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September 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.

Immigration Continues to Trouble Dairy Producers

Sep 27, 2012

Problems remain, and comprehensive immigration reform appears out of reach for now. Here are tips for an immigration compliance plan.

Anthony Raimondo 2010 06 photoBy Anthony P. Raimondo, attorney

One of the greatest regulatory challenges faced by dairy producers is immigration law compliance. From a practical perspective, it is difficult, if not impossible, for dairy producers to avoid hiring undocumented workers.

The simple fact is that the labor pool that is available to dairies consists of a large percentage of undocumented workers. This is compounded by the fact that high-quality forged identification and immigration documents are readily available, and identity theft has continued to show significant growth.

Despite the Obama administration’s public “pro-immigrant” stance, this administration has aggressively enforced immigration laws, especially against employers. According to the Washington Post, the Obama administration has deported 1.5 more immigrants per month than the Bush administration did. The administration has focused heavily on employers, trading high-profile raids for under-the-radar audits of employers suspected of violating immigration laws.

A dairy in South Dakota that uses the H2A agricultural guest worker visa program was recently investigated by the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). The dairy was concerned about hiring only legally authorized workers, so it brought in foreign workers through the H2A program. The dairy ran into to the problem that has prevented the dairy industry from taking advantage of H2A. The H2A program may only be used for seasonal agricultural work, and milking cows is not seasonal. Accordingly, the dairy was seen as violating the laws by trying to secure a legal source of labor. Federal law enforcement agents took a heavy hand in the investigation, and put a great deal of pressure on the dairy.

In late 2011, a Pennsylvania dairy had to fire almost a third of its workforce after a government audit revealed that the workers had submitted forged documents to obtain employment. That December, a New York dairyman was forced to plead guilty to a misdemeanor and pay a $3,000 fine for knowingly employing and harboring undocumented aliens.

Meanwhile, unscrupulous individuals solicit employers and workers with promises that they can “legalize” their status for a fee. Typically, they collect the fees and disappear, having delivered no benefit to the employees. The simple fact is that it is very difficult for most undocumented immigrants to adjust their status if they entered the country illegally, and employees and employers should consult with reputable immigration attorneys to determine their options.

Unfortunately, comprehensive immigration reform does not appear to be on the horizon. Dairy employers must continue to walk a fine line between immigration compliance, and discrimination allegations if they scrutinize applicants too closely. The key is to remember that the employer is not automatically liable any time an undocumented immigrant is discovered. The key is whether the employer knew (or should have known) that the individual was not legally authorized to work.

The critical components of an immigration compliance plan are:

1) Take your time. People often rush through the I-9 and do not take the time to complete the form properly. Make sure you have read the I-9 so you understand how it works, and take the time to make sure it is filled out properly.

2) Train. Anyone who processes I-9 forms should be properly trained to complete the forms correctly. The Handbook for Employers (Form M-274), available from the United States Customs and Immigration Service (USCIS) is a great guide for training. For example, most employers are not aware that they do not need to update the I-9 when an employee’s Permanent Resident Alien card expires.

3) Audit yourself. Periodically review your I-9s, and make sure they are being filled out completely and correctly. If a mistake is made, correct it and maintain documentation of the audit, the finding and the correction.

4) Don’t ignore what you know. Do not allow employees to change their names and Social Security numbers unless they provide documentation to support the change. A name change, Social Security number change or Alien Registration number change is highly suspicious, and should be backed up by official documentation showing that the change is legitimate. In addition, do not ignore questions that arise regarding employee Social Security numbers. Mismatch letters from the Social Security Administration are currently under suspension, but issues can arise from garnishments, judgments or even individuals claiming to be the rightful owner of an employee’s Social Security number. All employers should have protocols to deal with these situations. Generally, the primary step is to notify the employee of the issue in writing, and direct him or her to notify you of any updates to his or her information. But the response can vary based on the situation, so make sure to get advice from an expert in these situations. A mistake could result in fines, jail time or both.

Immigration will continue to be a challenge until Washington D.C. addresses what is, in many ways, a dysfunctional system. But until that time comes, dairy producers must educate themselves and institute policies and practices that will protect their businesses and families from what can be devastating consequences.

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.

