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June 2013 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.

Should You Consider Mid-year Employee Performance Reviews?

Jun 28, 2013

Why they’re important and what to keep in mind with these appraisals.

Higginbotham 5 12   CopyBy Gerald E. Higginbotham, Ph. D, PAS, Dipl. ACAN
Ruminant Business Manager-California, Micronutrients

While many employers conduct annual performance reviews for their employees, mid-year performance reviews are less common. Nevertheless, mid-year performance evaluations allow employers and/or managers to make proactive, mid-year appraisals of their employees.

If you have set specific goals for your employees, use the mid-year review as a means to measure your employees’ progress on their goals and performance to date. Conducting a mid-year review permits supervisors a chance to provide positive comments to employees as well as comments on areas where performance may be deficient.

Mid-year reviews may also be helpful in discerning and eradicating possible barriers that may be hampering employee performance or averting the employees from realizing their goals. If an employee is not performing to standards, a mid-year review is an opportunity to re-evaluate performance standards, confirm that the employee is fully aware of expectations and document poor performance. Doing so gives the employee the chance to progress and can also prevent surprises at the year-end performance review.

At the mid-year review, it is important to have documentation of what you have observed in the employees’ performance since their last annual evaluation. It is unwise to trust your memory of how you think your employees performed. Instead, keep written notes throughout the year as it will be easier to review your observations on their performance. In your notes, try also to highlight the positives that you observe in your employees’ performance. At times, negative performances of employees may overshadow the positive attributes that employees show in their duties.

Even though a mid-year performance review of your employees can be a time-consuming task, such an effort on your part can result in better employee performance and less employee turn-over.

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

Milk Smarter for Healthier and More Comfortable Workers

Jun 13, 2013

Nine ways to ensure your milking environment is all it should be to help your milking employees perform at peak levels.

ChuckSchwartau photoBy Chuck Schwartau, University of Minnesota Extension

Milking cows is like harvesting a grain crop except that it has no season, only shifts. Repetitive jobs like milking can easily be put down as tedious and of low importance, while in fact, it is among the most important tasks on the dairy farm. Milking cows harvests the product that generates the income to support the whole business. It is why you are dairying.

What are you doing on your farm to make sure that important harvest crew is motivated to do the best job possible for the cows, the business and for themselves? Workers in a relatively comfortable environment and working situation are more likely to perform at their peaks.

Growing herd sizes increase the demand on milking crews to be on their feet for long hours and reaching repeatedly to prepare udders and attach milkers.

Standing on concrete for long periods of time puts a great deal of stress on feet, legs and backs. The repeated reaches put stress on the back and shoulders for long hours. This can be especially hard on short and tall workers. Ideally you might hire milking staff based on their height and their ‘fit’ in the parlor, but that isn’t particularly practical and could be found discriminatory. Instead, look at ways to make their work place more comfortable and healthy.

Chuck Schwartau will speak at our Elite Producer Business Conference Nov. 13, 2013 at The Bellagio in Las Vegas. Learn more here.

Here are a few suggestions:

1. Have work flows designed for efficient cow flow. This not only puts more cows through the parlor in a given time, but it also lessens the time for your workers to be on their feet milking whatever number of cows you have to milk. Poor routines just slow the whole process.

2. Encourage your milking staff to wear good boots. A cheap pair of barn boots may keep feet dry, but are they really designed to be standing around for several hours? Do they have adequate arch support and fit for safe walking and comfortable standing?

3. Use rubber matting to soften the floor. Some are also designed to be safer because they lessen the chance of slipping on wet concrete.

4. Look at work breaks or job rotations to provide a break from the routine. A few minutes away from the normal task or exchanging jobs for part of a shift can work different muscles in the body, relieving some that are stressed and perhaps strengthening others that help create a healthy body.

5. Have parlors well-lit. Good lighting improves safety and morale. It helps staff do a better job of mastitis detection and improves cow flow by minimizing shadows that may spook cows.

6. Maintain comfortable temperatures in parlors whether it is with supplemental heat in the winter or good fans and ventilation in the summer. In-floor heat is not only comfortable and efficient, but it also helps keep a floor dry and less slippery. Radiant heaters can also be quite efficient by warming objects being handled rather than the air, and they, too, can help dry floors. Ventilation helps keep fresh air for workers and cows circulating in the parlor and eliminates any fumes from chemicals being used in the parlor.

