprisonment, the defendants agreed to pay a staggering $2.7 million fine for employing 78 unauthorized workers from 2000 to 2007. The government asserted that a substantial fine was warranted because the defendants disregarded repeated warnings that some of their employees were unauthorized to work under immigration law.

What are the lessons from these two cases? In Barney, the defendant may very well have turned what could have been a civil sanction into much more serious criminal matter by allowing law enforcement officers to access his property without a search warrant and making statements without the advice of counsel.  Any visit by law enforcement to a business is a serious matter, and producers should insist that the officer or agent have a search warrant.  Statements regarding the business and employees should only be made after consultation with an attorney.  Everyone has the right to remain silent and consult with an attorney under the U.S. Constitution.  In Verhaar, the matter turned criminal because the defendants disregarded prior warnings.  Again, when a law enforcement officer or government agency has become involved, it has become serious and a business owner needs to seek appropriate legal counsel.  As the defendants in Barney and Verhaar learned, taking a lackadaisical or “bury your head in the sand” approach could very well land you in prison instead of paying a fine.

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 DC to meet with elected officials regarding immigration reform, and in 2008, the Milwaukee Business Journal described him as a “national leader on the federal immigration issue.”

Conflict Resolution in the Workplace

Jul 12, 2011

Dr. Mireille Chahine, Associate Professor and Extension Dairy Specialist, University of Idaho

Conflict has been defined by Hocker and Wilmot (1991) as "an expressed struggle between at least two interdependent parties who perceive incompatible goals, scarce resources, and interference from the other party in achieving their goals". Conflict is a normal part of any workspace and it is bound to rise on a dairy. After all, not 2 employees are alike and people should not be expected to agree with each other all the time. 

Learning to deal with conflict is a very important skill. When handled correctly conflict could be a path for personal growth and could increase efficiency in the workplace. A conflict is typically more than a disagreement. It is a situation where the concerned individuals feel threatened. The threat could be real or perceived. Conflicts typically snowball if they get ignored.  Here are some tips that will help you better deal with conflict:

  • Do not ignore conflict: Studies have shown that ignoring a conflict will not make it disappear and it can lead to greater issues in the future.
  • Foster an inclusive and supportive climate
  • Empathize with the other person by putting yourself in their situation.
  • Do not own the conflict.
  • Do not get emotionally involved in the conflict
  • Identify the true disagreement and make sure it matches the perceived disagreement. People typically react to the perceived threat rather than the true threat. Understanding the true issue and developing appropriate solutions will help manage the conflict.
  • Some things are non-negotiable. Do not tolerate any physical aggression to you or between employees.
  • When in doubt, ask for clarification.
  • Never yell. Use a lower tone of voice.
  • Even when disagreeing, look for common points of view that might allow for a solution or an agreement that is acceptable to all parties.
  • Breathing deeply and taking time to cool down will help better diffuse a conflict. We tend to regret what we say when we are angry.
  • Avoid conflicts by discovering each employee’s motivation and build on it.
  • Listen broadly, reflect and try to compassionately solve a problem. Maintaining a fair and respectful attitude and communication style will help immensely.
  • If a decision has been made, summarize it at the end of the conversation and define who will do what by when.
  • Provide constructive feedback and remember that your employees need to know that they are meeting the need.
  • Provide directions. Lots of problems arise because we delegate without directing.
  • Improve your listening skills. Listen with respect. Do not interrupt and respond in a calm, non-defensive and respectful manner. Studies have shown that even though we spend 40 to 45% of our day listening, we only listen at 25% efficiency. Give your attention and avoid distractions when you are trying to resolve a conflict.
  • Focus on the situation or the problem without attacking the person involved.
  • Accept other people’s right to disagree with you.

Reduced Employee Turnover Brings I-9 Benefits to Your Dairy

Jul 04, 2011

Each hire represents a potential liability for you if I-9 requirements are not followed. So, increasing the length of time an employee remains on your team reduces the number of I-9 forms and limits your legal exposure.

By Ryan Miltner, attorney
As the owner of a small law firm, I have heard the advice, “Be slow to hire and quick to fire,” on several occasions. 
The wisdom behind the first part of this advice is that hiring decisions should be made deliberately, especially in the context of a smaller business where interpersonal dynamics are so critical to the organization’s overall success. 
The second part of this axiom stems from the belief that once it becomes apparent that an employee, especially a new employee, is not working out, the relationship should be ended quickly and professionally, rather than risk ongoing damage to the morale of other employees from a hiring mistake. 
In practice, farmers do not often have the luxury of passing on a job candidate while awaiting the next applicant. So, hiring decisions often are made quickly. But, on the other hand, turnover in agricultural employment is comparatively high. So, the process of hiring for open positions is a frequent occurrence.
I want to focus on the “slow to hire” portion of this advice, and in particular focus on an overlooked benefit to having workers remain in your employ for as long as possible, thereby cutting down on the turnover of employees.
By now, producers should understand the importance of completing an I-9 form for all hired employees. Proper adherence to the I-9 requirements generally insulates an employer from liability for hiring a worker who later is determined to be unauthorized, unless, of course, the employer has other reasons to know that the employee is not authorized to work in the U.S. 
For agricultural employers in general, and dairy farmers in particular, the percentage of employees that are actually undocumented is significant. Accordingly, each potential hire represents a potential liability for the employer if the I-9 requirements are not followed. This includes both the failure to obtain any I-9 verification or improperly completing an I-9 form. Penalties for I-9 violations can reach up to $1,100 per employee.
Let’s assume for illustrative purposes that your farm employees 15 workers at any given point. Let’s further assume that the average worker stays in employment for a period of six months. In any given year, your dairy should be completing 30 I-9 forms. An ICE audit of one year of employment records presents 30 different points where an error might occur, thereby subjecting your farm to fines for each error point. Granted, this turnover rate might be high for many operations, but there are plenty of farms that experience a turnover rate at this level. 
Sources abound for producers on identifying both the causes of turnover as well as the obvious and not-so-obvious costs of high turnover. This “Labor Matters” blog has included some excellent posts on employee management. By identifying the root causes for employee turnover, the overall I-9 burden and consequent exposure to your dairy can be limited. 
In the hypothetical example of the dairy above, extending the average time of employment to eight months would translate to a reduction in the number of I-9 forms by seven. That amounts to nearly $8,000 of potential liability per year for your operation. 
Of course, the best course of action is to have both your I-9 procedures and your I-9 records reviewed to ensure compliance to the maximum extent possible. But in addition to the general benefits of long-term employees working on your farm, there is some additional benefit to be gained in terms of your legal exposure by increasing the length of time an employee remains on your team.
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
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