Build Employee Management around Respect

Sep 21, 2012

Have a position description for yourself as well as for each employee. It helps you focus on your appropriate roles and respectfully define your position to others.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension

Over the years I have had close contact with several participants in two scholarship programs offered to individuals in countries of the former British Empire. Both scholarships fund international study tours for professionals in many fields, including agriculture. A feature I appreciate is that these tours offer an international snapshot on a particular topic chosen by the scholar. In 2002-03 Richard Gardner of Tunbridge, Tasmania, Australia, took on the topic, “The Role of People in Expanding Agricultural Business.”

One category of Gardner’s section on managing human resources focused on building respect between the employees and the employer. Gardner identifies these characteristics that build the relationship of respect:

• ability to work as hard, or harder, than employees
• have a positive attitude
• ability to give clear instructions and targets
• mutual trust

“The hard part of trying to work as hard as your employees is that they need to understand your role in the business as well as theirs,” Gardner writes. “Making employees aware of what it is you are doing inside the office or away from the farm is important in helping to build respect. The other key is understanding the times when it is important to be working alongside the people who work for you.”

This is one reason I recommend the owner/manager have a position description as well as one for each of the employees on the farm. It helps you focus on your appropriate roles and helps respectfully define your role to others.

A positive attitude on the part of the owner/manager will also impact greatly how he or she communicates instructions and goals to the employees. All that leads to a mutual trust of one another in which employees can feel valued and employers can feel comfortable that the work is being done and being done well.

Paul Meshanko, human resources trainer and author of “The Respect Effect,” takes a little different approach to respect. He states, “When leaders are able to create work environments that consistently value, esteem and nurture employees, they increase employee engagement.

This approach of not only valuing the contributions of employees but also recognizing and rewarding that value will greatly increase the emotional commitment employees have for their employer, their work and their desire for superior performance,” Meshanko adds. “The employees recognized for their work continue to strive for that recognition and more. They are much more likely to continue being excellent performers. “

Finally, Dr. Bernie Erven, Professor Emeritus, Ohio State University, adds to the idea of employer- employee relationships by asking the question, “Buddy or Boss? An Important Question.”

At a 2005 agricultural employee management conference, Erven challenged employers to determine what they want to be to their employees. While there is no question they have a relationship, being a buddy or a boss will impact how they manage the employees and what degree of respect they have for each other. Being the “buddy” or close friend presents the risk of setting up appearances of favoritism toward one employee over another. It also makes tough decisions regarding employees difficult to make and communicate.

One can be a “boss” and be friendly. In this position, being a friend opens lines of communication but maintains a certain degree of separation and authority, so when decisions must be made, they can be made and conveyed in a fair manner to all employees. The approach of being a friend can open communication lines when there is a sense of wanting to help each other, understanding of each other’s needs, honesty and appropriate times for informality and forgiveness when things aren’t perfect. This can lead to respect. Being a friend doesn’t mean being a buddy.

Having seen several different examples of respect and how it is achieved, what is your style or preference? It might be a mix of styles, depending on situations, how many employees you manage, or how much the family is intermingled into the workforce. These factors play a role as well.

Regardless of your method to gain and show respect, consider it as you work. Respect is earned and it is most readily earned when managers are fair with their employees and consistent in their management.

Know what you expect of your employees. Make sure they know what you expect. Work with them to achieve goals good for them and your business.

The full Nuffield Scholarship Report by Richard Gardner can be read here.

Chuck Schwartau is an Extension Educator at the University of Minnesota. Contact him at

4 Traits of a Servant Leader

Sep 17, 2012

Characteristics that can bring about real change for the better among your dairy’s employees.

Duvall, Shaun pro photo 1 11   CopyBy Shaun Duvall, Puentes/Bridges

I promised in this article to write about ways to be a servant leader on your dairy. I have to start, however, by saying that this style of leadership suffers from a negative image.

When we think of the business world, we don’t think of servantship. Rather the opposite. And that was my thinking when I began learning about leadership. I thought being a leader was telling people to do stuff and making sure they do it. Though it can be this, there is so much more, and so much more ability to cause real change for the better in your organization.

I found four characteristics of a servant leader from Wikipedia which I’ll briefly describe below, and then a way to practice that on your dairy.

1. Listening. The servant leader particularly needs to pay attention to what is spoken and unspoken in the management setting. This means relying on his inner voice in order to find out what the body, mind and spirit of subordinates are communicating.

When you have an employee meeting, plan for time to really listen to your employees. It should be more than just a cursory “Is everything OK? Or anything else?” Your intuition, if you listen, can tell you also so much. This is certainly a help with employees of a different culture than yours.