7. Try to control noise. Loud and sudden noises can startle or scare cows and may become stressful to workers over long shifts. Consider where cushions and bumpers can minimize noise. Locate pumps away from the parlor and keep radios low if they are present at all. Loud radios and other sounds in the parlor can prevent staff from hearing squawking teat cups or other abnormal activities in the milking procedure.

8. Check platform height. Milking staff may come in all heights, so perfectly matching the platform height to the staff is difficult, but if the platform is lower than about 34" or higher than 40", there is a good chance it is out of the comfortable working height for most staff in your parlor. Think about options to correct improper heights. It might not be feasible, but give it a look.

9. Look at the heights of rump rails and kick rails. Having either one at an improper level may cause the milking staff to stoop more than necessary to properly see the udder or may leave the employee subject to kicking injuries because the cows’ legs may be able to reach them or pinch them between the leg and the rail.

Projects of the Upper Midwest Agriculture Safety and Health Center at the University of Minnesota and the High Plains Intermountain Center for Agricultural Health and Safety at Colorado State University are both looking at the health and safety aspects of working on dairy farms and seeking ways to make the workplace safer as well as a more enjoyable place to earn a living. Be watching those organizations and the University of Minnesota Extension Dairy webpage for updates.

--Sources for this article include HICAHS and DairyNZ.

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

A Political Roadmap for Immigration Reform

Jun 10, 2013

A look at the politics of the Senate bill, which is scheduled for a floor debate beginning this week.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich C. Straub, attorney

Editor's note: This is the second installment of a two-part column on immigration reform. Part I can be found here.

Previously, I examined the basics of the Senate Bill 744 as it relates to the dairy industry. In this piece, I will examine the politics of the bill, which has been voted out of committee and is scheduled for a floor debate beginning this week. Senate Majority Harry Reid has stated that he expects a vote on the bill prior to the July 4 recess. If approved by the Senate, the bill would then proceed to the House, which is already busy with its own version of an immigration reform bill.

The Drama v. the Reality

It is important to remember that Congress is very much theater: Each member is trying to make policy while also playing to an audience of voters back home. ,Add a 24-hour news cycle, and immigration reform may simultaneously seem on the verge of victory or defeat at any given moment. So take a deep breath, and focus on these political factors:

1. The Republicans need immigration reform now. They need it more than the Democrats do. Without it, the party simply will not be viable in presidential elections. Latinos are the fastest growing segment of the electorate. An anti-immigration reform policy by the last two Republican presidential candidates has alienated Latino voters and driven higher and higher percentages of Latinos to vote for Democrats. Quite simply, the Republicans are in a box and immigration reform is the only way out.

2. Immigration reform will not be an effective wedge issue for Democrats in 2014. Historically, the party in the White House loses congressional seats in a mid-term election. This effect is usually enhanced during a president’s second term, which is often dominated by administration "scandals" in the media. The Obama administration has already fallen into this trap. The gerrymandering of congressional districts further favors the incumbent candidate. Many of the incumbents who are most opposed to Senate Bill 744 are also the safest on the immigration issue in 2014. Given these trends, it is exceedingly unlikely that Democrats will gain seats in 2014, no matter what issue. Democrats cannot afford to implement an immigration strategy of waiting until 2016: another four years is an eternity in modern politics.

3. Potential Republican presidential candidates are the barometer. The press has gravitated to statements by staunch reform opponents such as Senator Jeff Sessions and Congressman Steve King. These two and others like them have very little to lose politically and can afford to make the most inflammatory statements and legislative proposals. Senators Marco Rubio and Rand Paul and Congressman Paul Ryan are much better barometers of where the debate is in the Republican Party. Why? Because all three of them will likely be competing for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016 and have a tremendous amount to lose politically if immigration reform fails again.

Advice for the Reform Weary

Given that immigration reform is so crucial for dairy, it can be almost maddening to watch the back and forth of the process. A wise person once said that legislation is like sausage, and sometimes it is best not to watch the sausage being made. My advice: Do not focus too closely on any one statement or vote by a particular politician.

A perfect example occurred last week when Marco Rubio announced that tougher border security measures would be needed to pass Senate Bill 744, even though he is a member of the "Gang of Eight" who drafted the bill. Rubio’s announcement set off alarm in the pro-reform coalition, particularly when he admitted talking to staunch reform opponent Senator John Cornyn. By the end of the week, Rubio had quelled these fears by reiterating his support for S.B.744 and indicating that he was drafting border security changes independent from Cornyn.

Paul Ryan had a similar moment when he voted with a majority in the House to defund Obama’s deferred action program. Upon closer examination, the House measure has no chance of becoming law and may simply be a measure to provide political cover for the much tougher immigration vote to come.

Rubio, Ryan and others have a fine line to walk: preserving their "conservative" credentials with the rank and file while still carving out a future for themselves and their party. I believe immigration reform is alive, well and picking up momentum. I believe there will be a bill on the President’s desk by September, and it will be a good one for dairy. Until then, we will just have to put up with watching the sausage being made.

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

The Senate Immigration Bill: ‘Very, Very Good’ for the Dairy Industry

Jun 03, 2013

Dairy-related details of the proposed legislation, from legalizing undocumented workers to the guest-worker program to E-Verify.

Erich Straub   CopyBy Erich C. Straub, attorney

On May 21, 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted 13-5 to approve a sweeping immigration reform bill authored by the bi-partisan "Gang of Eight." The vote came after hundreds of amendments were considered. Many of the amendments were offered by opponents of the bill in an unsuccessful attempt to derail it. The bill came out of committee with significant momentum, and debate on the Senate floor will begin on June 10.

In this first installment of a two-part column, I will examine the basics of the bill as it relates to the dairy industry. In the second installment, I will analyze the political prospects of the bill as it moves from the Senate over to the House.

The bill addresses the two major concerns of dairy regarding immigration. First, most dairy operations currently have a well-trained immigrant workforce, a high percentage of which is likely undocumented. The bill would allow this workforce to legalize quickly and get on a path to permanent residence over a more extended period of time.

Second, dairy has been unable to access the H-2A visa for temporary workers because it is "seasonal" and only allows agricultural workers to enter the U.S. for a very limited period of time. The bill creates a new "guest worker" program that will replace H-2A and will not have the seasonal restriction that has resulted in a substantial undocumented workforce on many farms.

Legalization – "Blue Card"

The agriculture component of the bill was largely authored by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.) and mirrors her previous AgJOBS legislation. Undocumented workers would be able obtain lawful or "blue card" status for a period of up to eight years if they can demonstrate the following:
• Performed agricultural work for 575 hours or 100 days during a two-year period ending on Dec. 31,2012;
• Do not have a significant criminal record, which includes:
o One felony (including an "aggravated felony" under immigration law)
o Three misdemeanors on different dates (there is a waiver for humanitarian purposes)
o Certain foreign convictions
o Any instance of unlawful voting in the U.S.;
• Paid a $100 fine;
• Applied within one year of enactment of the legislation.

Permanent Residence - "Green Card"

Blue cardholders would be eligible to file permanent residence or a "green card" for themselves, their spouse and minor children within five years if they can demonstrate the following:
• Performed agricultural work for 100 days for each of five out of eight years, or 150 days for each of three out of five years;
• Satisfied all outstanding tax liability
• Paid a $400 fine
• Applied while in blue card status

Temporary or "Guest" Worker Program

On Oct. 1, 2014, the H-2A visa would be eliminated and replaced with the W-visa. Agriculture, including dairy, would have two dedicated visas under this program. The first would be the W-2 visa, which would apply to agriculture workers who have a written contract for work with a specific employer. The second would be the W-3 visa, which would allow agricultural workers who have an offer of full-time employment to be admitted to the U.S. as "at will" employees.

Both visas are for a period of three years and would not be seasonal. The visas would be "portable," which would allow the workers to change to another employer under certain conditions. The visas would have housing and travel reimbursement requirements for the employer that are be similar to the H-2A program. Base wages and wage increases are also mandated. There will be only 112,333 visas available for the first five years of the program, but there are provisions to adjust this number, based on economic conditions and the demand for labor.


All employers in the U.S., including dairy, would be required to use E-Verify, the federal electronic system for verifying work authorization. The program would be implemented over a five-year period, giving employers sufficient time to adjust. While E-Verify has been a major concern for dairy, it has almost always been proposed without the type of legalization and guest worker program contained in this bill. With these new visa programs and a flexible implementation period of five years, dairy should have very little to fear from mandatory E-Verify.


When the Gang of Eight announced the details of bill in April, Senator John McCain made the following statement: "We cannot allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good." While this may not be a perfect bill for dairy, it is very, very good. If passed in its present form or in a reasonably close facsimile, it will go a long way to solve the long-term rural labor crisis on most dairy farms.

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

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