2. Empathy. A servant leader understands and empathizes with others. Workers may be considered not only as employees but also as people who need respect and appreciation for their personal development. As a result, leadership is seen as a special type of human work, which ultimately generates a competitive advantage. A servant leader tries to help people solve their problems and conflicts in relationships, because he wants to encourage and support the personal development of each individual. This leads to the formation of a business culture, in which the working environment is dynamic, fun and free of the fear of failure.

Here, an example is helping an employee with some issue they are having. If you are in a position to make a small loan and deduct later from a paycheck, do so. If you can help him or her arrange housing, do so. Remember, you owe them more than just a check.

3. Persuasion. Servant leaders don’t take advantage of their power and status by coercing compliance. Rather, they try to convince those they manage. This element distinguishes servant leadership most clearly from traditional, authoritarian models. If you want people to follow you, you need to convince them of what you want to do.

Continuous training in milking procedure is an example. When they don’t do it the way you want, just keep explaining without getting angry. Your job is to train them. Excel at it.

4. Building community. A servant leader identifies means to build a strong community within his organization and wants to develop a true community among businesses and institutions.

This goes far beyond having Christmas parties. It means travelling to meet families of your Latino workers if possible. It means you may need to attend their children’s baptisms, things like that. It means helping them, and allowing them to help you as well.

Food for thought. I’m interested in your reactions.

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.

What Recent Polls Signal for Immigration Reform

Sep 07, 2012

Maybe our next Congress and Presidential victor will have the courage to approach the issue.

Miltner photo   CopyBy Ryan Miltner, attorney

In the past two weeks, both Mitt Romney and President Obama formally accepted their respective party’s nomination for the Presidency.

If anyone was hoping for a statement providing some optimism regarding immigration reform, they were almost certainly disappointed. In fact, neither candidate made any statement about the immigration problem facing agriculture – nothing about tougher enforcement or border security, nor any statement about undocumented workers or targeted reforms, let alone a comprehensive plan.

Ryan Miltner will speak at Dairy Today’s 2012 Elite Producer Business Conference Nov. 6 in Las Vegas. Click here to learn more.

The dearth of a conversation about immigration stems from the simple fact that this election hinges on the intertwined issues of the economy and jobs.

Regardless of the facts, which demonstrate that immigrant farm workers do not displace American workers but instead fill a void that American workers have demonstrated for decades that they simply will not fill, the perception among many is just the opposite. In a 2010 Ipsos-McClatchy poll, only 45% of respondents agreed with the statement, “Illegal immigrants in the U.S. mostly work in jobs that Americans don’t want anyway.” That perception seems to resonate with our politicians on both sides of the aisle, who now treat immigration as a third-rail issue.

But interestingly, the overall perceptions of the public on immigration reform and the treatment of undocumented workers currently in the U.S. have changed over the past several years. Consider the following poll results:

In May 2010, Quinnipiac University asked, “Do you think immigration reform should primarily move in the direction of integrating illegal immigrants into American society or in the direction of stricter enforcement of laws against illegal immigration?” Twenty-six percent favored integration, and 66% favored stricter enforcement.

In November 2011, CNN asked a similar question, “What should be the main focus of the U.S. government in dealing with the issue of illegal immigration: developing a plan that would allow illegal immigrants who have jobs to become legal U.S. residents, or developing a plan for stopping the flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. and for deporting those already here?" In that poll, 42% favored residency, and 55% favored enforcement and deportation.

In June, two polls were conducted that showed growing support for reform. A CBS-New York Times poll showed that fully 64% of respondents favored allowing undocumented workers to apply for either citizenship or temporary worker status, and only 32% would opt for deportation. The Pew Research Center found that 69% favored a pathway to citizenship, whether alone or coupled with increased border enforcement, while only 28% favored enforcement alone.

Finally, in August, a poll conducted by the Washington Post and the Kaiser Family Foundation asked whether illegal immigrants should be offered a pathway to citizenship or deported. The result favored citizenship by a margin of 61% to 35%. That’s nearly a complete reversal of the poll results from 2010, with a majority in most recent polls favoring some kind of continued status for currently undocumented workers.

Is it a coincidence that immigration reform has been a back-burner issue for the past two years? Perhaps. Or maybe the mood of the public really has shifted. If our politicians are following the polls (you can insert your own chuckle here), it might signal that some kind of comprehensive approach would be favored by a majority of voters, and just maybe our next Congress and Presidential victor might have the courage to approach the issue.

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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